A Growing Staff Team
If your church grows and you have to take on more paid workers, you’ll need to clarify responsibilities. Otherwise things will soon get overstretched.
It crept up on us slowly and we didn't cope with it very well to start with. It was the transition of growing from a small staff team to a larger one.1 Only now do I understand something of what happened to us; it was when our small staff team moved to a multi-level staff team.2
It meant that instead of the relatively few staff all being helped by one senior or lead pastor, an increasing number of staff had to be cared for in a different way. A lead pastor may support three or four staff, who in turn oversee and support other staff and other volunteer leaders in different areas of church life.
If you don't recognise this is happening to you, then communication and especially support and accountability get overstretched.
So what can you do? It’s vital to pursue organisational clarity and role clarity in any staff team.
If a key part of a leader’s role is to ensure the success of those they are supporting, that aspiration becomes a receding possibility as numbers of workers grow. Looking after each new worker takes time. Though the overall ‘productivity’ of the organisation goes up when you add staff, it's not as simple as adding one extra worker and 40 more hours of ‘output’ each time. That's because some of the supervisor’s and worker’s time will need to be used in training, communicating, meetings, and guidance.
Whereas with a small staff team of two to four people, whole staff meetings can be regular and straightforward, as the staff numbers grow so much more needs to be discussed and prayed for. On top of that, quite a large part of an agenda may only affect a few present, so more specialist meetings are called for. This is particularly necessary for part-time staff who work in very specialised areas for relatively few hours per week.
We have found that getting the balance right has proven difficult. Too few whole staff meetings and staff feel as if they don't know what’s going on. Too many and valuable time can be used with little gained. If a worker is doing eight hours per week, the proportion of time given to too many regular meetings will be a huge slice of their employed time compared to someone on full-time hours.
So what do we do at Grace Community Church? Well, we are still a work-in-progress!
Here is a basic outline of what we been trying to work to:
1. Whole staff prayer meetings every week for 15 minutes.
2. Whole staff strategy and training meetings over a shared lunch - one per quarter.
3. Staff elders’ review and planning - one per week. On top of that we have one half-day per quarter for detailed sermon preparation, and one full day per year for annual message planning.
4. One per month: senior elder seeing each of the three staff elders for a one-to-one but one-way accountability meeting. At this meeting there is:
A look back – what has gone well this last month, what problems have you found, and how are you trying to overcome them?
A look forward – what are your priorities, specific tasks, and hopes for the next months? These answers are compared to an agreed job description. The lead pastor has a similar meeting with two other leaders to hold him accountable for his work.
5. Once per quarter: each staff elder meets up with staff members under his care and supervision.
6. An annual review for each worker. This may take the form of a 360° appraisal, but usually it is an opportunity for the staff worker to speak about their work, hopes, concerns and difficulties to other leaders, not their direct supervisor.
Of course, all staff attend whole church members’ meetings, and staff elders have eldership and elders’ and deacons’ meetings in their schedule too. Informal conversations occur regularly, but what you see above is our formal structure.
Our feeling is that it isn't as helpful to our part-time staff as to our full-time workers and we are reviewing how we can help them more. It may be that asking part-time staff to attend a staff elders’ review meeting once a month is the way forward.
Something of this kind of support and accountability structure has to be developed as a church employs more staff. But leaders are rarely trained for all this, so I think it has been a neglected area.
The second area of clarity I want to discuss is absolutely necessary in a growing church: the need to clarify what role and specific job each worker is doing.
In a small church generalists rule the day. But growth means a greater specialisation and deployment of particular gifts for maximum effectiveness (see Acts 6:1-7 and those who specialise in word and deed. See also 1 Peter 4:10, 11).
Job descriptions can really help. But you must also learn about the 70/30 rule.3 If someone spends 70% of their working time doing the job that they like and are good at, they'll knuckle down and can cope with the 30% that ‘just has to be done’. But the other way round and it won't be sustainable.
Indeed when it is that way, workers will – over time – neglect what they don’t like, do the work poorly or just about ‘okay’, and will gravitate to doing what they deep-down like to do. It can be hard to pick this up as the work is still be being done, but not as well as if it was in the person’s ‘like-it and good-at-it’ zone.
It is also hard to identify when someone starts a job, especially at church. Initially most new workers will say, ‘I will do anything you and the Lord want me to’, and they will try hard. But over time it just gets more difficult as they gravitate away from their dislikes and to their likes. This may take years to surface, but it will surface!
One way to help is to regularly look at each person’s work, and the team’s overall work.
We used this exercise recently.4 I drew a circle and wrote in it what I thought my core job was, then drew a circle around it. In that I wrote what I love about my core job. Finally I drew an outer circle and in that I wrote down what I love but what is not in my core job. Each member of the team did the same and then we talked candidly about it all.
It was a very revealing exercise as some things identified as ‘core’ and ‘core love’ were actually what others thought were ‘outside of core loves’. Those were not wrong things to love, but they were not what we were being paid for, and not what the church had defined as central and necessary.
‘Loves’ are what most workers gravitate towards. If there is a clash between what is loved and what is necessary to be done, then redeployment of the worker towards their strengths or employing other workers may be necessary to cover the tasks, and ensure that they are done really well.
Gaining clarity over these roles and jobs is crucial; otherwise everyone will assume that they are being done. But they either won’t be, or won’t to be done as well as they need to be. The larger the church the more specialisation each worker will need to commit to, and everyone has to have a sense, of: ‘If I don't do this, no one else will’.
It's worth having a good think about both of these areas of clarity in a growing and larger church and organisation. Until a few years ago, I didn’t realise I had to know about them at all.
1. See my article about Candid Conversations.
2. Gary McIntosh, Taking your church to the next level (Baker, 2009).
3. Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage (Wiley, 2012).
4. Gordon T. Smith, Institutional Intelligence – How to build an effective organization (IVP USA, 2017).