Creating a Positive Staff Culture

churchstaffA friend of mine recently told me how much they hate working at their church. They said that everyone on staff is miserable.

WHAT?  How is that even possible?

But this is true in more churches than you may realize. Today I want to offer some practical suggestions on how to create a positive church staff culture.

Many people join a church staff and assume it’s going to be upbeat, positive, and spiritually uplifting, only to experience the drudgery related my friend. Surprised? I sure was. Before I joined a church staff I just assumed it would be the best work environment this side of heaven. I mean, everyone is a believer. Everyone is nice, and positive, and friendly, right? Plus, you have the best mission statement in the world: to reach people with the message of Jesus. What could possibly be bad about working at a church?  More than you realize. Church offices can suffer from the same problems that exist in the business world.

When I asked my friend what it was he didn’t like about working at his church he said that there was no enthusiasm. Everyone just did their job and stayed out of each other’s way. He said he looked for excuses to work by himself because it was such a negative environment.  I asked what the senior pastor was like. He said he kept to himself and was often depressed. I thought that might be true. The senior leader always sets the tone whether that’s at home, at work, at school, or a church.

Five Ways to Turn Your Staff Culture Around

Here are a few recommendations for your staff that have worked for me through the years:

1. Meet with your staff individually each week. I’m surprised how rare this is. When I was an associate pastor I regularly had to ASK my senior pastor to meet. I never understood how you could have a staff and not meet with them on a regular basis. Even if you give them no direction (which you should), you show them so much value just by checking in with them each week. 

Suffering for Jesus shouldn’t mean going to work on Monday! Church offices SHOULD be the best place to work in town: the most rewarding and fulfilling. If your office isn’t, change it.

I check in with my direct-reports personally as well as professionally. I offer real-time feedback so they always know what I like about what they are doing or know my concerns. And I want to hear the same from them about me too. How can I improve if I don’t have a feedback loop?

2. Meet as a staff once a week. We meet for an hour and a half. Here is how we use our time:

  • Check in. One third of our time is just asking how everyone is doing. We go around the room (ten people) and everyone takes 2-3 minutes to give the highs/lows of their week. It might be mundane, funny or heart breaking. It’s all good. We do this in our elder meetings too. It sets the tone for the meeting (friendly) and puts everyone on the same level.
  • Share solutions. Staff meetings aren’t for problem solving. We try to solve problems in smaller meetings and then come with solutions to share with everyone.
  • Invite input. There’s always room for push-back. If our “solution” isn’t good, people have the right to say so and we will revisit it. When people have no say in what’s going on they feel invalidated and lose interest.
  • Pray together. We don’t take a lot of time, maybe five or ten minutes. But we bring church members, upcoming events, and ministries before God. After all, it’s his church. And it’s not a business. Prayer brings us together and creates a sense of intimacy among each other.
  • End on time. This is one of my golden rules in life. When you don’t end on time, people feel cheated. They feel taken for granted. Don’t do that.

3. Keep other meetings to a minimum. Other than staff meetings and one-on-one meetings with staff, we have very few meetings. I’ve never understood pastors that say they spend all day in meetings. I’ve never heard anyone tell me that what they like most about their job is the opportunity to spend their day in meetings!

4. Build relationships and have fun. Just like my wife and I regularly have dates and vacations, our staff regularly has team building events. We recently went  on an overnight at a church camp and each member took 20 minutes to share their life story. We played games and ate together. Simple stuff, but very bonding. We go bowling, take boat rides in the summer, go out for tacos or coffee to celebrate a success, do service projects together, etc. It costs a little money and takes some time away from work, but the payback is huge.

5. Keep an open door. Everyone keeps their doors at least cracked. It’s not a rule. It’s just the culture. It’s friendly. It says, “I’m available.” It can be abused. So be careful. But for some reason that’s not an issue for us. We are a “get-er done” kind of staff…very results oriented. But we know that we can always bop into someones office with a question, or a joke, or to make quick plans to hang out together after work.

Suffering for Jesus shouldn’t mean going to work on Monday! Church offices SHOULD be the best place to work in town: the most rewarding and fulfilling. If your office isn’t, change it. If you are the senior leader, you need to make the first move. If you aren’t, print this off and slip it under the senior leaders’ door!

Tell me what your office is like. What makes it great or what makes it drudgery? I’d love to hear back. What starts in your church office will naturally flow into your congregation…for good or bad.