One of the more common areas church leaders ask me to support them with is in the area of their church staffing. As key players in shaping the culture, church staff can significantly help or hinder the journey of a church. Recruitment, training, discipleship and development are areas that a church leader must give serious attention to. Otherwise, they risk spending their time dealing with problematic people or issues and challenges just within the staff team. That can suck the life out of a leader, giving a major headache and providing a distraction from the mission of the church.
Two dynamics often exist with teams, include church staff. These two dynamics are results, and relationships. These two dynamics can form a tension and some leaders are able to successfully navigate that tension. Others are only able to focus on one – perhaps through choice, or perhaps it is their own personal leaning. Some leaders struggle with both. The following chart highlights some of the cultures I’ve observed around church staffing setups I’ve worked with before:
Cultures are comprised of the values of the strongest influencers within them. So you need to know who you have in the room before you look to change culture. There are different ways of doing this, but I’ve noticed that different kinds of people bring different values, emphasis and thinking to a church staff team:
If you are heavy on one type of thinking or behaviour, your culture will be skewed that way. Many proactive directors, for example, means you’ll have a lot of action-orientated and outcome-focused leaders. But you also risk lacking the wisdom that reflective leaders bring, or the soft-touch relationally-orientated leaders naturally possess. Knowing your people means knowing your staffing gaps.
So what steps can you take to improve your church staff team? Here are a few suggestions:
Hire At The Right Time
If you have too much on your plate, and no one available to delegate to, then it’s time to consider hiring. Whether part-time or full-time, a wise hire will make all the difference. Fatigue and exhaustion from overwork impact the whole church and many hands make light work. Don’t leave it too late before you bring on people to help share the load. This will also have the added effect of alleviating the mental load that comes from focusing on duties outside our sweet spot and will free up brain space for creative thinking and reflection. A natural outcome will be a benefit your church vision, for sure! In short, if you find yourself distracted from the mission of the church, it’s time to examine why. Chances are, it is because you have too many plates to spin.
Clear Roles Are Essential
If your church staffing team aren’t clear on what is expected of them, how can they perform? Clarity breeds focus, which leads to improved performance and results. Knowing the goals of your role clarifies targets and fosters accountability. Healthy accountability. Because you know what it is you are accountable for. The first step in ensuring clear roles for your church staff? Clear job descriptions. The second step? Clarifying their level of empowerment.
Evaluate Regularly and Consistently
When you manage a church staff, you can’t expect people to just know what to do and get on and do it. Some people might like a light touch management style. But others feel more secure with regular direction and input. Of course, everyone needs encouragement and gratitude! Evaluations are part of this. Think of them as check-ins to ensure everyone is still on the same course, at the correct speed, with the correct itinerary.
The reality I most often find is that churches are really bad at assessing and evaluating church staffing personnel. It often leads to frustrated workers, frustrated leaders, and crisis management – emergency steps needing to suddenly be taken because of poor performance, a resignation out of nowhere, or a crash in morale. But this doesn’t have to be the case! Regular and small check-ins actually save work in the long run and are an essential part of leadership coaching and discipleship. Some evaluation styles that I recommend include:
- Giving regular feedback. Don’t just save it for a yearly meeting. The moment of growth has then been and gone!
- Review your goals. Are your goals the same as your church staff? I’m not suggesting division. It can be down to simple communication! But regularly reviewing goals together ensures your team are on the same page AND going in the same direction. Goals are not just meant to be set; they need to be tracked as well. A monthly meeting is a good place to start. And write things down!
- 360 evaluations. By this, I mean a self-evaluation as a reflective exercise. It’s simple, and based around two questions that someone on your church staffing team answers and then discuss with the person who oversees them. The first question is “how am I doing in my role?”, using your church core values as a plumbline. The second question is “how am I doing emotionally?”. These questions will open up conversations about performance, areas of development, and emotional and spiritual health. It’ll identify burn-out or boredom and save you, as the leader, a lot of time, energy, and effort compared to suddenly discovering an underperforming or burnt-out church staff member.
- Annual Performance Review. Really, these should be informed by the other evaluations so there shouldn’t be any surprises for the reviewer, or the reviewee. For church staff, simple questions around eight key areas should suffice. These areas are:
Set The Environment Using Your Cultural Influence
As a key leader, you impact the environment yourself. So you need to demonstrate, model, and show what it is you want from your church staff. However, there is a caveat here: you need to be gracious and affirming when shaping a culture. Being driven or tyrannical will alienate people – first internally, in their hearts. Then secondly, with their feet. Google spent two years researching what makes a good team, and identified five areas. These five areas are a good place to start in developing a healthy church staff.
If you can replicate these five things amongst your team, your staffing challenges will transform. I’m sure of it.
Quickly Prune Church Staffing Weeds
Weeds appear out of nowhere and spoil what should be a lovely area. So it is with your church staff. Certain attitudes, behaviours, or factors must be addressed rapidly. Some of these church staffing weeds that require zero tolerance and immediate action include:
- Disconnection from the church mission
- Lack of trust in senior leadership
- Low morale
- Disengaged team
- Lack of ownership and responsibility
- Unclear expectations
- Change-averse and risk-averse thinking
I’m not at all saying that any of these immediately means someone should be fired. But it does mean conversations, evaluations, uncovering the roots, and pastoring. If any of these red flags are left unaddressed, your team results AND relationships will suffer.
There is a reason why structure should be developed after the essential culture has been identified. If we structure people-first, we cap our growth. When we are structure-first, we will struggle to adapt as spiritual seasons change. If we are strategy-first, we focus exclusively on one thing which is fine for a season, until that season changes. Our mission should shape our vision. Then our mission and vision inform us what our culture needs to be. Our structure is built to facilitate the growth of that culture. A huge part of that is having the right ‘who’ doing the right ‘what’. This should have an effect on our church staffing process. Some principles to consider are:
- Culture before structure; then look for people who fit that culture
- Make sure people have the right attitude and aptitude for the role. Use tools to help!
- Fill leadership roles with leaders, not with doers.
- No one should personally line-manage more than half a dozen other staff members. If they do, no one is being properly managed
- Define the expectations and goals of each role.
- Reinforce your cultural values continually
- Create an org chart so everyone can see it!
‘Eye-test’ Your Church Staff Health
Whilst an assessment that gets really under the hood is the best thing for measuring health, it’s not always practical or easy to do that. Some quick ‘eye tests’ can help you discern the level of health amongst your church staffing team. Good things to look for as indicators of healthy are:
- Healthy conflict and disagreement during meetings and discussions
- People asking questions, engaging and offering differing perspectives
- The presence of fun and laughter
- Humility, inter-peer learning, and feedback being both offered and received from people other than you?
- Clarity on what success looks like
- Decisions being made without sign-off from a senior leader
Of course, the presence of these things is healthy but conversely, the absence of these may indicate all it not quite well.
Church staffing is a complex issue, financially, organisationally, and personally. Sometimes we are too close to the challenges and can’t see the woods for the trees. I work with church leaders helping them review their church staffing structure and key leaders. If you’d like to find out more, get in touch!