Archive for May, 2010


Webinars on Supervision

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

I’m going to be hosting two live online webinars on Supervising Your Staff Team in the month of June.

Part 1 of the Series takes place on Tuesday, June 8 from 1:00-2:00 PM (Eastern) and is titled  Setting Performance Expectations for Your Staff. This webinar will help supervisors to think about the nature of employment relationships in the church and how to establish meaningful performance expectations for employees.  This online learning opportunity will help supervisors  to think about their role as a supervisor within a covenantal community. Are employment relationships in the church different in significant ways from other jobs? How is supervising different from coaching, pastoral care, are any other type of one on one helping relationship? Participants in this webinar will learn how to construct a job description as a meaningful and useful tool of performance management and accountability.

Part 2 of the series will be hosted on Tuesday, June 15 from 1:00-2:00 PM (Eastern) and is titled Building and Delivering Effective Staff Feedback. Participants will learn how to craft and deliver three distinctly different kinds of performance feedback messages:

• the daily feedback conversation
• the quarterly progress conversation
• the annual performance review

We’ll examine the ways that employees sometimes deflect or sidetrack feedback and show you some helpful ways to keep your message on point.

I hope that you’ll consider joining me for these two live events. You can register to participate at alban.webex.com

Utilizing Volunteers

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

At some point in time every large church asks the question, “Are we utilizing volunteers the way that we should?” The question usually emerges in the midst of a budgeting or financial planning meeting as leaders grapple with an ever expanding staff budget, or yet another request for an addition to staff. It seems that the effective recruitment and management of volunteers ought to be able to substitute for some of the hired staff of the congregation.  Sometimes the question emerges in a board meeting as lay leadership tries to figure out what the role of laity is in a congregation where the staff team operates as the central operating feature of the congregation. What, if any, meaningful role does lay volunteerism plan within the large staff-driven congregation?

Once a congregation passes a certain size threshold the complexity of running the church requires an organizational structure that centers on a professionalized staff team. After a congregation passes 450-500 people in weekend worship attendance, or functions with an operating budget of more than $1 million, the congregation begins to operate with standards of excellence in programming and worship that are almost impossible to maintain with lay leadership. It’s not that lay leaders don’t have the desire or ability to create programs of excellence; it’s that they don’t have the capacity in terms of time and/or expertise. Beyond a certain point, excellence requires the dedication of consistent and regular hours and developed expertise devoted to the ministry. Once a congregation passes this threshold laity often struggle with understanding their part in the ministry equation.

In the large church the relationship between staff and lay leadership can be characterized in these simple terms. Lay leadership is responsible for the Governance (policy making, oversight, accountability) of church life. Lay leaders are also actively engaged in “doing” the tasks of ministry. The staff team is responsible for Ministry Management (program leadership and daily administration) of the church. Together, lay and staff leadership have shared responsibility for mission, vision, and strategy. For a better understanding of these distinctions and this relationship see Governance and Ministry by Dan Hotchkiss.

Having made these distinctions, let’s explore the role of volunteerism in both governance and ministry? In congregational life the governance work is an entirely volunteer run process. The work of governance is carried out by the governing board/body and its appointed committees; all volunteer operating groups. The work of ministry is managed by the professional staff team of the church and lay volunteers who serve on committees that help to shape and support those ministries.  Volunteers also function as ministry participants (choir members, teachers, youth workers, mission project participants etc.).

When congregations begin to wonder if there isn’t a better way to utilize volunteers to reduce staffing costs, they typically aren’t thinking about adding more volunteers on the governance side of the equation, and they typically aren’t thinking about adding more volunteers as ministry participants. They are most often thinking about using volunteers in the management and administration of ministry.

So, what is the correct way to think about utilizing volunteers in the management and administration of ministry? Simply put, volunteerism on the staff team can work if the volunteer is:

  • Equipped with the full skill set required to fill the role. The large church can’t operate with multiple semi-equipped volunteers in a role that needs the devoted skill set of a professional. Willingness to help and the availability of time cannot substitute for expertise.
  • Committed to keeping regular and consistent hours in service to that role. Volunteers who have isolated pockets of time, and are looking to work only when it’s convenient within their schedule don’t work well as volunteers in the large congregation. Volunteer staff must schedule and coordinate their time away from the job just like paid staff members do.
  • Willing to be subject to accountability standards. Staff volunteers need to function with defined job descriptions, be subject to regular supervisory meetings, and receive regular performance feedback, including annual performance reviews.

When these three sets of conditions are met, volunteers can and do function effectively as members of a staff team.

Staff Triangulation

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

One of the hardest things for staff teams to figure out is how to handle complaints brought to them about other members of the staff team. Sometimes the complaints are brought by members of the congregation and sometimes they are brought by other team members. We call this process triangulation. Person A has a strained relationship with Person B and instead of working out the tension of the relationship directly with B, Person A goes to Person C to complain or vent about Person B. Person C listens to A and becomes engaged in the tension between A and B, so that now Person C begins to develop a strained relationship with B. The more triangulation that develops within a staff team, the higher the level of tension and conflict within the team. In a healthy team environment staff members always encourage direct communication between others and never foster anonymous feedback or complaints.

Let’s look at a typical example. A congregation member approaches the associate pastor to complain about something that the pastor mentioned in her sermon last Sunday that offended the congregation member. The associate pastor has to figure out how to handle himself with regard to the complaint. Does he listen to the parishioner’s complaint in the interest of being attentive and available? And if so, what does he do with the complaint after he receives it, especially if the congregant wants to protect her identity? How does he have a meaningful conversation with the senior pastor about the complaint without being able to mention the name of the person who registered the complaint? “Hey Amanda, people are saying…”  This is not particularly helpful feedback.

So, what is the appropriate response of the associate when the congregant first comes to him in an attempt to get the associate engaged in the congregant’s unhappiness with the pastor? I recommend that staff team members adopt the following protocol for handling complaints brought to them about other staff team members.

Step 1: Say to the complainant, “Have you gone directly to _______ to discuss your concern?”  If the person indicates that they couldn’t possibly confront the person with whom they have issue, or that they have tried and have not been successful, then go on to step 2.

Step 2: Say, “May I go with you to speak with _______ and help you get your concerns addressed?” If the person says yes, then by all means go and help mediate a direct conversation. If the person indicates that they are hesitant to have the direct conversation, even with your involvement, then go on to step 3.

Step 3: Say, “May I go to speak with ________ on your behalf, with your name attached?” If the person says no to this offer then gracefully remove yourself from the conversation. There is nothing further that you can do that would be helpful to the scenario. Further conversation in the interest of letting the person vent their feelings is really just gossip and not productive for you or the complainant. They are not seriously interested in getting the situation resolved.

This simple 3 step process has been very helpful to many staff teams that I’ve worked with. Obviously, before you enter into the 3 step process you need to listen to discern something about the severity of the issue. If the issue involves potential abuse or harm to the complainant or another, you want to pursue a different kind of process. Similarly, if you are the supervisor of the person that they are complaining about you may or may not want to use this approach. But if the complainant is trying to engage you (a bystander) into their tension with another person, resolve the conversation as quickly as possible. Participation in gossip about another member of your staff team (triangulation) is never a helpful role for a staff team member to play.

Photo Credit: The Tidal Rabbit at flickr.com