Archive for March, 2010

Building Staff Collegiality

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

I hope that you’ll consider joining me at this upcoming Alban sponsored 2 1/2 day event on Building Staff Collegiality

April  27, 2010 – April  29, 2010
Lake Junaluska Conference & Retreat Center , Lake Junaluska, North Carolina

Facilitator: Susan Beaumont

The seminar is scheduled to begin at noon with lunch on the first day and end after lunch on the last day.

A healthy staff team is at the heart of every thriving congregation.  Building the collegiality needed for staff teamwork 

  • Requires the dedication of each staff member to live into their own calling. 
  • Challenges all members of the staff team to learn to live out their personal vocations in concert with the attempts of their colleagues to do the same. 
  • Calls upon special skill sets from the “head of staff” to create a collaborative and productive culture


Participants in this highly effective seminar will examine the characteristics of a healthy team, learn how a staff progresses through stages of team development, and identify where groups tend to get stuck.  You’ll be introduced to 30 markers of healthy staff team culture, specific approaches to managing team conflict, building accountability into team performance, and crafting effective staff meetings.

  • Each participant will complete a team role self assessment prior to the seminar and will receive a comprehensive profile of their team role preferences. 
  • This seminar will use a variety of learning strategies, including interactive lectures, experiential exercises, small-group conversations, and case-study work. 
  • The seminar is designed for heads of staff, executive pastors, department heads, or anyone who is interested in learning how to foster healthier staff team culture.

Small Groups vs Sunday School

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Most large congregations choose between small groups and Sunday school when it comes to selecting a vehicle for educating, assimilating, discipling and caring for members. I rarely encounter congregations that are strong in both small groups and Sunday school.  Churches with a history of demonstrated strength in Sunday school attendance have difficulty creating sustained small group ministries.  Similarly, congregations that host dynamic small group ministries  have difficulty creating enduring educational programs that involve ongoing weekend classes.   The absence of churches that tend both venues well leads me to believe that there is something fundamentally different in the culture that supports Sunday school and the culture that supports small groups.

I’m currently working in a congregation with an impressive track record in both Sunday school and small group ministry. Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham Alabama operates a Sunday school that has historically been in the top 10 UMC Sunday school programs east of the Mississippi river. They operate a huge church campus that has maxed out its space for Sunday school classes. Sunday school attendance has always equaled or exceeded worship attendance (1,200+). They also host 30-50 active small groups (that they know of) that engage over 500 adults on an ongoing basis. Some of those groups are ongoing “life” groups and others are of a shorter term study or service nature.

This week I had the opportunity to sit down with Senior Pastor, Bill Morgan and Executive Pastor, Warren Nash, to talk about how they balance their emphasis on Sunday school and small groups and to figure out why it works so well at Canterbury. First, we have to acknowledge that Canterbury operates in a region of the country where Sunday school participation is a cultural norm. So, they start with a natural leg up in that arena. That factor aside, here are some interesting points I picked up on in our conversation, things that seem at least a little different from other congregations where one venue is emphasized over the other.

  • The cultural DNA of the congregation emphasizes the core values of worship, learning and service. The continual emphasis on all three elements (3 legs of a balanced stool) is conducive to the nurture of both Sunday school and small groups.
  • The Senior Minister continually focuses on linking what’s happening in worship with what’s happening in learning.  During each liturgical season, in-house curriculum is developed that Sunday school classes and/or small groups are invited to use. The curriculum always links weekly learning with weekly worship themes.
  • Both Sunday school and small groups are sheltered under the umbrella of the leadership/learning umbrella of the church. Both are housed under the same director on the staff team.
  • Small groups are never scheduled on Sunday mornings so there aren’t any natural conflicts between someone’s involvement in Sunday school vs. small groups
  • The church operates a leadership academy that develops leaders for both Sunday school and small groups. The curriculum is taught at a seminary level and teaches skills in biblical interpretation, theological reflection and the practical skills of facilitation.  Leaders are not prepared for one venue or the other; they are just prepared to lead/facilitate groups.
  • Small groups are primarily internal learning, caring and support communities. They may serve some evangelical function but that is not their primary purpose in the life of the congregation. Worship is the primary evangelical focus. (I’m not sure if that makes a difference or not in why Sunday school and small groups co-exist side by side, but it seems distinctive.)
  • Small groups and Sunday school are lay generated and invitational in nature. The staff team doesn’t create small groups (with the exception of seasonal small group during lent/advent etc.) and doesn’t manage a sign up or invitation process. Lay leaders give birth to groups and do the inviting to fill the roster.
  • Staff leadership publishes a single annual catalogue that describes all known educational venues for the year, including Sunday school classes, ongoing and seasonal small groups, and special one time learning opportunities. Staff leadership operates with a philosophy of “we’ll lay it all out there and you choose what you want to be a part of”.
  • An organic culture of permission giving and empowerment surround both the formation of Sunday school classes and small groups. The church does little to control what happens in either venue. If a leader expresses an interest in starting a new class or small group they are encouraged to do so. The leader doesn’t have to jump through hoops to satisfy requirements to lead. The group doesn’t have to satisfy any requirements to be considered part of the Sunday school or small group line up.

