5 Issues That Became Clear Over the Last 12 Months of Consulting
Staffing issues get churches stuck. We see it all the time.
I recently asked our client experience team at The Unstuck Group to look at all of the staffing assessments we did with churches in 2018 and share what they found.
What we saw were some clear themes in the ways many churches are struggling on their staff teams, and part of why they feel stuck.
So I thought it would be good to record a podcast episode to talk about those core pain points most church teams are experiencing.
Amy and I recorded an episode, but the conversation got so deep into the topics that we ended up deciding to break it into two episodes. There’s A LOT of practical stuff in here.
And based on what we’ve seen in so many churches, I have a strong feeling many of you will be able to relate with all four points we’ll share in this two-part series. Most churches don’t have an intentional plan to identify potential leaders, nor a plan to develop the leaders they already have. Click To Tweet Teams that aren’t developing leaders are focused on doing ministry—not giving ministry away and developing people.The only way out of the “doing” cycle is to start dedicating time and energy to “developing” others. Click To Tweet
In Part 1 of this conversation, we discussed:
- The Top 2 most common staffing issues we found in a year’s worth of consulting data, the indicators they’re at play on your team, and practical next steps to get unstuck
- The cycle of doing ministry that is incredibly tough to break out of but ultimately keeps your team from developing more leaders
- 3 next steps for developing a leadership culture that you can start today (and that really do work—we can point to lots of examples)
- The staffing crucial leadership question that very often gets a response of silence and glances around the room when we bring it up on-site with a church, and why it doesn’t have to be that way
- What happens when team members lack clarity about what they should be achieving, and how it ultimately undermines what you’re trying to accomplish
- How to set FAST goals, and how it will change your team’s ability to get stuff done
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Designed to Lead: The Church and Leadership Development by Eric Geiger
- 6×6 Tool – Amy explained this how to use this tool in Episode 77 of The Unstuck Church Podcast – 4 Ways Ministry Embrace Mediocrity
- Leading an Unstuck Church Course – my online course has several lessons that will help you address the staffing issues mentioned in this episode. Check it out.
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00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week our team’s having a conversation about getting churches unstuck. I’m your host, Sean Bublitz. Today on the podcast, we’re going to hear from Tony and Amy on some key areas that we’re seeing churches get stuck when it comes to their staff team. In today’s episode, we’re digging deep into some of the specific challenges churches face and sharing some ways that we’ve seen leaders effectively address them, so it might help you to check out the show notes and download our leader guide to work through this content together with your team. You can find those at theunstuckgroup.com/episode 80. Also to make life a little easier, you can now subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox each week. You’ll get links to all the resources mentioned during the show, so you don’t have to write them down. You’ll get bonus resources not mentioned during the show to help you go a little deeper on the topic. You’ll also get the leader conversation guide to help you take this conversation back to your next senior leadership team, board or staff meeting. Just go to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast. Thanks again for joining us on this journey. Here are Tony and Amy.
Amy: 00:58 Well, Tony, I love the conversation we’re having today probably because I spend a lot of my time working with churches in this area of staffing and structure, but tell us how this conversation made it to the podcast.
Tony : 01:08 Alright Amy, you know I love working with data and actually looking at trends that are happening within churches across the country and about a month ago I asked the team to go back and look at all of the staffing assessments that our team did during the last year and I asked them to see if they could find any trends through that process and actually some of those trends became very clear to the point that there were many churches we found struggling as a staff team in certain key areas. In other words, there were some top areas where they felt stuck in today. I thought it would be good to talk about those core pain points that most churches are experiencing and because you do these staffing reviews many times, I bet you can guess what they are. Amy, should I test you?
Amy: 01:57 Yeah. You didn’t need to pull data. Tony. I probably could have just told Ya.
Tony : 02:02 Well, the first core staffing issue I wanted to cover today is we’re hearing this is the number one issue that staff teams are dealing with is they are not intentionally developing leaders. In other words, they don’t have an intentional plan to one, identify potential leaders at the church and here, by the way, I think we’re talking not only about staff leadership, but in many instances this does bleed over to volunteer leadership as well, so the first issue is that they are not identifying potential leaders, but secondly, they don’t have a plan to develop the leaders they do have. They, may hope their leaders will grow and develop, but as we say a lot around here at The Unstuck group, hope is not a strategy. So are some things we see at churches when this becomes a pain point, when not intentionally developing leaders becomes an issue for them.
