September 29, 2021 Tony Morgan

Finding Church Health Again – Episode 213 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

An Unstuck Webinar Replay

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Most churches are still focused on getting people to return back to their services. And it’s easy to understand why. But are you feeling the call to put your focus forward again?

The truth is, most organizations start, grow, thrive, lose momentum, decline… and eventually end. Even before the pandemic, 80% of churches were in maintenance mode, and our new reality has fast-tracked the decline of unhealthy churches at a pace faster than ever before.

Although the future still seems murky, and there are no “quick fixes” for health, that doesn’t mean your next steps are unprecedented or unclear. Churches that were healthy and growing before and those that still are today have this in common: 

They aren’t just hoping for health. They’re planning for it.


Last week, I was joined by Amy Anderson and Sean Bublitz for a “Finding Church Health Again” webinar. We had a conversation around assessing your ministry’s health in this unique season, making a strategic plan for the future, and optimizing your structure to accomplish your vision.

One attendee remarked that she left the conversation “feeling encouraged, challenged, inspired and hopeful.” I hope the same will be true for you. Listen in as we discuss:

  • Misleading metrics and true pictures of health
  • A key shift in clarifying short-term and long-term vision
  • Where churches are getting stuck when it comes to structure
  • Best practices for finding team health again
Giving and attendance are like your temperature and heartbeat. They prove that you're alive, but not necessarily that you're healthy. #unstuckchurch [episode 213]Click to Tweet Because of all of the challenges and disruptions people are experiencing in their lives right now, the opportunity is greater than ever for churches to spread the Good News. #unstuckchurch [episode 213]Click to Tweet

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Based on data from over 15,000 churches, more than 80% of North American churches were in decline prior to the pandemic. And we’ve observed that COVID has only accelerated that trend. Because of the pandemic, many of the churches that we’ve encountered have been focused on getting people back to services, and we get it. But, in today’s conversation, we’re going to bring the focus from getting back to church to getting back to health. The churches that were healthy and growing before the pandemic and those that still are today aren’t just hoping for health; they’re planning for it. Recently, I hosted a conversation with Tony and Amy on finding church health again. And today we’re going to share that discussion with our podcast listeners. I started the conversation by asking Tony just to give us a broad assessment of what he’s seeing in churches across North America. So let’s pick up the conversation there.

Tony (01:00):

Yeah, so it’s interesting to see that dynamic, how, depending on what part of the country you’re in, what size church that you are, where your church is located—is it a more rural church or a more urban or suburban church—we’re seeing it’s really, as far as attendance patterns as an example, it’s really all over the board. So, for example, smaller churches, especially in more rural areas, really they’re, what I’m hearing from many of the churches that we’re working with, it’s like it’s almost back to where it was pre-COVID, but it’s not the same story, especially for larger churches that are located in either urban or suburban areas. In fact, the last two churches that I’ve engaged with were saying, “we’re about 50%, only half of where we were pre-COVID.” And boy, I tell you what, if you look at some of the recent information, specifically I shared some information on social media and the website a couple of weeks ago about recent Gallup survey information of all U.S. adults. And it included things like 70% of adults right now think COVID is actually getting worse rather than getting better. Two out of every five adults are very or somewhat worried about getting the disease themselves. One in four adults are completely isolating themselves outside of their own household at this point. And then specifically as it relates to church attendance, what Gallup showed was when they surveyed all adults, one-third of adults are still avoiding public places and almost half of people are avoiding large public gatherings still. And so it stands to reason, especially for larger churches, if that’s where half of U.S. Adults are still today, that we would also be seeing that as far as our experience with attendance on Sunday mornings. But, as it relates to some of the other trends we’re seeing, it’s been fascinating really all through the COVID journey just to see how God has protected churches financially for the most part. I know this isn’t everybody’s story, but many churches that we engage with right now are indicating giving has remained fairly healthy throughout all of these months. The other common theme I’m hearing again from churches in this season, and this is great news I think, is just the number of new people that are showing up to churches for the very first time. And, on the other side of those new people showing up, hearing lots of stories of life change happening. Again, I think this is great news, especially because of the season that we’ve been through where so many people’s lives have been disrupted either directly because of COVID or indirectly, whether it was a job change, a job loss or transitions that are happening within their family like moving locations. There’s a lot of that happening now. And actually Amy and I are going to be starting a new podcast series on that very topic here in the coming weeks, but there’s a lot of disruption happening in people’s lives. So I think the opportunities are greater than ever for churches to be engaging our mission, trying to spread the gospel, spread the good news. And I think we’re going to see, especially in this season, there are actually a lot of people looking to connect with churches, maybe for the very first time, because of all of the challenges and disruptions that they’re experiencing in their lives. Just to give you a sense of this, I don’t know if you realize this, but for my day job, I serve churches like yours. On Sundays, though, I get to volunteer at a church, and my volunteer role is in what we call the connection space; it’s that place that people go to either before or after the services where they’re trying to take a next step of connection with the church. So think about connecting and serving or connecting in groups, but the other common conversations that we have in that space before and after the services is with brand new people. And I can just tell you over the last number of months, I’ve actually been surprised to see the number of brand new people coming to the church during this season, and the stories, they’re different, but some of the common themes: We’re new to the area. And so we’re searching for a church because we’re brand new, and we’re wanting to connect with other people and obviously connect with church too. And so there’s a lot of transition happening in people’s lives. But the other side of the story is I’m hearing firsthand from people that are dealing with challenges, challenges in relationships, challenges in marriage, challenge around their career and kind of second guessing what’s happening, and the number of spiritual conversations that I’m having with brand new people, it’s almost astonishing, I think, because my fear was unfounded that on this other side of COVID, we would be getting people that were already a part of our congregation to come back to church, but we were going to have more challenge engaging with new people. And actually it feels like almost the opposite is occurring, that I’m seeing more new faces and as you’re probably experiencing, in some cases, it’s a bit of a challenge to get people to come back to church.

