Building a Successful Digital Ministry Strategy (Part 3)
We’re diving into part 3 of this series on Building a Successful Digital Ministry Strategy. In Part 1 of this conversation last week, we dug into how to structure your communication for both outsiders and insiders and in Part 2 we talked about how to measure online disciple making.
In this week’s conversation, we’re going to talk about what we think is becoming one of the more frustrating challenges for pastors, and that’s how to structure their staff team for online ministry.
There are several factors, of course, playing into why this can be so frustrating. The first is that some roles aren’t needed right now and possibly may not be needed in the future.
And secondly, churches are unclear on what their digital strategy is. And because of that, they’re unclear what their staffing and structure need to look like.
As we’ve been helping churches all year work through these challenges we’ve identified four key steps that churches need to take as they’re realigning their staff around this hybrid church model.
Since Amy has been on the front lines helping leaders through our staffing and structure process for churches, I’m going to let her take the lead in this conversation and walk us through what she’s experiencing every day.
This week, we walk through the 4 keys steps …
- The mental shift that needs to happen in order to succeed
- The strategy shift with digital ministry
- Finding the right leaders for the right roles
- Re-evaluating your team with zero-based staffing
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- The Ultimate Guide to Digital Ministry Strategy
- Does The Unstuck Group Help with Digital Strategy?
- Recommended Reading: Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud
- The Strategic Alignment Pyramid
- Strategic Planning Process for Digital Ministry Strategy
- How to Make Disciples Online – Episode 171 | Part 1
- How to Measure Online Disciple Making – Episode 172 | Part 2
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Change is hard, but it gets even more difficult when it affects people. And as churches shift more focus and resourcing online, they’re faced with difficult decisions of how they need to restructure their teams. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on effective digital strategy with a conversation on how to realign your team for digital ministry. If you haven’t yet, though, before you listen to today’s episode, make sure you subscribe to get the show notes. Every week, you’re going to get one email with our leader conversation guide, resources to go along with that week’s content, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.
Tony, as you know, over the last few weeks, we’ve been revisiting, undoubtedly, our hottest topic of 2020, which is the digital ministry strategies. Last week we tackled one of the biggest questions that we hear from pastors about digital ministry when we talked about what to measure, and in this week’s conversation, we’re going to talk about what I think is become one of the more frustrating challenges for pastors and that’s how to structure their staff team for online ministry. And Tony, as you’ve talked with pastors, why do you think these staffing issues have been such a challenge for churches this year?
Yeah, I understand why this has been frustrating for them. There are several factors, of course, playing into this. First, some roles and staff aren’t needed right now and possibly may not be needed in the future. And secondly, they’re unclear on what their digital strategy is. And so because of that, they’re unclear what their staffing needs to be as well. And they care about the people on their staff and don’t want to hurt them. So you have the combination of all of these factors coming together, Amy, and as we’ve been helping churches all year work through these challenges, we’ve identified there are really four key steps that churches need to take as they’re realigning their staff around this hybrid church strategy. And you’ve been on the front lines of helping churches and our staffing and structure process. So I thought we might kind of flip gears again in our podcast today. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you some questions and help us walk through some of what you’re experiencing in these days. Are you up for that, Amy?
Well, the first step churches need to take as they begin thinking about the staffing shifts is the change in their mindset. Amy, what’s that mental shift that they need to make specifically?
Yeah, I think you actually coined this phrase a few weeks ago when we were recording the podcast, but I think that first step is that they need to begin to think of themselves as an online church with in-person gatherings. We need to shift to thinking of as online organizations who host in-person gatherings as part of our strategy. And I think when we flip from an in-person church with some online things to an online church with in-person gatherings, then we begin to think differently about how we have to staff and structure. We’ll use our buildings and our resources to reach people online rather than using online to get people to our buildings and our resources. And, you know, Tony, one of the challenges churches are facing right now, at least with the ones I’ve been working with for the past six months in the midst of all the COVID changes that came, is that they’re realizing that they have hired a lot of people onto their staff team that are primarily doers. They do stuff. You know, if you think about care and counseling, they’ve got a lot of staff dollars tied up in people who do care and counseling, but in this new paradigm again, we’re going to have to save those kinds of specialist roles to execute online and digital strategies. We need graphic artists. We need people who have a specific skill set, and we’re going to need to make sure we have equipping leaders in those roles of connection so that we can really lead and release the connection side of ministry to our body. And so that’s one of the hiccups that, that pastors are facing in this shift.
