How To Differentiate a Systems Problem from a People Problem
Every church has them—broken, ineffective systems. Why? Partly because systems must constantly be evaluated and edited for results. In this episode, Amy and I share how to differentiate a systems problem from a people problem, the most common clogged systems churches have, and a 6-step process you can follow to fix them.
I also share a story about a broken system at a popular restaurant chain. The key phrase was “clogged beef tube.” You won’t soon forget the analogy:
In this episode, we discuss:
Avoiding option overload
4 questions for broken systems
Simplifying your process
Prioritizing touch points
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Do you have any other thoughts on fixing broken systems in your church, or a story of success? Comment or share with us on social media using #unstuckchurch.
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Tony Morgan: Before we start today’s conversation, let me tell you about our episode sponsor. Enjoy stewardship solutions does an incredible job helping church leaders fully fund vision by leading people on a spiritual journey of generosity. They’ve used a proven four-step process since 1992 to serve over 4,500 churches and to see more than $4,000,000,000 raised. If your church’s next step requires major funding, enjoy can help consultation calls with them are absolutely free and you can learn firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Anderson: Hey, welcome to the unstuck church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan. And each week we share conversation our teams been having about getting churches unstuck. And today we’re talking about broken systems within the church. Um, we might even say they’re clogged. I’m Tony. This is a conversation our teams had. I think every time we get together and this past summer you shared a story about your son that has made this topic even more memorable. Would you be willing to share that story?
Tony Morgan: Yes. I’m willing to share it. The question is my son willing for me to share it, but I think he is, in fact A. I included this in an article not too long ago, a. anyways, my son was visiting a fast food Mexican restaurant. I will withhold the name of the restaurant to try to protect the innocent, but uh, he walked into the restaurant with some friends and uh, it got to the front counter and it was a little bit surprised because the person behind the counter indicated he could order anything he wanted on the menu is long as there wasn’t beef in it and you know, this is a little bit difficult in a Mexican restaurant in order not to order something that doesn’t have beef. And he was a bit confused by it and kind of inquired why is it that we’re not allowed to order anything with beef? That person behind the counter was a very friendly person and had been coached. Well, I think, uh, and then, uh, as a result, explained is as best he could. The reason why they couldn’t order anything with beef from the Mexican restaurant was because the beef tube was clogged else.
Amy Anderson: Sounds bad.
Tony Morgan: I don’t think about that too much. Um, but, uh, it’s a funny story and to my knowledge, anytime my son has gone back to that fast food Mexican restaurant, the beef tube has not been clogged since then, but it’s a, it’s a great reminder that, uh, gosh, some key systems that will allow us to serve our customers if we’re a business and allow us to help people take a next step in their ministry at our church. Uh, some key systems can sometimes get clogged. And so I think that’s the focus of today’s conversation, amy, is to talk about how we unclog our systems.
Amy Anderson: Well, Tony, I know you work with different churches every week. Um, what are some of the examples that you see of systems that frequently are clogged? I’m at the churches we work with.
Tony Morgan: Yeah. So some of these may be more obvious than others, but one good example is thinking about first time guests. One system that can get clogged as a church is the fact that there’s not an easy, obvious next step for people to get connected and to learn more about the ministry. And so an example is for someone new. We’ve seen churches make people wait months to go through a membership class or something along those lines in order for someone just to take whatever that very first step is after a weekend service. So that would be an example of a clogged system at a church. Another example, someone walks in with a child and this is their very first visit to the church. Sometimes churches have a clock system because there’s not an obvious and easy for them to check in their children to the children’s ministry area and that’s uh, becomes a very complicated process.
Tony Morgan: By the way, I had the exact opposite occur to me though in a church recently walked in very first time checking in our youngest to the, it was the student ministry area and it was like they were really waiting for us to show up. They were expecting us because their process for a brand new family and getting, getting her into the system and getting her checked in the classroom. It was flawless. It was, it was phenomenal. So, uh, but that’s an example of a clog system that we’ve seen. Another example is when someone’s trying to connect into a small group or we’ve seen this around Sunday school classes, is it an obvious and easy process for us to find a fit for a group or a class when we’re wanting to engage in that step? Another example of a system that we’ve seen clogged and churches has to do with the volunteer engagement.