Sean (06:39):

Yeah, it does. It seems like there’s so much opportunity right now for so many of those reasons. So that’s good. Amy, how are you advising churches right now, just to approach assessment of ministry health that’s different in this unique season? How can they get a reliable picture today?

Amy (06:57):

It’s a great question. I think we’ve been talking about this really since COVID started and everything got wiped clean from our slates, but, you know, pre-COVID, we talked about this a lot, Tony, attendance and giving were the primary metrics that a lot of churches tracked, and those are good things to track. It’s just that they don’t tell you if you’re healthy. You know, going back, Sean, how you set this up with the doctor’s office. If I go into the doctor and they take my temperature and they check my pulse, I am alive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m healthy. You know, and again, I want them to check that every time I come. Those are good things to check, but those two isolated metrics really don’t give us a clear picture. So I’m sure our listeners have heard us say that many times and are on board with that. But now where we’re at. A couple things to think about: one, we just have to set some new baselines. I’m not exactly sure how helpful it’s going to be if we keep going back 12-18 months to compare against pre-COVID numbers. That’s history. But I think we need to be thinking about setting new baselines and of course, new baselines around the things that are most important to track. And I’m just going to share my screen here real quick. If you’ve been a part of our masterclasses, you’ve seen this visual before, but we’ve been talking a lot at The Unstuck Group around when we pick things that we need to measure, we really have to go across this spiritual engagement journey if we’re really going to understand the health of our church. And so we often say, you know, people who are far from Christ right now, far from the church, these are just people who are not interested in faith. And then hopefully, over time, they become spiritually curious, some way that they engage with our church, that they actually move to this phase, right? And then hopefully some of those spiritually curious people come over here. This is the great commission, right? Teach these new disciples, which means we need to be drawing people towards the kingdom. And then we want new believers not just to pray a prayer and then see you later. But we want them to be discipled. We want them to start doing things along our discipleship pathway that show and indicate that these new believers are taking steps to actually become more like Christ. And then these disciples then actually become disciple makers who come back all the way over here and start caring about people who are far from Christ. So I share this because as we start to think about what we need to track, and again, beyond just things like attendance, of course, would, you know, kind of, I don’t know where you’d actually place this. There’s probably a right place, but more so I’m want to emphasize, we need to have some metrics below each of these phases that tell us we’re healthy in each of these phases. Because I’ll start with a funny one, if we’re only reaching people but not creating any disciples, we’ve heard criticisms of those churches over the years. We also hear the criticism if we’re just going deeper and deeper and deeper, and these metrics over here are just starving. There’s no indication there’s no pulse in those ones when you check them, we’re not a healthy church. And so there’s different things, you know, that we track along the way in these various metrics, right? We can look at in this space, maybe it’s our digital ministry, but how many people are watching online? How many people are liking things that we’re doing? Spiritually curious: Are they taking our, you know, what is it called? It starts with an, A, Tony. Alpha. There it is. Our Alpha classes. Are they asking spiritual questions? New believers: Obviously are people saying yes to Jesus? Are we seeing people get baptized? Being discipled: You know, are people taking steps along our discipleship pathway to get into a group or to serve, et cetera. Disciple maker: Whatever your disciple maker reaching strategy is to get people connected outside the church. Are they doing these things? So those are some things you can measure, but you really have to pay attention to what I would call the primary metrics here that indicate we’re actually moving from phase to phase. So an easy one for example is we can count this one if we count who’s been making decisions to actually follow Jesus. Primary metric here might be that they actually became known. They trusted us enough that they gave us a name or a contact and they’re taking steps towards investigating the faith further. So all that to say, I think you have to make sure whatever you’re measuring, that you’re actually looking at these various phases and ensuring that we have health all the way across as we go through there. And by the way, the digital area, I think we’ve been saying this for awhile, but you have to pick what you want to measure and keep measuring that so that you can actually get some comparative data. What you really want to know are things like, are people engaging with it? Are people sharing it, and are they again eventually becoming known? So that would be my knee-jerk on, when we’re looking at assessing health today, how we need to be thinking about measurement.