And that is a big shift, Amy, but it’s critical if churches are going to get this right. What’s the second step that they need to be considering?
Yeah. And as that first shift, your mindset, you know as that starts to take hold, that we’re an online church with in-person gatherings, the next shift is actually around your strategies and how you do ministry. When we are going to be online first with in-person gatherings, strategies across the board are just going to need to change some. And let me just go back to review our pyramid. And if you’re a regular listener, you can track with me. But if this is a new concept, I encourage you to go back to episodes 145 through 147 to hear more about this, but we’ve been talking about it for a while, but the foundational part of our strategic planning pyramid, it didn’t change. You know, our doctrine, our core beliefs, our mission as a church, how we make disciples, those things didn’t change. It’s actually at this next level, the directional level, that there’s a lot of shifting going on right now. For example, you know that the first one is the vision again, where do we believe God’s calling us in the future? What will we look like in the next five years? That actually might’ve changed. I spent four hours with a church yesterday, and we just took a step back and went back through the original vision and made some tweaks. The next level is organizational wins or your goals as a church. Those might’ve changed also, in fact, they should have changed because we need to measure different things now. We have to have a different target.
Yeah. And Amy, I was actually talking with the church just a few weeks ago, and I actually appreciated the pastor recognizing. This is a large church. I mean, they were close to a thousand people before this pandemic hit, and now in person gatherings are about a third of that. And he just decided I am going to now just work with the foundation that we were a church of 300 to 400 people for in-person gatherings. And we have an online church, and we’re going to start building goals with those numbers in mind, rather than thinking magically we’re just going to come back to what pre-COVID numbers were. And because otherwise I think you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment because we have no idea what’s going to happen going forward. So we do, we have to revisit what are those goals? What are those organizational wins?
Yeah. And I think that’s where we end up in the, we joke about pastor math, but those multipliers, how many people are on the other side of the camera? Like we got to stop trying to fit those old goals into this new paradigm. So well, and then you know this, but when we have our wins, once we have our goals defined, then we have to pay attention to the strategies, how we’re actually going to execute. How will we accomplish goals and wins? So that has definitely changed. We do church differently now. So churches need to work through that directional level of the pyramid. Revisit that to determine what strategies they’re going to be staffing around now, because we have to get our staff and our structure around those key strategies if we’re actually going to accomplish the vision that God’s given us for our church.
Amy, do you have any specific examples of this?
Well, one example that comes to mind is when it comes to the facility, this church has done some local outreach, but now they’re really re-envisioning how can their building become this place of hope for their community? So instead of filling it up and in primarily thinking about their building related to weekend worship, they’re now kind of even restructuring staff around this, how does our building become a place that’s known in our community for helping others out? And then the weekend gathering, you know, we primarily staffed around that for a long time with all those big attendance numbers. But now this church is really switching the mindset as well to we are going to be an online service and they’re beginning to set new structure around that. How they’re allocating staff is different. I don’t know, Tony, do you have any examples where you’ve seen churches do this?
So again, this is a another church that I was working with in the last couple of weeks, and they are really leaning into what it is to be a hybrid church. And so acknowledging, for them, of course, the biggest shift that needs to happen is they have and had for years adequate staffing around their in-person environments. But now they’re having to reallocate staff for online. But at the same time, this is a church that’s seeing, like many churches, reductions in giving too. And so this sound crazy, but as they’re reducing staffing overall, they’re recognizing there are certain key positions that we actually have to add to our organization in this time. And so I love the fact that even in the midst of the constraints that they’re feeling financially, they’re recognizing we actually have to invest in new ways around our staffing structure in order to continue to engage the mission God’s called us to in a post-COVID world.
Yeah, that’s really good, Tony.
Amy, those are the first two steps. Can you explain what the third step is that churches need to consider?
