Special Edition: Q3 2021 Unstuck Church Report
Given what our world has experienced over the last year and a half, we sensed now might be a good time to check in and see how teams are doing. So, using our Unstuck Teams Assessment, we surveyed over 1,100 church staff members from churches around the world.
In the short term, we’ve learned that it’s actually possible for the ministry to have a growing Kingdom impact while, at the same time, the team is in an unhealthy place. That won’t last long. The health and performance of the team will eventually determine the long-term health and impact of the church.
THE Q3 2021 UNSTUCK CHURCH REPORT
In this special edition of our quarterly Unstuck Church Report, we asked survey participants to respond to 12 different statements in each of these six categories: personal health, team health, personal performance, team performance, systems and structure, and organizational culture. (You can subscribe to the quarterly report for free, or, if you’re subscribed to the podcast show notes, you’ll receive it as well.)
All six areas are critical to experiencing health and high-performance as a team. This week, Amy and I dive into some key findings from the data and discuss:
- A key rhythm most church teams are missing
- Ministry silos and team alignment issues
- Healthy performance evaluation processes
- The importance of organizational goals
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. The Unstuck Group recently surveyed over 1000 church leaders with questions about the overall health of their team. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy are diving into the data and sharing some of the headline issues that we’re seeing when it comes to the health and performance of church teams. If you’d like to follow along with the data included in today’s conversation, as well as read the full report on team health, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/trends and sign up to get our free quarterly Unstuck Church Report. Each quarter we’ll send you new data with the current trends we’re seeing, updated benchmarks and Tony’s thoughts on the most recent snapshot on church health. You can sign up for free today at theunstuckgroup.com/trends. Also to get the show notes for today’s conversation, as well as our full archive, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Today’s episode is going to focus on the data and the trends we’re seeing from churches in recent months, Tony. We’ll be sharing some highlights from the recently released quarterly edition of The Unstuck Church Report. So Tony, why do your eyes light up every time we do one of these episodes focused on data and trends?
Yeah, I admit it. There’s something about the analysis of statistics and information like this that just, I mean, it just lights me up. I love it. I mean, in school I took statistics courses, lot of math courses, it’s just something that I’ve always gravitated towards. And so when we are able to collect all of this data and information, I just, I actually love the days that I get the dump of all the data. And I just get to dive into those spreadsheets and start to analyze what the data is telling us. And I can’t remember, Amy, if I’ve shared it before, but this really does go way back in my world. I grew up collecting as a kid baseball cards, and I loved collecting the different teams and things like that, different players on the different teams. But I also loved on the backside of the picture of the baseball players. The back of the card would have all of their statistics. And I would, this sounds so nerdy, but I got so familiar with the statistics on the back of those baseball cards that my dad would kind of treat me as a party game where he would name a player, and I would identify, yeah, they’re averaging this, they’ve hit this many home runs. And I was just kind of like, I don’t know, child prodigy when it comes to baseball card knowledge. There are a lot of other places in the world that you want to be spending your time probably. But I come by it naturally apparently.
This is explaining so much to me, Tony. Thank you for sharing that story.
But in this season, I’m particularly interested in analyzing the trends related to the church and, you know, Amy, the gospel mission that we are on as not only believers, but as the body of Christ, it’s really what motivates me. And so I really love when we can hear from churches and start to see what’s working. And then when we identify what’s working to be able to share that, to help other ministries. And then I actually enjoy the opportunity of identifying what’s stuck right now on churches, in churches, and on church teams, because I look at those as opportunities for us to overcome, challenges to overcome. And maybe part of that is that people are telling me I’m an Enneagram 1, Amy, that I am “The Reformer.” And as a result of that, I look at opportunities and challenges for us to overcome them. And for us to, especially in the world of ministry, of course, to ultimately have a greater kingdom impact. And so that’s probably why my eyes light up when I start to look at this data and we start to have these types of conversations.
Well, I like when you’ve got a glint in your eye. Before we jump into the data though, this quarter’s Unstuck Church Report is a little unique. So will you share a little bit about that?
Yeah, so, I mean, we all realize this has been a unique season. And as a result of that, I was probably less interested, in these recent months, about how churches are doing as far as their strategies are concerned and really more interested in seeing how people on church teams are doing. And so we normally focus these conversations on data related to ministry strategies that churches are engaging, but this quarter, I just felt like we need to focus more on the health and the performance of the ministry team itself. And so don’t worry, we’ll get back to the data from our vital signs assessment and looking more at that ministry strategy information next quarter. But this quarter, what we decided to do instead was collect information through our Unstuck Teams Assessment. And this was actually, the assessment itself, we highlighted that in one of our recent podcast episodes, but in recent months, we’ve surveyed over 1100 church staff members. Those are from churches around the world and including our Canadian friends and our friends in the UK. So there’s representation from churches in those parts of the world as well. And, Amy, we’re only going to hit a portion of what’s included in this quarter’s report today. But if you want to download and read the full report, you can do that at theunstuckgroup.com/trends.
