Church Rules and Exceptions

Dexter Avenue Baptist Church

In each of the following, the validity of the rule is proved by its exceptions:

1) The group is always smarter than the lone leader or expert.

This rule applies to every church committee meeting. Pastors must learn to give laity more say in setting the mission and worship style of their congregation. Church vitality doesn’t spring magically from a book, nor can it be bought by attending the seminar offered by a visiting guru. It grows out of a healthy, spiritually connected, congregational discernment process.  This rule comes from James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds.



  • When the decision making group doesn’t represent the cultural diversity of the church’s context. An aging group of church leaders will have a hard time discovering how to be in mission to a neighborhood of young adults. Churches in transitional communities always need trained transitional leadership.
  • When a dominant voice controls the group process.


2) Vital congregations spend more of their budget on mission and program. Administration, clergy compensation, and church maintenance are to be treated as necessary evils.

This rule encourages congregations to do their budgeting process in two columns. The left column should show all the money that the church spends on its own institutional needs. The right column shows what the church is spending for the first-time visitor and the people outside its doors. Most budget items, such as conference apportionments, will need to be split, based upon how much of the item is really missional.



  • When the pastor, or staff person, is the church’s primary form of mission to the community. Small rural churches and urban mission churches tend to do their ministry through the giving of their paid staff to the neighborhood.
  • Church renovation and additional maintenance dollars need to be spent to keep the church building accessible. Poor parking and dark hallways reinforce the church’s exclusive tendencies.


3) Over time, congregations either grow upward and outward or decline downward and inward.

This is what is known as the Spiral Rule, written about in Reality Check 101, chapter 6.

It has no real exceptions, but the words upward and downward need to be defined by the local church as they discern the particular calling God has for their congregation. Any congregation who refuses to look outward in mission, will in time become a selfish singularity.



  • Many churches become effective in caring for the needs of others and transforming their community, even though they may be statistically plateaued. Their upward growth may not be visible to those who only consider a church’s metrics.
  • Having a popular pastor may give a congregation a momentary upward bump. Unless a congregation develops a sense of its own vision, apart from its current clergy leadership, it will not continue to grow.