Yeah, once you’ve redefined what your core strategies are as a church, the third step is finding the right leaders to actually lead those core strategies. And let me just talk about a couple of the big bucket areas. At a minimum, I believe you have to have a leader to lead the strategies that are going to reach new people, and you need a different leader championing people taking next steps on your discipleship path. These two leaders will surely work together, partner together, team together, but you need owners over reaching people, and you need owners over discipling people. We need people who lie awake at night worrying are we are removing that metric? Are we still reaching people? Are we still seeing people take next steps? And if digital content is the main strategy to connect with people outside the church and outside the faith, you need to staff for that. When you staff for digital strategy, just a couple of thoughts about this. I think you need to staff it with someone who works at a little bit faster pace, someone who can be comfortable failing. I think we’re going to have to try a lot of new things in this space, and we need people who are comfortable just trying something. Did work? Didn’t work? Shift. You know, try again, fail forward type of thing. I think people who are slower and don’t like mistakes, they aren’t the right kind of personality for the role because we can’t spend too much time trying to do everything right the first time. We’re going to have to practice a little bit. And ideally, if you can afford it, your person who’s over that reach or digital strategist, isn’t the same person who oversees your in-person gatherings. That goes back, Tony, when we talk about people go back to what’s comfortable, and it will be very easy if you have one leader over both your digital strategy and your weekend, that the weekend will become that whirlwind again, because it’s back to what we know. So, and for your next steps leader, that person who’s helping people take steps on the discipleship path. Again, you need a high-level equipping leader who doesn’t need to do stuff as much as they need to equip other people and see other people take on the ministry.
Yeah, I can’t overemphasize enough the importance of having two separate leaders over reach and the discipleship strategy at your church though. And we’ve seen this in small churches. We’ve seen it in very large churches, where the staffing and more importantly, the leadership is there’s an imbalance, and then natural pull in every church is toward discipleship, which, you know, that’s a good thing. We need to do that. We need to encourage believers to take their next steps toward Jesus. But when you don’t have dedicated leadership and teams built around reaching people outside the faith and outside the church, you’re never going to gain ground as a ministry to the mission God’s really called us to. And so this is going to sound like, man, this is over the top, Tony. But if you can only afford to hire two people at your church, make sure one is focused on discipleship, and one is focused on reach. And as your church grows, you need to continue to consider what is the appropriate balance? It won’t be a 50/50 balance, no doubt, but there needs to be some better balance to how we’re staffing. And then more importantly, as you’ve identified, the leadership role itself. Do we have leaders that are just thinking about, dreaming about, and really giving all of their giftedness to the reach challenge and the discipleship challenge in our churches?
Yeah. It’s clear the drift. The drift is towards becoming internally focused as a church. That’s what we battle all the time with the pastors we serve, right? That’s why over 80% were in maintenance. So you need someone to champion that voice for the people outside your church right now.
Yeah. All right, Amy, this has been very helpful, but what’s the fourth step that churches need to take when restructuring for digital ministry?
Yeah, I think the fourth step is to build out your structure through what I call zero-based staffing. We’ve always heard of zero-based budgeting, where instead of just tweaking last years, we just start from scratch. I actually recommend that because this shift has been so seismic. I think we need to start with a zero-based staffing approach. So I would say like, how would you structure, if you were starting over? You know, you’ve got some resources, you’ve got your strategies defined now, you know what your goals are, you know where you believe God’s calling you. What would you do if you could start over? And I always encourage churches to just develop the high-level structure first. We often call that the senior leadership team, and I always go roles first. Let’s not think people. We get a little confused when we start to just try to figure out where people fit. I think you have to think through what are those top-level leaders that we need in each of these positions? And once you have the positions down, then you can go ahead and start working through, do we have these people on our team? And once you have peace about, you know, who you think should be in those roles, here’s just a couple of really practical things, Tony, that I coach churches on. Talk to each of those high-level leaders that you have in mind for that role. Tell them about the four or five leadership roles, or maybe it’s two or three or maybe six, but you can give them an overview of what that senior leadership team is going to look like. Tell them what you would like them to do, to consider, and then let them have some time pray over that. And you’ll have a follow-up conversation. And here’s the key. You want to lock in those leaders before you start to build out the rest of your org chart, because those leaders need to have a voice into, if they understand what their goals are now, what the win is for their role. They’re going to want to have a little bit of voice into how to structure the team underneath them. You don’t have to know it all as a lead pastor, how it needs to be built out. Your job is determined that senior leadership team and then select great people who know how to build out, you know, with the limited resources they have, build out the team underneath them.
Yeah, Amy, can I just jump in there? Because this is, I mean, this is a real life example from my past. So this was many, many years ago. My boss walked into my office and said, Tony, I hired a new person for your team while you were gone. And I thought, huh? I mean, it wasn’t that. I mean, the guy was sharp and I was glad to have him part of my team. But talking about undercutting the leadership potential of folks on your team. One of the most critical functions of a leader is building the team. And if you’re not allowing these key leaders on your team to have a voice into the team that they’re building, you’re really undercutting their leadership. So it sounds like, well, that’s an obvious point. We would hire the leaders first and then let the leaders build their team. But we see that mistake often in organizations, particularly in churches. All right, I’m sorry, Amy. I cut you off.