Sean (11:53):

Yeah. That’s a great overview, Amy. And, really, it’s so different than how we used to measure health with attendance and giving, and, Tony, it seems like as we get into some of the data, there’s the potential that some of it could even be misleading for us, that we’re looking at something, we’re reading a certain point of data and maybe that one thing we feel like it indicates it’s giving us a sense of health or maybe the opposite. So is there anything that you’re seeing that’s been misleading?

Tony (12:18):

Yeah. So let’s start with giving and attendance. Let me start with attendance. I mean, there’s no doubt about it. You know, I’ve talked with a couple pastors, and you can just see it in their eyes. I mean, on Sunday morning, half the church is there that they remember from a couple of years ago and that’s in front of us, that’s just in our face. And so my first word of encouragement is we have to disconnect where we are today from where we were a couple of years ago. It’s a new world that we’re in today. And I actually think it’s a helpful exercise to look at. Let’s begin with where we are today. This is our new launch point. And rather than trying to get back to where we were, how can we continue to reengage people that are in our congregation? But more importantly, going to what Amy does shared, how can we begin to think again about not only our discipleship or spiritual formation strategies as a church, but make sure we have a reach strategy in place too to connect with those folks that are not interested in faith? They’re asking spiritual questions, but they’re not currently connected to the church or connected to faith. How can we continue to expand that part of our ministry strategy so that we’re almost acting like church planters again or missionaries in our communities? We’re trying to reach people outside the church and outside the faith, connect them to our ministry, and then from that point continue to help them take steps of faith. And so kind of just revisiting the baseline for attendance, I think, is good in this season. Secondly, I would just caution you related to measuring giving and assuming that that’s an accurate measure of your mission impact or the effectiveness of your ministry strategies, because what we have known for quite some time is there is a giving lag, and for churches that are healthy and growing and thriving, and you’re seeing increase in people connecting and engaging with your ministry, usually as your church is growing, the giving lags behind, and the reverse we have found to be true as well. As we see churches experiencing plateau and decline in engagement and the number of people that are connected to the church, many times what we see is that decline happens, and the giving actually lags behind that. In other words, the remains healthy, even though every other indicator would suggest that the church is moving in not a healthy direction. And so in the season, I think the tendency is to look at our giving to suggest, gosh, it’s still strong. It’s still healthy. That means we’re having positive mission impact. And that means our ministry strategies are still working. That’s possible. But I think more oftentimes than not, what we have found at The Unstuck Group is because of that giving lag, we just need to make sure that all the other indicators also suggest that the ministry really is healthy and moving in a positive direction. And with that, let me just double down on something that Amy just shared. I think many times when we look at assessing our churches and the different ways that we’re tracking health, many times we pick that up halfway through the discipleship journey. In other words, we start to track health in our churches once people give their lives to Jesus, and they’re in our discipleship process, and we’re in the process of making disciples. And we do need to continue to do that, but I would just challenge you to consider how are we assessing the other half of someone’s spiritual journey from the point that they aren’t interested in the faith, through becoming known to us as churches, and then starting to ask spiritual questions, and then beginning to connect with the church. Let’s make sure we have some healthy metrics, healthy assessment in place to make sure that that part of our ministry is working as well when we’re looking at that part of our discipleship journey. And related to that, one of my teammates at The Unstuck Group just in recent months acknowledged that they weren’t, as an example, considering new people connecting to their church, either by checking in kids to the church or giving for the first time or connecting at an event at the church, or even connecting in a way with their online content. In the past, they weren’t really paying attention to those initial connections, which may or may not be actually connected to showing up for a service for the first time on Sunday morning. And so I think we have to be more intentional about how we’re tracking our front door strategies and not just the backdoor strategies. And I would argue in this current season, our backdoor strategies, if you will, those things that we’re doing to consider spiritual formation, help people experience spiritual formation. There are certainly some tweaks to our ministry strategies that need to happen as a result of what we’ve experienced in the last couple of years, but where we’re really going to have to revisit our ministry strategies is more closely related to what needs to happen to swing open wide that front door for people to connect with faith and church.

