“We don’t have enough people to fill all of our positions.” I hear this complaint a lot, especially in congregations that are smaller than they used to be. Their official structure may call for a dozen or more boards and committees. Add it all up, and a congregation that sees 50 people on its pews feels obliged to fill up 60 or more seats around committee tables. Streamlining the official structure is a challenge, but with a clear plan and some determination, it can be done.
Getting the Nuts and Bolts Right
It is impossible to check my email without a bunch of articles popping up regarding the “macro” context for ministry these days. People are obsessed with it. They can’t stop writing and talking about all the changes that have taken place post-pandemic, most of which actually started about forty years ago. In contrast, I am obsessed these days with “micro.” Congregations cannot seize the macro-opportunities of this decade without tackling their many micro-issues—getting the nuts and bolts right.
Some People Don’t Want to Come Back. Now What?
As the Covid era passes, employers and churches face some similar dilemmas. Employers struggle to decide how and whether to transition back to in-person work. Churches wonder whether they should try to bring everybody back into the sanctuary or accept remote worship as part of the new norm. Since going backwards is hardly ever successful, we need to benefit from one another’s thinking about how to move ahead.
Breaking the Burnout Cycle
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.
Making Staff Evaluation More Engaging
I still dread performance management, especially annual evaluation of staff. I’ve built a structure that makes evaluation conversations doable, but they still make me so anxious that I want to run away and hide. Recently, Frederick Buechner collided with Harvard Business Review in my morning brain, and I started to wonder about adding a new question to the evaluation process—Should we alter course?—that could draw me out of my anxiety into a richer and more meaningful evaluation conversation.
Shifting Staff Designs
In the 20th century, many churches followed a standard staffing model. As a congregation grew in membership and mission, it added a director of Christian education, associate pastors, and a business manager, usually in that order. Today, congregations are questioning the need for all of those positions, at least as they were performed in the past.
We Need to Talk about Staff Size Differently
How many people should your church hire? At least since the 1980s, when Lyle Schaller proposed average worship attendance as a useful indicator of program staff size, churches (and church consultants) have used ratios to decide how many staff to hire. This mathematical approach has merit, but as a nonprofit executive I never used it—instead I made staffing decisions based on the specific work that needed to be done and what I hoped each staff member would contribute.