Creating an Environment for Success

Anybody that's worked in a church office knows what the lay person in the church always wonders, "What does that 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 secular offices. This stems from a variety of reasons. One, due to budget constraints we try to be as productive as some secular offices, with less people. Two, many times we are not able to pay as competitive a salary as other businesses, thus we get people with great hearts for ministry, but at times below average skills. Three, promotional motivation is diminished, as there aren't too many places to go up the corporate ladder in the church setting. Finally, we usually have to treat our "customers" a little more delicately than the secular world due to our "line of work."

It's critical for us to do all we can to help reduce stress in the church office, as well as 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 will understand where the church is striving to go. Goals must be set for the staff to effectively fulfill the mission, with a process in place to meet those goals.

The mission is critical, as morale should be motivated by mission, not the pastor. If the pastor moves on, people should continue with the vision. It's not the leader's charisma that should matter, as much as the leaders mission.

Goals are then established to systematically accomplish the mission. Again, just as in communicating the mission, goals must be made clear to the staff. The goals are then accomplished through a series of processes. As a leader of a church, we need to identify and understand these processes and what it takes to make them function effectively.

Unfortunately, too many times there is a breakdown in the process, and we as managers tend to blame the employee rather than the inadequate process.

If everything in the process is provided in sufficient quantity (equipment, material, supplies, etc.), and the people are properly trained 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 the most important suggestion presented. 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 a group meeting, memo, or posted notice.
2. Employees prefer to be informed by their immediate supervisor rather than 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

Make sure you don't assume word of mouth will get general messages to staff. Don't just tell your "favorite" employees, or those you have more contact with. Realize how important they think it is for you to 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 it 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. Meaning 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 interest 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.

Staff needs to know they can make honest mistakes without incurring your wrath or loss of 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 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 inclusion language such as "I feel good", That's good", or "It's a pleasure", as opposed to exclusion language such as "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 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, maybe diagnosing your team's health will help. Some key characteristics to look at might be: 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 that says, "one puts a thousand to flight, but two ten thousand." 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 scriptures 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 problems with an employee surface, don't ignore them, hoping they will go away. They won't go away, but will get worse, and eventually disrupt 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.


Terry Steen lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Karen, and his daughter Ashley. His experience inlcudes 24 years of finance and administration in banking, a parachurch ministry, and the local church setting. He has also served in various church leadership roles, written articles for publication, been a district and national workshop speaker, and has served as an adjunct professor at Southeastern College.

Steve is currently serving as a Church Consultant, including serving as the Southeastern Loan Consultant for the Assemblies of God Financial Services Group.