Yeah. In the full report, we highlight the trends we’re seeing in all six categories for teams, and those six categories are personal health, team health, personal performance, team performance, organizational systems and structure, and then organizational culture. And Tony, just as a side note, we’ve learned that all six of those areas are critical if you want to experience both health and high-performance as a team. And as you just mentioned, we won’t be able to hit all those categories today, but let’s try to highlight a few of them. So Tony, where do you want to begin?
Yeah, so I do. I want to begin with that personal health portion of the assessment, just to share what we’re seeing there in the information that all these, over a thousand staff members from churches provided. And honestly this really is a topic that I was most interested in, given what we’ve experienced over the last 18 months. So first of all, let me explain that we asked survey participants to respond to 12 different statements in each of those six categories that you just mentioned. And these statements reflect various indicators that we’ve learned are important to the overall health and performance of the team. So participants are asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with each statement on a scale of 1 to 10. In other words, a one indicates that someone strongly disagrees with the statement, and a 10 means the assessment participant strongly agrees with the statement. So when we asked survey participants to respond to these 12 indicators related to personal health, just in that area, the overall score across all those church staff team members was a 7.5. And, Amy, given what we’ve experienced this past year, I was actually a bit surprised that the overall score in this personal health area was that high. And specifically here’s what stood out to me of all the indicators as it relates to personal health. The high scores were related to how teammates are caring for each other.
That makes sense.
So, as an example, you have this statement: I personally demonstrate care for my fellow staff members, and this other statement, my team leader and supervisor is demonstrating care for me personally. These two statements were the highest scores among all 12 indicators under personal health. And so that, yeah, I mean, as you suggested, it makes sense. And gosh, it’s just confirming to hear that given all the stress that we’ve experienced in these last 18 months, that people appear, staff members on church teams, they’re prioritizing care for each other. On the other hand, the lowest score in this category, and I would like to say I’m surprised by this, but I’m not. The lowest score was around this statement: I regularly practice Sabbath. In other words, a 24 hour period to stop, to unplug and rest, and another low score: I take good care of my body by eating healthy and exercising. And Amy, I could be wrong, but I think the score for taking a regular Sabbath may have been the lowest score on the entire assessment. So in all six categories, I think that may have been the lowest score. And I’m just thinking my goodness, if there was ever a season where we need to prioritize that type of rhythm in our lives, to protect not only our personal health but also the health of our overall team, it feels like now would be the time to begin to practice that.
That’s right. Yeah. So there’s 72 questions plus the net promoter that we’ve talked about in a previous episode. But it actually was the second lowest overall, beat out by only one 10th of a point, which was: We have had training on risk issues.
Maybe the training should be on the risk of not having a Sabbath.
I know, but let’s not miss the point. I mean, that’s not a good score. I’m not sure why church teams, you know, why team members aren’t taking their Sabbath. Maybe, Tony, it’s the weird schedule of church rhythms for staff. I remember when I was in full-time ministry, I guess I did work six days a week. And on that seventh day, I wouldn’t, there’s probably more times than not that I still dabbled in email or a phone call or a text. But maybe it’s even the stress of the last year. You know, there was just so much unknown. But I think the church leaders have spoken. They are not setting aside a day for a Sabbath. And I have to believe that this really affects their personal health. So I hope that, by even sharing this information, church leaders who preach on this will begin to even more so practice this and encourage it with their teams because, as we always say, we are not in a sprint. This is a marathon, long run, and we want to have healthy pastors leading our churches.
Absolutely. And you could even ask Emily, this has been a priority for me because even to this day, Sunday is typically still a work day for me, Amy. And so it’s never in our rhythm of life, Sunday has never been a good day for me personally to be practicing a Sabbath. But Saturday is, and it’s just a small mental thing that I do, but I have my office lights scheduled to come on six days a week, but on Saturday, it doesn’t come on. And it’s just kind of a good mental reminder even when I walk past my home office on Saturday. I’m not working today. Today’s my day off. So yeah, I do think now is the time for us to begin to prioritize that.
Yep. Well, since we’re on this topic of health, let’s switch over to the category of team health. What did we learn here?