What do you think about Canterbury’s approach?  Does your congregation take a unique approach that embraces both Sunday school and small groups? Do you know of any other congregations that do this well?

Photo Credit: Jonathan Gayman 

Mainline & Multi-Site

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The multi-site movement is growing. Several months ago USA Today featured an article on the growing phenomenon.   The Leadership Network and Hartford Institute for Religion Research reported that among U.S. Protestant megachurches, 37% reported having two or more locations under the same leadership in 2008.  Of the USA’s 100 largest churches, 67% now have two or more sites and 60% of the 100 fastest-growing churches also have multiple sites, according to the annual listings of the USA’s largest churches in Outreach magazine’s October issue.

Increasingly, in my role as Alban’s Large Church Specialist I am being called upon to engage congregations who are experimenting with various expressions of multi-site ministry.  The congregations I’ve been working with on multi-site issues are large congregations, but they are definitely not megachurches.  The multi-site movement may have emerged from within the evangelical megachurch; however, many moderate and liberal mainline congregations are experiencing great success with multi-site venues. This is not a passing phase. It is a new organizational expression of congregational life that is popping up everywhere.

There aren’t many places to turn to learn about multi-site ministry, and research on the movement is still pretty sketchy. The Leadership Network  is the primary group offering voice, vision and training for multi-site efforts. However, their expression of multi-site is decidedly evangelical and theologically conservative.  Their material doesn’t always translate well into more moderate and liberal environments. I attended their training and while I learned a lot about multi-site structures and vision-casting, I continually encountered material that I knew wouldn’t resonate with the congregations I engage (primarily because their language excludes female leadership, and they assume that all congregations define growth by numerical standards).

Here are the similarities and differences that I’m noticing in the mainline expression of multi-site.

Both the evangelical and the mainline approach to multi-site focus on the Great Commission; finding ways to spread a message beyond the confines dictated by a particular location.  Both evangelical and mainline approaches seek to leverage the resources of large, successful congregations; finding ways to spread the impact of an experienced and well resourced team, by expanding the number of venues/expression of worship and programs.

Evangelical churches engage multi-site ministry heavily steeped in the core value of ministry multiplication; new leaders, new services, and new sites.  Success is measured by the ongoing numerical expansion of a singular Gospel message. Consequently, the primary organizational expression of multi-site in the Evangelical Church employs the following models: the New Venture Model (a church planting kind of approach), the Satellite Model (one mother church that other smaller churches orbit around) or the Video Venue Model (one remarkable preacher whose presence is extended to multiple locations through video technology). These are the multi-site expressions that the Leadership Network services well.

Churches with more liberal leanings are coming at multi-site ministry from a different perspective, prompted by a different set of values. Theologically moderate and liberal churches are also seeking to promote the growth of “something” but the “something” takes on different expressions in different places. Some mainline churches are engaging multi-site primarily as a way to more effectively serve multi-cultural communities. Each culture can embrace a unique worship expression, dedicated pastoral leadership, and a contextualized interpretation of the Gospel; all under the stable umbrella leadership of a large congregational entity.  

Other mainline churches are engaging in multi-site to better leverage denominational resources. In these instances a thriving large congregation takes one or more smaller, struggling congregations under their wing to revitalize programming and worship. The entire new entity functions as a singular congregation. This approach strengthens and protects regional denominational presence and identity.

Still other mainline expressions of multi-site are seeking to reproduce effective and excellent worship venues through the Encore Model (the entire worship service is reproduced live, in multiple settings on the same day or weekend. This often involves the senior minister and the choir being chauffeured from one location to the next for live worship in each setting). 

The point in lifting up these differences is to acknowledge that different core values lead to different reasons for launching multi-site ministry. Different reasons for launching give birth to different organizational expressions. Different organizational expressions place different demands on staff team structure, board design and polity expressions. Different expressions require different metrics for evaluating success or failure.

We have a lot more to learn!

Problem Personality

Friday, March 12th, 2010

2377179507_9ed2faac71_mThis week, two different coaching clients have wanted to talk about the same issue. How do you have a supervisory conversation with a member of the staff team who performs well on the essential functions of their job, but has some personality issues? (In one case the employee displays a very pessimistic attitude about everything; in the other case the employee is extremely introverted and emotional).


To deal effectively with personality or behavioral issues, you have to get your own thinking straight about what your role is as supervisor, and what you have a right to expect.  Consider these points:


  • Satisfying the performance requirements of a role involves meeting two basic sets of expectations. Employees must satisfy expectations about the essential functions of the job (the duties and tasks of the job), and they must satisfy basic expectations about the core competencies of the job (appropriate behavioral attributes, skills and attitudes). Successfully performing the duties and tasks of the job is only half of the equation. Behavior does matter, especially in the life of congregations! 
  • As a supervisor, it is incumbent upon you to set and communicate clear expectations about the essential functions and the core competencies. It is also your responsibility to provide regular and ongoing feedback to your employees about how they are performing on both the essential functions and the core competencies. 
  • It is not your job to change an employee’s personality. It is your job to set appropriate limits/boundaries around the expression of personality tendencies. The easiest way to keep this straight is to deliver feedback that simply describes the behavior that you are witnessing and then describes the behavioral standard you have in mind. Point out the gap between the standard and the actual and invite the employee to close that gap.