Sean (17:58):

That’s really good. Tony, you know, as I’ve talked with pastors, one of the most confusing things, just to speak to the finances over the last year, has been for a lot of churches finances are healthier than ever. I mean, that number of dollars in the bank is at the healthiest place it’s been in a long time. But when we dig into their metrics, we see that the number of giving units in their church has declined significantly. And so while financially they may be in a good place, they’ve seen the number of people practicing that spiritual discipline of generosity going down. And so it really does speak to how some of these numbers are just very confusing right now. So thanks for that. I think that’s really helpful. Let’s shift the conversation to planning now. One of the other things I’ve heard from, again, so many pastors through this last year through the pandemic so far, is that as we’ve planned for the future, you know, the vision that we have, it just doesn’t seem to fit anymore. So Tony, as we start to think about planning, how are you seeing churches shift from how they’ve approached clarifying vision in the past?

Tony (19:05):

Yeah. Three things come to mind, Sean. The first is this, I think. I’m seeing churches take maybe a shorter term view of future direction and future vision. So rather than thinking 10 years out, or 15 years out, they’re just looking three to five years out. This is where we are today, especially in the context of everything we’ve experienced in the last couple of years. And this is our sense of what God has for us just in the next three to five years. So maybe a shorter term view of that long-term future vision. The second thing, and I actually think this is a very positive thing, is the vision that’s being clarified, it looks a little bit different on this side of COVID than it did pre-COVID. I would say pre-COVID, when churches started to articulate vision, it was more about the number of people that they were hoping to see gathered on Sunday morning or like a new building project or a new multi-site location. And I don’t want to discourage those types of elements of future thinking and future vision, because I do, I think those are critical. I want healthy churches to be reaching more people, but the way I’m hearing churches articulate vision on this side of COVID, there’s a bit of a nuance and it looks just a little bit different in that there seems to be more focus on what are we going to do as a church to specifically engage our mission field? How are we going to impact people in our community? How are we going to impact their communities? And that slight shift, I think, is helping churches to look at, okay, we’ve been dealt a challenging hand right now, given all that’s happened around us, but at the same time, there’s a bigger opportunity than ever to, as a ministry, really impact the lives of people in our community who are facing significant challenges in this season as well. So that’s the second thing. Just kind of a shift in how churches are looking at vision right now. And then the third is just the intentionality of clarifying future direction in this season where there’s still so much uncertainty in place. And one good example of this. We were working with a Canadian church in the last number of months. And I know any of the Canadian churches that are watching today, you have, I mean, we’ve experienced challenges here in the US, but your guidelines and restrictions related to COVID in Canada have even been maybe more challenging for Canadian churches than what we’ve experienced here in the US, but even in the midst of all that, I love how this church just decided because of all the uncertainty that we’re experiencing right now, we have to be clearer than ever about what we’re sensing God’s called us to going forward. And as a result of our engagement with their team, they identified five bold moves that they want to engage over the next five years. And I just talked with this team a couple of weeks ago, and it’s just fun to see fresh energy, not only at the staff level, but what they’re saying is as they’ve started to articulate this vision to their congregation and to other leaders in the church, they’re seeing new energy in their congregation as well as a result of bringing clarity about this future direction in this time with so much uncertainty.

Sean (22:46):

So Amy, just kind of thinking about how churches accomplish this vision, what do churches need to be asking right now just to evaluate their core ministry approaches and see what needs to change in order to get back to health again?

Amy (22:59):