Tony : 02:55 First of all, there are very few high capacity volunteers that are engaged in higher level ministry roles and again, this not only has to do with the fact that leadership development is an issue among staff, but when leadership development isn’t happening with staff, then that carries over to how they’re engaging volunteers and actually they, struggled in raising up high capacity volunteer leaders. Secondly, when they have a leadership role to fill, they have a very thin bench both from volunteer leader roles and for staff roles. In other words, when a leader is needed, there’s very few people to choose from. The third thing that we see in this instance, is that there are very few people who shoulder most of the leadership for the strategic initiatives at the church. And Amy, you’ve encountered this as well. When we go through our planning process, helping churches identify future vision and the strategy for how that vision’s going to be accomplished.
Tony : 03:59 At the end of that planning process, we help the church narrow down the priority initiatives that they’re going to run after and in many cases when churches have not had an intentional leadership development strategy. Once we identify those priority initiatives and I just asked the question, okay, who’s going to run point on each of these initiatives? People start staring at each other in the room because there isn’t. There isn’t enough leadership capacity to even run point on the areas that the church has identified are priorities for accomplishing future vision and future strategy. But I know that there are other aspects, Amy around our growth engines that we identify. Can you express kind of the gap that exists when churches don’t have intentional leadership development and the growth engines conversation and how that becomes an issue?
Amy: 04:56 Sure. Well, in the planning retreat, which you do typically before I’m on staff or on-site for staffing and structure. The church has identified these core things that have to be healthy and functioning well for their church to thrive and it’s often things like weekend services is a growth engine. Their group’s ministry is a growth engine, kids’ ministry is a growth engine and I will get to the charts and I’ll just see question marks under each of those and that’s because they haven’t been able to identify as a church who the primary leader is over those areas. So that’s an indication as well that we aren’t developing leaders.
Tony : 05:31 Yeah. Final indication here that I have is when churches don’t have an intentional leadership development strategy, they have many people on their teams who’ve been doing the same thing for many years with not much change in their effectiveness. And so when the church, when they engage with us, of course they’re wanting to increase the effectiveness of their ministries in a number of areas, but even if we help them identify new strategies that they run after, if they don’t have the leadership bench again to take those ministries forward, then obviously that’s the reason why churches remain stuck. So those are some of my observations, Amy, when churches don’t have an intentional strategy for developing leaders. But anything else you’ve seen?
Amy: 06:18 Well, what I see with teams that aren’t developing leaders is that they’re focused on doing ministry and we talk about this a lot in our podcast, but they’re not giving ministry away, therefore they’re really not developing anybody and because they’re doing so much, there’s no time to even think about developing others. So it’s a really tough cycle to get out of because you and I are working with a church right now that is actually committed to this change. They recognize they are stuck because their staff is doing, doing, doing, and it’s a tough culture change by the way primarily for their staff. You know, they even were in this mindset now like, well, that’s why you hired me to is do stuff, but the only way out of the doing cycle is to start dedicating time and energy to developing others. So Tony, if the folks who are listening, you know, resonated with those pain points, what are some next steps they could take?
Tony : 07:06 Yeah. The principle here is that leadership development just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t magically appear. Leaders pop out of the ground and we’re ready to engage our ministry strategy. That said though, there’s no easy button to turn it around quickly. And so because of that, here are some key next steps, in order to move forward in this area around leadership development. I think it begins first with identifying someone on the team to be the champion for leadership development. Now, most of the churches we work with, this is not going to be the sole job responsibility of whoever is identified. It’s going to be one of their dual roles, if you will, but someone on the team has to identify with this priority of, not only recognizing who are those potential leaders, but helping those potential leaders take their next steps as well.