No. And part of the reason that happens, Tony, I think is that once we have the bug that we need to restructure, we want to do it as quickly as possible. All of a sudden there’s this urgency, but a restructure, you have to go fast and slow and fast and slow in order to do it right, so that you aren’t finding yourself three months from now having to restructure again. Let me just add a couple other things. We’ve talked about it before, but I think that churches are also going to have to adjust their resourcing. We have to recognize when we’re hiring for digital, when we’re hiring for operations, when we’re hiring for weekend in-person gatherings, we need to hire specialists. There are specialized skill sets people need to bring to that. And then like for family ministries and next step ministries, we have to put people in place that are great at developing strong volunteer leaders. So I think the last thing, Tony, I’d just drop in here, I was just rewatching some of Henry Cloud’s video clips on “Necessary Endings.” And it was good for me. I’m often coaching churches through change, and that book’s been out for a while, but I encourage leaders to go back to “Necessary Endings.” It gives us, I think, the right way to think through the changes that God’s going to call us to lead through. And for me, it gives me courage when I remember the kind of the “why” behind some of the necessary endings that we’re going to be facing.
Yeah. And I think we need to lean in on this. I was considering this very topic in the last weeks, Amy. And, actually, you’ve heard me talk, I’m a big baseball fan, and the Cleveland Indians, this was a challenging off season for them because they have a lot of gaps in their roster that they need to fill primarily in their outfield. And which is just interesting because at the same time, they have several great starting pitchers on their roster right now, more than they need, but they can’t just take those extra starting pitchers, because there’s a gap in the outfield, and move them to outfield positions because that’s not what they’re gifted to do. And too many times, in recent months, as churches are recognizing, we need to pivot our strategy, and as a result of that, we need to adjust our staffing. Too many times, I’ve seen churches suggest, well, we can just reallocate staff by moving people from certain roles to the new roles that we need to be filled. And for a time, that may feel like you’re taking care of your existing staff, but when they get repositioned in a role that’s not a fit for them, that’s not only going to be less than fulfilling for them and challenging for them, but it’s certainly going to be challenging for your ministry strategy and the mission that you’re trying to accomplish. And so, these are not easy decisions. I get that. And I think it’s a great reminder, the best resources I’ve ever read on some of those tough decisions around staffing do come from Henry Cloud and his “Necessary Endings” book. Or you can find some videos with him teaching on that topic online. Now is a good time to get a refresher on that because there are some necessary tough conversations that you’re going to have to have in order to move your structure forward so that you can move your ministry strategy forward. Amy, normally you’re asking me this question, but this week I get to ask you. Any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah, whenever I work with a church on a restructure, we always talk about this phrase. I think it’s from Kellogg’s corporation actually, but it’s, “Strategy. Structure. People.” You have to nail down your strategies first. Then you’ve got to figure out what kind of structure will support those strategies best. And then we have to think about who are the right people in those roles? What you were just describing, Tony, with the baseball analogy, that’s going, who do we have (people) first? Then it’s structure. And then you’re like, well, what can we do with who we have? Right? So you have to reverse that. And structure changes, like you were saying, they’re admittedly hard, but the right structure gives you the best opportunity to achieve the vision that God’s given you as you lead the church. And if we don’t shift, we’re in danger of not making the changes we need to make to continue to reach and disciple people. Old habits are very hard to break, but a new structure will set people up to embrace change and develop the new muscles that we need to fish in this new reality right now. And I would just say, after working with several churches through these structure changes that COVID’s brought on, an outside perspective, Tony, is really helpful when you make these shifts. I think sometimes that’s one of the best things that I can bring to a team is perspective. Because I’m not in there. I don’t know the history. I’m just kind of looking at objectively at where they want to go and what they want to do. So if that describes you and you want an outside perspective, man, we’d love to help you out. And for more information on how we can partner with you, just go to theunstuckgroup.com.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Amy mentioned, if you’re feeling like you need a clear plan in digital strategy to help you reach new people and help everyone take their steps to grow as disciples, we can help. We’ve partnered with dozens of churches over this past year to help them clarify their plan. If you’re interested in learning more about how your church can find this kind of clarity as well, just visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/digital. Next week, we’ll be right back here on the podcast, so until then, we hope you have a great week.