Yeah. In other words, how do we evaluate our methods, right? I guess I would just start by saying the vision is so important. When we talk through the strategic alignment pyramid, we often say it’s that directional level that starts with the vision that needs to be clarified first. And so my next words would be, do you know what success looks like for your church? Have you defined the organizational goals, like 12 months from now, where will we be in these various things that we measure, right? How many people will be attending in person? How many people will be engaging online? How many people will be in a group? How many people will be serving? How many volunteer leaders will we have raised up? Often we miss that step. Then we go right from vision to the how and the strategies. So first I think it’s really important that you have clarity on what your organizational goals are for the year. And then I think we look at our strategies, and what are the best ways that we can accomplish those goals? So I think you just have to then ask the question, are our strategies actually working? So if you have an attendance goal, for example, very few people are going to wander off the street, never having engaged with your church or anyone from it, and attend your church. And so we’ve got to think what are our main strategies? You know, when we do the secret shopper, you guys know this, but the final question we always ask when we go and attend a church somewhere is would I come back and would I want to bring a friend with me? Not super easy to measure, right? But there is a lot of anecdotal. I mean, you hear stories about people or, you know, I talked to pastors all the time and they keep meeting new people, and they’re really excited about that. And that invite culture is only going to happen if you have a weekend experience, that is, again, you know, things like worship, that’s really for a believer, and the full understanding of God’s word can be challenging for a new person. But if you do it in a way that’s intriguing and engaging, you know, hopefully your people will feel so comfortable bringing new people to church. So are those reaching strategies working? You know, when we jumped to the digital space, for example, and again, Tony and I talked about this offline a lot, we’re still waiting for some great best practices to emerge. And I’ll tell you, as soon as we see them, we will share. But is the content we’re putting in a digital space, if it’s meant to be part of your reach strategy, is it really a product that’s ending up in front of people that are far from God or far from the faith? Now, if it’s not a reach strategy, you don’t have to evaluate it that way, but you’ve just got to think about the results you’re looking for and evaluate if that strategy is working. And just one last thing on the reach strategy, I feel like this is the strategy that needs the most attention right now. We are still lacking R and D, research and development, new ways to fish, new ways to reach people. And part of it is this focus on re-engaging, you know, in person, and I get it. That’s still a great place we want people to re-engage, but it’s almost like people are drifting away from thinking creatively and doing new things. And rather just getting back to what we’ve been doing. And like you said earlier, Tony, times have changed. And so you did an article a week or two ago, and you talked about the “and,” and this might not be right for every church, but we have to have in-person services and online services. We need to have services with masks and we need to have services, you know, where masks are optional. It’s the season of the “and” as we lead. And so we just have to pay attention to the results we get as we try those different things. So then the second part of that question, is our core strategy actually working, is are we effectively seeing people take their next steps, you know, in their spiritual formation? And again, that’s the re-engagement in serving, the reengagement in groups, it’s becoming a disciple maker, and this area really, probably, more of a tweak right now in this phase. Again, a lot of the emphasis, I think, needs to go on that reach-side. And by the way, maybe I would just add if you’re not reaching, if you feel like you’re not reaching new people right now, I think one of the things about your strategy you have to ask is just how can we compel and equip our church? And I just want to give a shout out. I was at a great church the last few days in the Georgia area. And they introduced me to this website called And maybe you’ve all heard of that. Sean, you’re nodding, have you heard of that before?

Sean (27:15):

I actually use that, yeah.

Amy (27:17):

Do you?

Sean (27:17):


Amy (27:18):

So I am probably the last person to the party, which is not new, but it’s great because it gives you a layout of your neighbors and their names, and it sends you an email every day to pray for them and how, and that’s what we need to do. We need to get our body of Christ really caring about the people that God has put in their paths. And there’s fun tools like that. And you know, there’s more. We’ve talked a lot about Ferguson’s B.L.E.S.S. model, but if reach is going to be healthy, the people who are going to be our warriors, our army, on that is going to be our church body. So should I stop talking now, Tony?

Tony (27:55):

Well, I’m glad to know about bless every home. Emily and I just last night, there are so many new neighbors in our neighborhood. So this is so old school, but Emily did the cooking, she did the baking, and we brought some cake to our new neighbors with our contact information and everything, just like that. We just, we want to meet the new people in our neighborhood so we can begin to pray for them and serve them when appropriate. So bless every home. I love that.

Sean (28:22):

Yeah. So for those of you asking, it’s just, and you can go there, plug in your address, and see neighbors that you can pray for around you. So it’s a pretty cool thing. And actually I get a reminder email daily that hits my inbox. So it’s very nice. So I know that a lack of vision clarity can really then start to affect our teams. It can impact our staff. It can impact even our volunteers. So can maybe both of you share some examples or some insight into how you’re seeing just that lack of clarity affecting teams right now.

Tony (29:01):

Yeah. So the first church that came to mind, I’ve worked with in recent months, and this is a great church, and I love it. This is a church that we served a number of years ago, and something must have worked because they invited us to come back. So that’s always a good sign when churches invite us to come back two years later to refresh vision. And there’s been a lot of that in recent months, but the specific reason why this church invited us back this season is because they had recently done some assessment with their staff leadership team. And what they found is the staff, overall, very healthy. I mean, they’re just in a good place, and this is consistent, Amy, with what you and I talked about, I think it was a month or two ago, related to The Unstuck Teams Assessment results that we saw from the last quarter. I mean, given everything that church teams have experienced, I was just encouraged to see how healthy staff teams are. This team, same thing. However, their lowest score on that entire assessment was related to vision clarity. And basically what the staff was communicating was we don’t feel like, right now, our vision is very clear. We don’t feel like we have a lot of direction for the future. And so that’s the conversation that our team engaged with this team in the last couple of months. And it was just fun going into that process because honestly, I don’t even think the senior pastor had clear vision for where he thought God was taking the church in the future, but we started through these conversations, just dreaming again, considering God, what do you have for us? And trying to understand in this season, God, what is it that you have next for our ministry? And you could just tell God’s spirit was moving. The Holy Spirit was moving in those conversations because these great ideas just kind of, they seemed to pop up out of nowhere. And as the team started to talk through these ideas, you could just see them coming together, getting alignment around these big dreams and it was just fun to see the energy of the team just continue to go up throughout these conversations, even for the senior pastor, who, again, coming into the conversation, I could just tell from all of these months, and I mean, you all have been through a challenging season. Not only are our communities are divided. In many cases, our churches are very divided right now. And so he’s been feeling that pressure. And so he was not really looking forward to this conversation about future vision and direction, but as a result of engaging that conversation in this season, it was so helpful for the entire team, including the senior pastor, to get that fresh sense of perspective and direction, once again, for the ministry,

