In “Staff Team Design for a New Era,” I wrote about the ideal staff team to meet your congregation’s future challenges. But let’s be frank: designing a new staffing structure is the easy part. The hard part comes when you realize you have the wrong player in a key position and you have to do something about that if you’re going build a better team.
The pandemic unraveled staff team structures. Resignations and retirements were at an all-time high. Downsizing was necessary for some congregations. Others hired new staff to respond to the unique needs of a pandemic era. Now things are settling down and leaders are questioning whether they have the right configuration of staff. Fruitful staffing conversations begin with the congregation’s unique circumstances and are guided by a realistic vision of its future.
“We need to innovate” may be one of the most overused phrases addressing the future of the Church. We like to dream big dreams, but realistically, what can we accomplish with our limited resources and our members who dislike change? Which innovation efforts will help create and sustain a hope-filled future—and which will prove to be a poor investment of our time and resources?
The future of any congregation is neither completely open nor completely pre-determined. Instead, we face a corridor of potential, constrained by boundaries. A future not yet known but brimming with possibilities is bounded by limitations of the past and present. We only have so many resources and opportunities. It is false to think that nothing new is possible. It is just as false to pretend that everything is possible.
In an era when innovation and adaptation are needed, many struggle to break free of old thinking patterns. No matter what we do, our congregations drift back to familiar, settled ways of doing things. It’s time to drop beneath the surface of our actions and challenge outdated assumptions that sustain the status quo.
Church staff approach the beginning of a program year with enthusiasm and energy, but as the year winds down, this often gives way to malaise and exhaustion. Staff rely on the summer months for revitalization before the cycle begins anew. This cycle of overwork, exhaustion and renewal has never been healthy, but during the pandemic, the summer hiatus has not offset months of overwork and stress. Many staff are running on empty—already burned out while the program year is still new.
It’s time to break the burnout cycle by instituting healthy, sustainable church workplace practices.
There is good reason to be optimistic about the start of this program year. People are back from a summer of traveling and reconnecting with loved ones. Staff are rested and brimming with new ideas. Many children have been vaccinated, and a more predictable school year seems likely. We are coming out of pandemic mayhem. However, a more robust start up to the new program year is not a signal that we have arrived at “the” new normal. We are still in a liminal season—and need to lead accordingly.
The church is a volunteer organization. Even the most staff-driven congregations rely on volunteers to make ministry work. The pandemic has impacted volunteerism profoundly, in ways not yet clear. Volunteerism isn’t bouncing back as readily as other aspects of congregational life. We can take steps to engage our volunteers more effectively now, while we wait to learn more about what the future holds.