Why Some Churches are Pastored Like a Mom & Pop


Mom and Pop StoreWhen I was a kid there was a restaurant my family would go to on Sundays called the Dainty Del.

It was the classic mom-and-pop restaurant with the dad out front greeting customers and the mom behind the counter working the cash register.

Often start-up and small-size churches are run using a similar “mom & pop” model.  The out front spouse is the people connector or communicator while the behind-the-scenes spouse is the task worker who gets things done.

There is a reason why this husband and wife team fosters growth in many churches, and there is a reason why it limits the growth in those same churches.

The ‘V/O’ Model

The reason it works is because one of the spouses functions as a Visionary and the other serves as an Operator.

Referring to businesses, Les McKeown calls this the ‘V/O’ model, in which “the visionary has the initial idea and brings the passion, long-term vision and drive to see that idea into reality. The operator is focussed on the day-to-day detail of getting things done…and is less prone than the visionary to passionate distraction.”

Visionaries are passionate communicators who don’t get excited about details.
Operators work out the details and are relentless about completion.

This ‘V/O’ model works well in start up and small size churches.  The visionary and operator work long hours, know each other’s strengths and doggedly work out necessary decisions.

The ‘V/O/P’ Tension

As the church grows it becomes too complex for the V and O to manage consistently.  Here is when the ‘V/O’ model starts to limit growth because the processes and systems needed to manage the growing complexity feel restricting to the husband-wife pastoral team.

Decisions the V and O could at one time make while driving into the office together, now require the expertise of a third type of leader.  Les McKeown calls that leader a Processor.  Churches call them an Executive or Associate Pastor.

In the same way it’s hard to become a mom, pop & friend store, it is difficult to become a ‘V/O/P’ pastorate.   Unfortunately in most churches the processor is marginalized and eventually pushed out, after which the ‘V/O’ model resumes and the church returns to a level that is manageable by a mom and pop pastorate.

Join the Conversation:  What is your favorite mom and pop?  What would happen if it switched from the ‘V/O’ model to a ‘V/O/P’?

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  • Lady M

    You say, “processes & systems…feel restricting to the husband-wife pastoral team.” Why does it feel restrictive? Does it have to?

    • Thanks for the question, Lady M. The processes and systems feel restricting to the V & O because up to this point they have created growth by ignoring processes and systems. Sounds backwards but it’s true. If something needed to be done the, the V & O worked it out or talked it out in a way that suited their schedules and means. As the church grows, department leaders (which are mini-operators) need a systematic way to make decisions and take action. Initially the big-O tries to run around and help the mini-O’s make decisions that are in agreement with the V/O leadership. Eventually the O is overwhelmed with too much complexity, or worse, mini-O’s notice how the O gives preference to different operators…uh-oh.

      The P comes on board to put systematic communication and management processes in place. Initially, these are desired by the V/O but then make the V/O feel disconnected from the pulse of the church. At which point they either work through those feelings or take back control.

  • Adam J. Solorio

    How can a church started as a mom & pop move to the next level? Does it require being intentional about bringing in a Processor and securing his voice?

    • Great question, Adam. Yes, being intentional is necessary. The mom & pop pastorate will never stumble across a complimentary Processor. Embracing the tension caused by a Processor is an essential step for further growth.

      What often happens in real-time is the V & O blame the P for the new sense of awkwardness in decision making. The P is the new-comer and it’s easy for the V & O to claim things were better before the P joined the team. The V & O end up telling themselves they don’t need the P and they can put in place the systems and processes. They can’t. The V & O have brought the church to it’s current growth by ignoring processes and systems.