Creating an Environment for Success

Anyone who has worked in a church office knowsthe answer to what the layperson wonders, "What does the church staff do all day?" It's a little hard to explain unless you experience it for yourself, isn't it?

Many times the church office atmosphere is more stressful than that of secular offices due to a variety of reasons. One, because of budget constraints we try to be as productive as some secular offices, but with fewer people. Two, many times we cannot pay as competitive a salary as other businesses, thus we get people with great hearts for ministry but sometimes below-average skills. Three, there aren't too many opportunities for advancement in the church setting, so promotional motivation is diminished. Finally, we usually have to treat our "customers" a little more delicately than the secular world does because of our "line of work."

It's critical that we do all we can to reduce stress in the church office, as well as to create a more successful working environment. I'd like to share with you five suggestions to help you create that environment for success in your office.

1. Facilitate Effective Processes to Meet Goals

Every church must have a clearly stated mission so those associated with it will understand where the church is striving to go. The mission is critical; people should be motivated by the mission, not by the pastor. If the pastor moves on, people should continue with the vision. The leader's charisma should not matter as much as the leader's mission.

Establish goals to systematically accomplish the mission. Again, just as in communicating the mission, set goals for the staff and make sure the goals are clearly understood. The goals should be accomplished through a series of processes. As a leader of a church, identify and understand these processes and what it takes to make them function effectively.

Unfortunately, too many times the process breaks down, and we as managers tend to blame the employee rather than the inadequate process. However, if we provide everything in a sufficient quantity (equipment, material, supplies, etc.) and we properly train the people in the methodology and ultimate goal, they should be able to accomplish the purpose successfully.

2. Keep People Informed

It might seem obvious, but effective communication could be my most important suggestion. I recently read about a survey given to 1,400 employees at a major West Coast bank. Here are some highlights.

  1. Employees prefer to be informed face-to-face, rather than in a group meeting, memo, or posted notice.
  2. Employees prefer to be informed by their immediate supervisor, rather than by a senior officer, senior staff person, or top corporate officer.
  3. Employees rank the following as topics they are most interested in knowing about:
  • Job performance/career opportunities
  • Personnel policy
  • Information on work and organizational change and company plans
  • Competitor actions and general company news

Don't assume that word of mouth will convey general messages to your staff. Don't tell only your "favorite" employees or those with whom you have more contact. Realize how important it is to your employees that you communicate information to them as their immediate supervisor (even over the pastor).

Don't underestimate the importance of communicating feedback through a proper evaluation, as well as updating staff on all policy, work, and organizational changes. They may not verbalize anything when this doesn't happen, but it means a lot to them when it does happen.

3. Create a Caring, Positive Atmosphere

You should strive to be a thermostat, not a thermometer, in your office. In other words, you can reflect the existing atmosphere or you can control the atmosphere. A positive atmosphere should be one of the strengths of a church office over a secular office.

Look out for the interests of people; pastor them. They are the ones who make you successful. They know when you are sincere. If people believe you care about them and are looking out for them, they'll do almost anything for you and the church.

Employees need to know they can make honest mistakes without incurring your wrath or losing your confidence in them. Encourage and support those who are willing to try. The person who never makes a mistake, or never fails at anything, is a person who never accomplishes anything important. Be sure to praise people for their good effort, even if they failed to achieve their goal.

People need to feel appreciated by their leaders. If they know their effort is appreciated, they are encouraged even when things aren't going well. This hopeful attitude may result in eventual success.

Be an encourager. Use encouraging, positive phrases rather than discouraging, negative phrases. Use phrases such as "I feel good," "That's good," or "It's a pleasure," as opposed to "I can't complain," "That's not bad," or "No problem." Know how to give a compliment by doing it in truth. Compliment one thing at a time, be specific, and let your compliments stand alone, as opposed to complimenting just before you criticize or ask for a favor.

4. Build a Spirit of Teamwork

Speaker Wolf Rinke suggests that "85% of a manager's success comes from team members." He also recommends the following to build a successful team:

  • Give your credit away.
  • Create desire instead of fear.
  • Speak from the heart, not just the head.
  • Trust team members unless they prove you wrong.
  • Build on people's strengths and accept their weaknesses.
  • Manage by appreciation instead of by exception.
  • Push decision-making down to the lowest level.
  • Ask more and assign less.
  • Make work fun.

Additionally, if your team isn't functioning as well as you'd like, try diagnosing your team's health. Look at these key characteristics: (1) a clear sense of direction; (2) the talent of your members; (3) clear and concise responsibilities; (4) good operating procedures; (5) constructive interpersonal relationships; and (6) an active reinforcement system.

Remember the Scripture passage that says one chased "a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight" (Deut. 32:30, KJV). That applies to the synergy of teamwork in your office as well.

5. Lead with a Servant's Heart

I won't even begin to list all the Scripture passages that would suggest we lead our staff with a servant's heart. One area we can't afford to be efficient in is relationships. We must spend quality time with our staff. At the same time, we must create a balance between concern for people and productivity.

Never ask someone to do something you wouldn't be willing to do yourself. Jump in and do it all. Show them you're not above any duty.

People want a leader who is honest and of high moral character. Never let your standards down, even in personal one-on-one meetings. Set a good example for your employees. It doesn't matter what you say to them if your actions don't support your words. A good leader will give all the glory for success to his people, but absorb all the complaints and criticism himself. Use "we," never "I" or "me."

When a problem with an employee surfaces, don't ignore it, hoping it will go away. It won't go away; it will get worse and eventually disrupt the work of others. Identify the cause early and handle it as honestly and caring as possible.

In conclusion, remember that success is a process, not an event. We must never give up trying to make our church office a place people want to work. I trust that with God's help, some of these suggestions will help you create a successful office atmosphere that assists in fulfilling the mission your church is called to do.