Amy, the overall score for team health was a 7.4, and this is a little bit lower than the score for personal health. And we kind of expected to see that based on that fundamental attribution error that we talked about in a recent podcast episode, but let’s talk about a couple of the indicators in this category. The highest scores that we saw here included around this statement: Our leaders model integrity and honesty. And that score was an 8.6, which I think was the highest score that we saw on the entire assessment. And so, my goodness, I just think when I start to look at this data overall, as it relates to leadership in the church, right now, the fact that modeling integrity is getting a high score, that caring for the people that they’re leading is getting a high score, to me, Amy, that is a win right now for leaders in the church. And so that’s just very encouraging to me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lowest score in this category was for this indicator. It was around this statement. There is good cooperation across departments. And what raises a red flag for me related to team health is what that speaks to is a lack of alignment on teams. In other words, very likely there are ministry silos that have formed among the different teams within the church staff, and most likely that’s carried over to the ministries of the church themselves. And this is an indication that teams are really pulling in different directions. And, Amy, as you and I know, this is one of those early warning signs that if we don’t address this, if we don’t come together, if we don’t cooperate, if we don’t align, over time this is what creates division and ultimately starts to pull the team apart. So what’s interesting here is though that teams tend to blame poor internal communications for poor cooperation. And in my opinion, poor communication is usually a symptom of an underlying problem. Typically, I think that’s a lack of alignment. So there isn’t clarity and agreement on why the church exists, the direction the church is heading, the strategies it’s engaging, the priority actions that teams and individuals are pursuing. And without that agreement and alignment on those core kind of foundational aspects of who the church is, there’s not going to be cooperation, but again, that’s not a communications problem. That’s an alignment problem. And let’s push pause there, because we’re going to talk more about that in this next week’s episode, when we start to talk about strategic planning and how critical it is to get alignment in all of these foundational areas of the church. So Amy, we’re going to come back to that next week.
Sounds good. Well, then let’s hit one more category today and let folks kind of digest the rest of the report on their own. Just out of curiosity, Tony, of the six categories, again, personal health, team health, personal performance, team performance, organizational systems and structure and organizational culture, which one got the lowest score overall from the Unstuck Teams Assessment?
Yeah. So of the six categories, Amy, systems and structure was the lowest score. Would you have guessed that?
You know, I would have, because I’ve been facilitating this assessment with churches for the past year, so I’ve seen the results over and again. So that’s maybe 20 churches, not all of the ones that were in there, but boy, issues around performance management, internal communication and project management, they kind of haunt almost every team that I work with. And it makes sense. Church teams, again are organizations, but very few pastors and ministry leaders have had training in how to lead organizations and how to build the systems they need to organize and get the work done and how to communicate effectively. And then of course, a process so people know how they’re doing, right, related to their role. We tend to just hit the week, Sunday hits, and then we run the rest of the week, and then we do it again and we do it again. And we don’t have those skills to build those foundational systems.
Yeah, Amy, I think you’re absolutely right. And related to this, I kind of want to dive into a couple of key areas that maybe we could focus on. Here, I’m gonna let you kind of read the report so that you can see the areas that have the strongest scores. And again, we’re not covering a few of the specific categories of the assessment in today’s conversation. So you can unpack that more when you download the report. But I do, I want to highlight a couple of indicators that received the lowest scores in this category around systems and structure. First one was this. We have a helpful and clear performance evaluation process. That raised my attention when I saw that that was a low score from those who responded. And the second one, they kind of go hand in hand, Amy, is this: We have an effective project task management system to keep people focused on priorities. And, you know, really, I do. I hope this is a wake-up call for those of us who lead teams. Two of the most common questions employees want answered are, “What’s my priority?” In other words, what should I be doing today? And, “How am I doing?” Am I winning or not at my job? And what’s interesting is that both of these areas link back to that alignment conversation that I mentioned ago. It’s very difficult to keep people aligned if we don’t have systems in place to keep people focused on priorities and we’re not letting them know how they’re doing against those priorities. Amy, anything you would add to that?
Yeah, I would just say if you don’t have organizational goals that cascade to ministries and then to individuals, where every person knows what their win looks like, you know, for the year, for the month, for the week, people will always find a way to stay busy, but they probably won’t be achieving the traction and the momentum that they could have if they were aligned. And this whole issue of performance management, you know, it seems to hit on one of two extremes. Either we under engineer it, and we rely on the once a year performance evaluation, which isn’t effective. Or we over-engineer it, and people are submitting reports and doing this and that. And it really comes down to if this is a tension area for you, there’s some solvable ways to have great performance conversations so that people know what they do well and where they need to redirect.
There was one season of my life where my boss was asking for a weekly report on everything that I was doing. And I was spending so much time on the weekly reports I didn’t have enough time to do the things I needed to get done.
If we haven’t, we should do a podcast on that sometime, just how to have an effective performance conversation, but for today, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up this topic?
Yeah. I mean, generally the scores indicate assessment participants perceive their teams to be in a relatively healthy and high performing season right now, and really given what we’ve experienced in the last year and a half, that speaks well for how church teams are sustaining health in this season. Of course, not all teams scored well in many of these categories and that’s why it might be helpful for you and your team to take this assessment and analyze your results. And that will help you identify the priority actions needed to improve both health and performance on your team. And by the way, The Unstuck Team’s Assessment, it’s built into our high impact teams consulting process, or it’s also available through our Unstuck Learning Hub. So if you’re interested in learning more about how we can help your team see improvement in both health and performance, you can start that conversation at theunstuckgroup.com/start.
Thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. You know, your team is your most valuable resource for accomplishing the vision that God has for your church. And if you sense that you’re not currently a high-performing or healthy team, we can help. Visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/teams to learn more about our process for developing high-impact teams and to start a conversation with us today. Next week, we’re going to be back with another brand new episode of the podcast. So until then, we hope you have a great week.