Tony : 08:02 And so you have to identify someone to be the champion over this, without a leader this dial won’t move. The other thing we have to do is educate ourselves. And so one of the resources we’ve been recommending to churches is reading the book, design the lead. And that book is helpful because not only is it specific to, helping churches recognize the priority of developing leaders, but specifically within the context of a church, it will help you lay out, lay the groundwork of strategies and systems to begin to take some next steps in this area. The other honestly, and this is just a leadership responsibility, is just help the team have a new vision for what it is to really live out Ephesians 4 principals where we’re not doing this as ministers in the church or leaders in the church we’re equipping God’s people to do the work.
Tony : 08:58 You really have to just start somewhere. You have to identify something you can begin with. Some examples here. We’ve seen churches create leadership cohorts. In other words, they’ve identified a select group of volunteer leaders or a select group of staff and they’ve just read through leadership resources together and then talk through how do these leadership principles apply to ministry leadership today. Another specific next step you can take here is really identify what’s a key challenge or a key project that you need to accomplish in your ministry and to take these young leaders, potential leaders and assign them to this project with a little bit of coaching. Not only will you benefit from fresh perspective on whatever the new challenge is that you’re trying to address, but Amy, you’ve noticed this as well and your leadership really, you don’t know what it is to lead until you have the opportunity to lead something. And so in this case, the churches that do this well are not putting someone into a leadership role where they’re immediately leading other people there are assigning a project or a challenge or a problem to overcome and they’re putting leadership around that challenge and then using that as a coaching opportunity to increase someone’s leadership capacity with the hope that over time you can move them from leading a project or leading over a problem. Deleting people in the long run.
Amy: 10:34 Tony. I’d probably put those two together. If you haven’t started this fly wheel at all yet on your team, if you don’t have anything going in the area of leadership development, that cohort idea married with a book like designed to lead, you can not only get this group together, that’s going to tell them something like they have potential, but if you’re going to start to infuse that Ephesians 4 thinking by going through a book like that, and now I can just add that champion piece is so important, Tony, when I see churches actually begin to take steps on improving in this area, it’s the ones who have identified a champion, someone who’s got an ownership to move this forward. So that’s good. All right, what’s the next core issue?
Tony : 11:15 So the second core issue number two on the list. After we looked through all of those assessments around staffing, that our team did over the last year, this was the number two issue that was identified, not having wins clearly defined for each leader. Hopefully as a church, you have your church wins defined. Do you know what your ministry focus needs to be? Things like how many people you’re hoping to reach, and how many people you’re hoping will take next steps along your discipleship path or whatever your spiritual formation process looks like. But I’m talking about the people on your team. So moving the wins from what the church is trying to accomplish to the winds that every person, especially the leaders on your team need to be focused on. Do they know what their winds are and how they connect to the bigger picture?
Amy: 12:07 You know, Tony, I’ve said this for years, but when we used to do, you know, in our old process, do one-on-one staff interviews with team members, we’d always ask, how do you know if you’re winning, in your role, how do you know if you’re doing a good job doing the right things? And the most common answer we would get was like a pause and a smile and then they go that’s a really good question. So I have a feeling this has been a headline issue not just in 2018, but across the board there’s been a lack of clarity around what does the win for my role look like?
Tony : 12:39 Yeah. So let’s unpack that. Here’s what we see when this lack of clarity around wins is a core issue for churches. First indicator team members lack clarity around what they should be achieving. In other words, they may be busy, but no one is sure what they should be busy if they’re busy doing the right thing. So that’s always an issue. Another indicator goals are ambiguous or sometimes difficult to assess. Sometimes the priorities are unclear, so they have an understanding of generally what they should be working on, but they don’t know what the priority focus of their time needs to be. Another indicator, because of those first two is there’s a lack of accountability on the team, and I see this on the faces of senior pastors all the time is the sense of frustration because in their minds they’re really clear about what the church as a whole should be focused on, but because that clarity hasn’t been defined at the individual leadership level, then there’s a frustration among senior pastors and they’re wrestling with how, how, how do we, where’s the disconnect? Why is there a gap here and why? Why, why is it suddenly on my shoulders and make sure everyone has a win for what needs to be accomplished in their individual ministries as well. The principal here though is in order for team members to be effective and released to lead, they need clarity around what success looks like for their position and when the team is healthy in this area, every team member knows their wins, they know what their goals are and they know how to measure progress against them.