Tony Morgan: In other words, there’s not an obvious and easy way for us to find how we can use our gifts, the gifts God has given us in our passions to connect on a serving team. Another example is just anything that would involve online engagement, including giving a. we’ve worked with some churches where you have to dig and dig and dig on the website just to figure out how you can contribute financially to what’s happening in the church. And in some churches we’ve worked with, and it’s not even possible to make online contribution, so that’s an example in a church of a clog system when it’s not easy and obvious for us to be able to contribute financially online or through an APP. Uh, and then I would say the more, most common area where we see systems being clogged in churches is as it relates to a discipleship process for the church is not obvious. It’s not easy if I’m wanting to take my next steps toward Christ, um, it becomes very hard in many churches because they’re offering so many programs and so many events. All of those programs and events start to compete with each other. And as a result of it, there’s a cloud system because I’m someone wanting to take a step and it is not easy and obvious for me for how I might do that. So those are some examples of some clogs systems that we’ve run into in the churches we’ve served through the years,
Amy Anderson: as you described that last one. It reminds me of when you go to a restaurant and there’s so many things on the menu, you have no idea even what to order the frustration.
Tony Morgan: Uh, yeah. So I’m thinking specifically of cheesecake factory. They actually served some great food, but there, there were so many options on their menu or at least there used to be because I’ve stopped going to them because I. There was just too much. Uh, I want to know when I walk into a restaurant, there’s a limited menu with great options in any one of those limited options I’m going to love,
Amy Anderson: right. Otherwise, it’s a frustrating experience, especially if you have trouble making decisions to begin with,
Tony Morgan: especially if the goal is to eventually get someone to get the cheesecake a. If you write, in our case it’s not the cheesecake. Ultimately we want to help people become fully devoted followers of Christ. But if we’re offering so many options for programs and events and next steps, uh, then it becomes impossible for us really to help people experience what full devotion to Christ is all about.
Amy Anderson: That’s all right. Well, let’s get to the solution side. Tony, what are some recommendations you have for churches that have some systems that are clogged right now? How do they fix them?
Tony Morgan: Yeah, so if, if the, if you have a sense that you have something that needs to be unclogged in area of ministry, uh, you want to step back and ask four simple questions and these questions have been common in conversations we’ve had with the churches that we’ve served over the last few years. But it’s what’s working in this area. What’s confusing, what’s missing? And the most obvious question is what stuck. So let’s go back as an example. A new family walks in and they have a child that they’re wanting to connect to the children’s ministry area about that process. We would ask what’s working for new families? What’s confusing for new families, what’s missing for these new families? And what stuck. And what we have found is those four congress, those four questions generate some conversation about these key areas that allow us to identify what the core issues are that are preventing us from seeing health and one of these areas and ultimately helping us to cern what’s causing the system to get clogged.
Tony Morgan: So that’s the first step is to ask those four simple questions. And by the way, um, I have found it’s helpful for me to consider those four questions with other people, um, because although I might have a sense of what the answers are to those four questions, what I find is other people have different perspectives and they see things in a different light. And as a result of that, there’s more clarity that evolves as you ask those questions when you invite more people into that conversation. And so I would say at a minimum, are there two or three other people that you can process those questions with? Um, boy, if you can, if you can talk specifically to the person that’s being impacted by one of these areas, that’s even better. Um, but try to get some, a different perspective in that conversation as well.
Tony Morgan: So that’s the first step. Ask those four simple questions. The second step is for a church. I think you ought to prioritize your key touchpoints first. And what I mean by that, for the brand new person, what are the things that you’re hoping every one of them will do? And an example would be, find out more about what’s happening in the church or give to your church or check in at a child or a student or get connected to small groups or volunteering there. There are a handful of those key touchpoints. Really probably every church has some of these similar key touchpoints, but I would focus on if you have a lot of broken systems, focus on the systems first that are gonna have the most impact on the most people. So focus on the key touch points is the second thing. The third thing is then once you are engaging a conversation about a specific system, whether it’s checking in kids or helping people understand your church or helping them serve or connecting them to a group or class, whatever the system is that you’re trying to improve, map out what your process looks like and then try to eliminate as many steps as possible and let me give you a specific example of how I engage this conversation with a church.
Tony Morgan: A couple of years ago we were talking about how difficult than it is for someone who’s interested in serving particularly in the children’s ministry area to move from an interest in volunteering in kids ministry to actually serving in kids ministry and we started to map out all the different steps that were involved in that process. I mean, I have an interest. I communicate that interest. There’s a followup conversation that needs to be scheduled that gets scheduled. There’s a commitment to come and kind of check out what’s happening in kids ministry and what volunteer opportunities are available. I said, I’m interested and then I have to go to an orientation to get trained on this. At the same time, there’s all kinds of paperwork for me to complete because we have to do background checks, so the necessity in kids ministry area and then once we go through all those steps, there’s a scheduling process that needs to happen before I can show up to get, to have someone kind of walk me hand, hold my hand and actually train these specifically on the role I’m going to be engaging.
