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Alan Nelson

At first, I was a little embarrassed that I was overseeing too many departments and having my hand in too many pies, which is a typical scenario in a growth-oriented organization. But upon further consideration, I realized that I shouldn't decide my range of control merely on the number of people who answer to me. I also need to consider the quality of the departments I oversee. Just because Mike, for example, oversees several large departments doesn't necessarily mean that he's overwhelmed. If top-notch people are leading them, they might require very little of his energy. The key question is: How much maintenance does each responsibility require? If Mike had a few smaller departments that weighed heavy on his time and energy because of poor leadership, limited resources, lousy organization, or conflict within the team, they would occupy an inordinate share of his time and efforts.

Some suggest that leaders should have five to nine (preferably no more than seven) people answering to them. A better rule of thumb is to measure the quality of each leader and his or her department. A leader overseeing nine well-organized and well-led departments is not nearly as overwhelmed as a leader of three poorly led or poorly structured ones.

In Exodus 18, Moses' father-in-law suggested that Moses seek people capable of overseeing groups of ten, fifty, one hundred, and one thousand. The reason was that Moses was the "go-to" person for the multitudes; everyone with a dispute came to him for resolution. By identifying others with the capacity to lead groups of varying sizes, Moses could devote his energy to resolving the most difficult cases. This story demonstrates that people don't share equal capacities to lead. Some leaders can handle more than others can. By the same token, more effort and skill is required to oversee some departments than is needed for others.

Putting together a flowchart for your ministry is a good first step in analyzing your range of control. But realize that flowcharts can be misleading. As long as the departments you oversee are well-led and functioning properly, you may not need to redistribute areas of responsibility. If they aren't running well, you may want to restructure so that you are responsible for only one to three areas. Do this analysis periodically to respond to the inevitable fluctuations in your time and energy, as well as in the people and departments you oversee. If things are going smoothly, let them flow, regardless of what the flowchart suggests.


When deciding how much of an organization one person can manage and lead well, remember that every situation is different. In order to determine an appropriate range of control, you must consider the person in charge, the dynamics within the department, the available resources, and extenuating factors inside and outside of the church. When the range becomes too burdensome, the church will bog down and leaders risk becoming frustrated and burned out.


  • Is your range of control too broad, too narrow, or just right? Explain.
  • What are the dangers of a range of control that's too broad?
  • What are characteristics of a healthy range of control?
  • What should you consider when estimating the weight of a department or a responsibility?

Excerpted from Children's Ministry Professional Edition.

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