Amy (32:03):

Sean, you asked the question, how are you seeing this issue of vision/clarity, affecting teams? And Tony, just to echo you, I just did a staffing and structure, so that’s the third part of our process, and this pastor, you know, just in our final debrief. I finished our engagement. It was a two day engagement, just aligning their structure. And I said, how are you feeling? And he is like, I am so good. Every part of this process has been like a shot in my arm. I feel free. It really was just these conversations and getting everybody aligned. And I have to believe that it’s always that way, but even so when we had so much uncertainty, you know, there’s still uncertainty, but these pastors, I think, feel more certain now about all right, we have a direction. We’re pointing somewhere. Can I add one to that? You know, and I’m probably sounding like a broken record, but I’m going to share my screen again here really quick. One of the things that I see in this. I can’t do two things at once.

Sean (32:59):

That’s all right. We’ll wait.

Amy (33:01):

When I think about how it affects staff, I come back to this strategic alignment pyramid, and kind of where I was just talking before was in this directional level. When I said, you have to have that vision, and then you need to know what success looks like. And then we need to evaluate our strategies. For me, how this affects staff teams. If we stop there, we are still dysfunctional because even though we all know our strategies, we’re missing this piece, which is how does our ministry contribute to these goals? And then how do I contribute to these goals? And so if those pieces are missing, we hear complaints about things like, you know, how come I’m just hearing about this now? I was left out of the loop. It feels like it’s this internal communication problem, but it’s just that we didn’t finish building it out. Once we get all the way here to the top, and everyone has goals that are aligned to their ministry priorities that are aligned to the organizational strategies and goals, then we don’t have this dysfunction show up as much because there you have a senior leadership team, right? Where everybody reports to one of them. And they’re talking about that directional level of the pyramid all the time and making decisions. And that’s why just this alignment is so important to us at The Unstuck Group and built through our process because we want those teams united in mind and purpose, because when they are, they’re more focused, they’re pulling in the same direction. And that’s where church teams find that health.

Sean (34:30):

Absolutely. Tony, you had a great analogy to this concept using the Cleveland Browns as an example. And partly because I love picking on the Cleveland Browns, but also, I just thought it was a really good analogy.

Amy (34:46):

You want to get him worked up on the Browns now?

Sean (34:49):

I do.

Amy (34:49):

Here we go. Buckle up.

Tony (34:51):

So first of all, let me apologize to our UK friends. This is about a football team, but it’s an American football team. So it’s not your football, but our football, and the Cleveland Browns are my team. So there’s 30 some teams, but I grew up close to Cleveland. And so the Browns have remained my team through the years, and it’s been very difficult to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns for the last two decades. In fact, they finally won their very first playoff game in more than 25 years last year. And what’s been crazy about watching the Cleveland Browns is, you know, from time to time they’ve had good coaches. They’ve had good players. They’ve had actually all star players on team many times through the years. But what was happening, and this went on for a long, long time, is that the coaches kind of didn’t agree with the front office on their philosophy and strategy. The front office and the scouts trying to find players kind of didn’t agree with each other. And then the players themselves were not in alignment with the vision and the direction of the organization. And finally, there was some new leadership brought in to the Cleveland Browns’ front office, and they just decided from day one, we’re going to make sure all of our front office, our owners, our scouts, our coaches, our players are on the same page, and what they agreed to was a shared vision. And when, I think, it was the general manager of the team just recently was asked, you know, what’s the biggest reason for the turnaround that we’ve experienced over these last decades and the fact that we finally won a playoff game for the first time and lots of hope for what will happen with the Cleveland Browns this year? What he said was the biggest change, it wasn’t the players, it wasn’t the coaches, it wasn’t some of the shifts that happened around scouting in the front office. The biggest change is that we now have a shared vision. And I just have to tell you, after working with hundreds and hundreds of churches through the years, I see the same thing happen in the ministries that we get to engage with when there’s alignment around a shared vision, a shared direction. A lot of the petty things that become arguments in churches and divisions in churches go away. So when there’s alignment around the direction for where we’re heading as churches, and we agree on our mission and we agree on where God’s taking our ministry next, we’re not arguing about worship styles and budget items and committee assignments. And we’re not arguing about COVID guidelines because we’re so focused on our mission as a church. And so I think that silly story about my Cleveland Browns football team certainly has application in the context of church as well.