Tony Morgan: And we mapped out there must have been a couple dozen steps that people have to take. And I just asked the question, what if we treated joining kids ministry, like getting hired for a new job? Um, basically, uh, when you get hired for a new job, your employer says, show up on this date. And then when you show up at that scheduled time, they have you fill out all the paperwork. They make sure you’re ready to go. They train you, they orientate you, they do all those things, but really they don’t. They don’t have all those 24 steps to connect into a, into a role at their business. And I said, what if we were just to eliminate all these steps and make it this simple. If you’re interested in serving, you know, you want to serve in kids ministry, show up for your, for your first, uh, assignment, uh, at 9:00 on Sunday morning, and then, and then at that point we make sure they fill out the paperwork that will allow for the background check and we’ll walk them through the orientation and we’ll train them and things like that.
Tony Morgan: Uh, but we eliminate all those preliminary steps by getting them scheduled to serve, scheduled, just show up. And then we take care of all of the other steps after that. So that’s an example. And there we could talk about a lot of other areas, but one example of how we want to try to eliminate as many steps as possible. The fourth air, the fourth step then is to pursue a solution that just about anyone can handle with appropriate training. In other words, what I’ve seen churches do a lot of times is they lean on gifted individuals and whatever the whatever the step is, they’ll tell you, go talk to sue, go talk to Bob, you’ll talk to Mary, and they’ll help you with this next step. Well, that’s an indication that you have a, you have a talented and gifted bob, sue and Mary, um, but you don’t have a system in place, and a good system really should allow for the people involved in carrying out the system to be almost an entertainer interchangeable once they’ve been properly trained on the process.
Tony Morgan: And so if there’s a question of we need to get the right person to to carry out the step in our system, then it’s not a people issue. It’s a systems issue that still needs to be addressed. So pursue a solution that just about anyone could handle with appropriate training and related to that, the first step is you gotta write it down. If it’s a system that’s going to be used over and over and over again, you need to document it, which then makes it easier for you equip somebody else to engage that system. Any amy, you and I have been through this before. Even with the systems we use at the unstuck group, it’s a lot easier to equip someone new on our team and make sure that they carry out the process and a healthy way in a way that’s going to add value. The churches that we serve, the consistency is going to be there. It’s a lot easier to do that if we have systems documented in writing to carry that out
Amy Anderson: well and the heart behind that when we talked about it was we want to make sure every one of our churches has a great experience right as leaders to create those systems and I think it’s the same thing churches are looking for. They want every first time attender, hopefully to have an amazing experience as they come to their church. And so these systems that they first encounter really create a first impression and if you’re going to be seeing them come back and get connected with your church, you’ve got to get these processes down.
Tony Morgan: That’s right. And so final step then is once you’ve done all that and you’ve implemented your new system, is number six just to evaluate your results, are you still seeing the results that you expected and you strive for when you implemented that new system? And that’s just an acknowledgement that we don’t just evaluate once, once the new systems put in place, we constantly evaluate to make sure the system is still working. And again, looking at our experience at the unstuck group, there were some systems that I implemented eight years ago that we can’t use today because the system that worked eight years ago doesn’t work today. And so, uh, just making sure we’re consistently evaluating for results. So just kind of recap here. Uh, whatever the area is asked, those four simple questions, what’s working, what’s confusing, what’s missing, what’s stuck? Prioritize the key touchpoints first, eliminate as many steps as possible.
Tony Morgan: Look for the look for the red easy button so that we can, we can help people make as few steps as possible. Number four, pursue a solution that just about anyone could handle with appropriate training related to that. Number five, write it down and six, evaluate for results, so I’m hoping as we unpack those core areas in our church and think about it as those things we do over and over and over again. My hope is that as you work to get healthy systems in place, you’ll never have to face the challenge of a clogged beef too.
Amy Anderson: Thank you Tony, and thanks to all our listeners for joining us for this week’s conversation about getting churches unstuck and we hope you’ll tune in again. Be sure to subscribe on Itunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcast so that you don’t miss an episode and we’d love to hear your thoughts and your comments. So join the conversation on social media using the Hashtag unstuck church.