Amy: 14:22 So how do churches do that, Tony? I mean, I think we all get the idea, the issue now, but how do they do that?
Tony : 14:29 Well, again, assuming you know what the big church wins are, and again, that’s an assumption that we’re making and if that isn’t clear, that’s the foundation. You have to begin there. You need to know what the big church wins are. Then you need to go through a process that makes it clear for every team member to understand what they do and how that connects with the larger goals. And Amy, I think you’ve mentioned this actually a few podcasts ago, we encourage churches to set fast goals. In other words, these are frequently discussed, they’re ambitious, they’re specific and they’re transparent. And the word I want to focus on in this conversation is the word specific. When wins or goals are specific, it provides clarity as to what our team members are expected to deliver. It defines how much, how many and by when it will be accomplished and it releases our leaders to lead. And again, Amy, you were the one that first, kind of unpacked this fast concept. When it comes to that word specific, what comes to mind for you?
Amy: 15:40 Well, I’ll give you an example. We were just talking about intentionally developing leaders, right? And, if you tell your staff that they need to develop leaders while that win might be clear in your mind, it’s not clear in there’s, like a more specific win would be to actually identify and engage three new volunteer leaders in the next three months. So now they know what the result of that activity would produce if they’re doing it well, if they’re winning, they know what success looks like.
Tony : 16:07 That’s right Amy. And here’s what I have found in leadership through the years. Most people want to know that they’re doing the right things. They want to know that they’re investing their time and what they’re doing is really having an impact, in our case, in the ministry, Kingdom impact that we’re trying to have. But if you aren’t clear, if you aren’t specific with what you want them to accomplish, your team is going to be stuck. Amy, do you agree with that? And what have you seen in churches that have been stuck in this area?
Amy: 16:39 Yeah. You know, I’ve worked with many churches stuck in this area. I remember one, they had a lot of things that they wanted to get done and the senior pastor was the way you described a few minutes ago that was a really good description because they feel like the organization is clear but they aren’t seeing the results that they want. And this church made it a priority to get at clarifying the wins. And so I’ve talked about this exercise before, but they actually started doing the six by six. They had their staff, I was actually there to facilitate the first one. They had all their staff members overnight, think through what are the most six most important things that need to get done in the next six weeks. And it was fascinating Tony, because it exposed the lack of clarity. So each member brought in their post-it notes, put them in priority order.
Amy: 17:26 And it was really fun because the conversation that came out, they started to push back on one another. Like, what about x? Or why would you be doing that instead? They started to learn across the team what was on everybody’s plates. I think the senior pastor started to realize we haven’t been as clear as we should’ve been with what the priorities were because there were so many priorities they actually stopped doing some stuff as a result of that conversation. And everybody got really, really focused and the energy in that room from just the first conversation was amazing. They actually took all their post-its and put them up on a board in a hallway so everyone knew what everybody else was working on. So that’s just the way they got it going and they repeat it every six weeks now just to stay really sharp on what the priorities are.
Amy: 18:11 And by the way, they may outgrow that. I mean, once you get that muscle down and everyone understands what clarity really looks and smells like, it becomes a new muscle that’s developed. I would just add sometimes I want staff people to feel empowered too. Because if there’s a staff person listening to this podcast today and you’re like, that’s me, I don’t have clarity. I just encourage them, don’t wait for it. Take a stab at creating your own, define your wins, what you understand them to be, and then lead up. Bring that to your supervisor, leader, manager, pastor, and gain clarity. Don’t just wait for it.
Sean: Well, thanks for joining us today for Part 1 of this conversation. Don’t forget to tune in again next week for Part 2. If you have questions on this topic or any of our episodes, use the Hashtag #unstuckchurch and post them on your favorite social media channel. We would love to hear from you. Also, if you’re enjoying this podcast, in any way, we’d love it if you would consider leaving us a review on itunes. That helps us get this content into more leader’s hands. As always, if you’d like to learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck, you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com.