Sean (37:51):

Well, absolutely. I thought it was very helpful. So thanks for sharing that. Plus I love hearing you bemoan the Cleveland Browns.

Amy (37:59):

Sean, I don’t want to talk about the Vikings. Okay? So if you were going there, don’t. I got nothing.

Sean (38:01):

Okay. We’ll move on. All right. So last part of our conversation for today is just about staffing and structure. And really this conversation has been the huge felt need throughout the pandemic. I’ve talked to so many pastors about things regarding staff and the structure of their organization. So, Amy, there’s just been so much transition happening right now. The great resignation, it’s kind of been coined. A lot of people transitioning out of jobs, and the data says if they haven’t moved yet, they’re thinking about finding a new job. So how are you advising pastors in this season?

Amy (38:39):

It’s probably a little bit how I advise pastors in any season, but just to, you know, Tony and I just did a podcast on this, but two thirds of employees they say are looking for a new job. But we also have to remember that attrition in any organization is normal. People come and go, what did we say, Tony, is the number like 15% of a staff?

Tony (38:58):

Yeah. In a normal year, even before COVID, yeah. In marketplace, they expected about a 15% turnover in their staff team, year after year. And of course, a lot of that was pent up during the COVID pandemic, Amy, because people were hesitant initially to consider job changes, especially if it was going to involve a family move. So now I think we’re playing catch up for a lot of the transitions that didn’t happen in 2020. So there is, there’s a lot of turnover right now.

Amy (39:29):

Yep. And well, and it relates to staffing, the last question, Sean, because people want to be a part of a team that has a direction and that have unity. I know when I used to hire worship pastors, if they sniffed out anything. Worship pastors are hard to find, right? No one wants to move to Minnesota. So when we had one, I could tell they were always listing, are we in the middle of worship wars? Do you guys know who you are? Do you know what you’re doing? I wasn’t going to get any talented people who sniffed out those other things because they want to be part of a team that’s aligned and moving forward. But a couple of thoughts that I’m talking with pastors right now, and obviously the ones I’m talking with it’s because they’ve engaged The Unstuck Group, but it’s like, don’t miss this opportunity to reassess your structure. So for those of you not engage with us right now, this is an opportunity to reassess your structure. Don’t just let your structure grow into the next person you hire, and we’ll add them onto another notch. But structure is part of your strategy that’s going to help you get where you want to go. And this is a great opportunity to use this as a reset. Now I wouldn’t reset until you’ve actually done your strategic planning because that needs to come before we restructure. But if someone leaves, I would say, don’t just replace a role for a role. That’s another disruption opportunity to take a step back and say, what are the ways that we need to adapt to given, you know, our current circumstances? I think it’s so rare, unfortunately, that a church will pause outside of a disruption to actually go, are we still structured the right way? And we’ve had some game-changing moments the last few years that, you know, it really draws it out now to have those conversations. One example, a church that we worked with recently, they had like 14 direct reports to one executive pastor. Another church, they had like 12 direct reports to an executive pastor. And that just tells me, they just keep thinking, everyone that we hire at whatever level has to report to an executive pastor. There was no management happening there. There was no development happening there. And in fact there was a lack of alignment because there was no one bringing all of those folks together. So that’s the one thing that I’d say reassess. The big felt need that I hear at the churches I’m serving right now. I usually do a pre-visit call and ask what would make this part of the engagement a win? And every pastor right now is saying, I just need to make sure I’ve got the right people in the right seats. And what that tells me is they probably have a person or two that they know are not in the right seats, and they need a little bit of support to actually make that move. And often we’ve got someone in a seat that requires a leadership role. You know, someone gifted with leadership and this person is a fantastic doer, but they’re recognizing we need to get a leader there. And by the way, especially in the areas of your discipleship team and your family ministry team, it’s very hard to afford hiring doers in those spaces these days. We really need the Ephesians 4, equipping leaders that are bringing people into the ministry. So when we say right seats, it’s really about making sure we have leaders in leadership roles. And by the way, it’s such a game changer when pastors go through this rough work of moving some things around to make sure we have leaders in place. It’s a new day after that, and then I would add in there, bring clarity to the wins. That’s really a need right now. It’s that top of the pyramid thing, again, but everybody needs to know what they’re being asked to do and what a win looks like. That’s another thing that just gives us empowerment, because if everybody owns everything, nobody owns anything. And people like to be in an organization where the leadership is clear, our focus is clear. This is clarity around what I need to bring and what I’m going to be, hopefully, you know, encouraged when I do hit it and redirected and held accountable when I’m not. So I don’t know anything else, Tony, that you would think of in that question?