Here’s an example of how you might confront the behavior of an employee whose pessimism is getting in the way of effective performance.

“Michael, in yesterday’s staff meeting I presented some new ideas about improving our Sunday morning hospitality hour. Your immediate response was to critique my ideas and to point out why my ideas were destined to fail. I felt diminished and depleted by your comments because they seemed to suck the optimism out of the air and they shut down the creative mode we were in. Next time, I’d like you to let a little more time elapse between the presentation of an idea and your expression of criticism. Also, when you hear a new idea expressed by me or any other member of the team I’d like you to pause and think first about expressing a thought to make the idea better, instead of expressing a thought about why the idea isn’t any good.”

Notice that the feedback incorporated several key elements:

  1. A concrete description of the inappropriate behavior (including a description of the context and the behavior)
  2. A description of how you felt about the behavior (not what you thought about it)
  3. A description of how the behavior impacted you and others
  4. A clear explanation of what a more appropriate response would have been

Once you have covered all four of these points it’s important to pause and give the employee an opportunity to respond. After you’ve listened to their response you can draw them back to the standard you’re trying to establish and invite them to close the gap.

If you’re looking for a resource to better understand how to work with core competencies and essential functions I’d recommend When Moses Meets Aaron. Or you may want to consider attending my 3 day workshop, Stepping Up to Supervision in Atlanta this September.

Photo Credit: Hue Dew

Why “Large” Matters

Friday, March 5th, 2010

3182198117_0e5564fdb9_mOkay, so I need help on this one. I’m writing a new book on the large congregation (targeted at congregations with worshiping communities between 300 and 1,800). It’s about the uniqueness of the large church from a leadership and structural perspective. I’ll be introducing a size typology for large congregations to replace the traditional “corporate” label attached to the large church. The book will also address strategic alignment in the large church, staffing structures, board dynamics, the leadership role of the senior minister, the role of the associate,  membership and assimilation challenges, and approaches to program evaluation. In short, the book will be about many of the things I write about on this blog.

I showed the proposed outline of the book to my publisher some time ago and he heartily approved, with one exception. He said that I needed a lead off chapter that talked about why the large church matters. Frankly, I was stymied when he suggested that I needed to address what this thing referred to as the “large church” represents on the American religious landscape. It’s so clear to me that the large church matters today, but when pressed to articulate why, I found myself stumbling around.

I’ve always loved the energy of the large church. I grew up in a Roman Catholic parish with 3,000 membership families. I worked for a year on the staff team of a mega church. The struggling pastoral sized congregation that my family and I have belonged to for the last decade recently merged with a corporate sized congregation, and I’m happy as a clam in the bigger, fuller environment. I love being in large church venues, but I guess I’ve just assumed their existence.

Since my publisher’s challenge I’ve given the topic some thought and I can articulate some of the reasons why the large church matters today, but I’m feeling like I haven’t quite captured the essence. Here’s what I’ve got so far: The large church matters because:

  • The large church has a capacity for excellence.  Excellence is an attribute of God and excellence honors God. (I have a feeling that the last sentence may get me into trouble with some of you…but have at it).
  • Similarly, worship can be pursued with excellence in music, preaching and liturgy. Increasingly we live in a culture that is accustomed to excellence in entertainment and for good or ill those expectations have spilled over into our worship lives.
  • Worship practices today increasingly make use of technology. Large churches have the resources to employ technology in highly effective ways, because they can purchase top notch equipment and employ top notch operators.
  • Within the large church people can simultaneously tend competing desires for intimacy and anonymity. There are plenty of small group experiences where one can be known, but there is also plenty of space to indulge or rediscover anonymity.
  • The large church allows people to embrace a social justice identity, without having to step outside of personal zones of comfort. Through the coordinated social justice ministries of the church people can engage financially, or with minimal personal time and still take pride in being part of something larger than themselves that makes a difference in the world.
  • Similarly, large churches have a capacity for incorporating diversity by allowing people to engage difference in controlled environments. People can choose venues where they want to engage “otherness” and then they can retreat to smaller homogenous pockets that feel safe.
  • Largeness lends itself to stability.  Large congregations tend to weather financial storms better than smaller congregations. Large church clergy have longer leadership tenures (I think; I don’t have research to back up that last statement.) Stability over the long haul promotes health, and health sustains viability.
  • The depth of resources available to the large congregation makes them important regional resources within their denominations. Large churches develop programs and leaders that are important resources for smaller neighboring congregations.

So, that’s my list so far. Help me out here. What am I missing? Am I even on the right track?