Tony (43:27):

No, that’s good. Amy. What I was thinking though, is based on that there are some common areas where I see churches getting stuck when they think about their structure and both related to things that you just shared. The first is this. It’s interesting when I look at churches, how often they think about structure in this order. They think about people first. So who do we have? And then what roles can they fill? So what does the structure look like? And then what, based on that, then what’s the strategy or the direction of where we can head as a church? And we tend to reverse that when we work with churches. And so rather than looking at people, structure and then strategy, we ask the question first, what’s the strategy that we need to engage to accomplish our mission? Then what structure will support that ministry strategy, and then what people do we need to fill those different roles? And if you just begin to think about that in reverse, I think it will help you get to a place where you’re starting to address that key question that Amy asks: Do we have the right people in the right roles? Don’t start with the people and don’t start with the roles, start with the ministry strategy and then kind of work your way backwards. Related to that, then, another common way that we see churches getting stuck is that they tend to structure around programs rather than strategy. And to illustrate that, let me share my screen. And actually I want to go back to the slide that Amy was just sharing with us. This is called our strategic alignment pyramid. What I find is that churches periodically, they’re willing to go through the process to clarify vision, to clarify direction. And they get their foundation set as a team. And they actually get to a place where they get their direction set as a team. But what’s fascinating is they don’t change their structure then. And as a result of that, this part of the chart, there’s still not clarity because every ministry is still focused on just their ministries. And it’s kind of disconnected from the foundation and the direction of the church as a whole. And every individual is kind of focused on their ministry too, their individual ministry. And as a result of this, this is one of the most common reasons why we see churches getting stuck. It’s almost as if there is one foundation and there’s one direction, but at the top of this pyramid, there’s actually multiple different, many pyramids up here. And I mean, we could label, like this one might be youth. This one might be men’s ministry, women’s ministry, groups, missions. I mean, you probably have many different labels you could put on this as well. In other words, what ends up happening is we end up with these silos of ministries. So, you know, we agree with, in words, our mission as a church, the vision for where we’re heading, and yet, because the structure has never shifted to support the strategy and instead, the structure is supporting all of these different ministry programs, we end up with these ministry silos where every church or every team is kind of competing with the other ministry teams in the church. And as a result of that, because we’re competing for people’s time and attention and resources, because of that, we don’t get the alignment of having a shared mission, a shared vision. And that’s where we start to see division within churches, even in staff teams and volunteer teams, because they really aren’t united in thought and purpose. And one of the reasons why they’re not united is because they haven’t shifted structure to support their strategy in the vision and direction for where the church is headed. So, Sean, that’s what comes to mind based on some of what Amy just shared, just about some key ways that we are seeing churches kind of get stuck when it comes to staffing and structure.

Sean (48:02):

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Amy, we’re running short on time here, but I’d love to know just any insights into best practices that you’re seeing right now for churches as they’re restructuring?

Amy (48:12):

Yeah. I’ll run through it quick. One, they’re aligning their top level staff around that spiritual engagement journey. Where we have a leader for reach. We have a leader for discipleship. We have a leader for family ministries, especially for churches that are trying to reach young families, instead of being organized around ministry programs or around who holds the whatever title of pastor something. Number two, the reducing span of care, which I think is a really wise thing to do in a church because we have a lot that we need to lead and our leaders need to be leading people. So shoring up that span of care is helping church leaders lead their teams better. Third one would be that they’re ensuring that their lead pastor, their senior pastor, has time and energy and focus on those things they can’t delegate, the four things the senior pastor can’t delegate. And maybe we can put that in some notes, somewhere, if people aren’t familiar. Fourth, larger churches are actually finding dedicated teams to put a focus on digital strategies. And by the way, we can have a digital strategy, but if we don’t staff for it, guess what? There’s no digital strategy. So those are the ones that we’re hoping can begin to have some good research and development. Last, and I’m just going to share my screen really quick. This is something that I see. And if any of you are in hiring positions right now, hear this before you make a hire. So, you see this wheel with us a lot. I’m going to try to make it a little bit bigger. But when we talk about the strengths wheel, we say that there are people who are wired for getting things done on the top half of this strengths wheel. This is DISC, by the way, D-I-S-C, and people in the bottom half of the wheel are focused on people and relationships. The trend we’re seeing is that churches that are getting unstuck in this area are adding some more people to their teams that are more tasks, mission based. This church here, you can see all of their people are on the people-side. They are people-people, and that’s a great thing. We need people-people in our churches, but we’re missing people who are actually able to move things forward, get more done. That’s just their natural wiring. Tony is right up here. Sean is right up here. I play down here on the people side, but there’s more to that answer, but all that to say, churches that are getting unstuck are hiring some people who have some natural ability in the top half of that strengths wheel.

Sean (50:34):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, we work every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches with coaching and planning that focus them on vision, strategy and action. And if that’s a need for your church, we’d love to talk. You can start a conversation with us by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.


Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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