How healthy is your church?
One of the leading indicators of that question's answer is the health of your staff culture. The culture of your staff is generally a microcosm of congregational culture and whether good or bad will ripple on the rest of the congregation. When I work with congregations who are struggling with significant issues one of the first things I do is to get a handle on the culture of the staff. It will tell me a great deal.
The best way to understand the staff culture is to do a staff audit. These are 30 to 60 minute individual conversations with all staff with a carefully chosen series of open ended questions - usually conducted by an independent third party that staff will feel free to open up with. Having conducted many of these I have learned that staff are very willing to share honestly both about the joys and challenges of working in their environment. The results of such an audit can be of great help to senior leaders to understand where they are doing well and where they could do better.
In this process you can learn how empowered or controlled staff feel, whether they have what they need to do their jobs, whether there is alignment throughout the staff regarding ministry direction, if there is clarity around who the church is and where it is going, if they are coached intentionally or left to their own devices, if there is a collegial or competitive spirit, and even the general happiness of staff in their work.
Here are some observations.
- Where staff are not empowered, volunteers in the congregation are not empowered either.
- Where there is openness on staff and there is freedom to talk and share honest opinions and ideas there is generally an open atmosphere in the congregation where people feel free to tell their stories without fear of censure. The opposite is also true.
- A happy staff usually indicates a happy congregation.
- Leaders who control staff members often try to control people and ministries across the church.
- Where leaders allow unresolved issues to fester on staff, they also tend to allow the same in the congregation as a whole.
- Leaders who don't shepherd their staff and care for them often do not do so with the rest of the congregation as well.
- When there is a culture of grace on staff you usually find that same culture within the congregation.
Much of staff culture reflects the commitments of the senior leader. The best leaders pay careful attention to the culture they create on their staffs, knowing that what they build there will become the culture of the congregation as a whole. Self absorbed or controlling leaders are more concerned about themselves and the image of the church than they are the health of their staff. The result can be a ministry that looks great on the outside with significant lack of health on the inside. Many congregations fit that bill. This is true of some of the largest congregations in the country.
Staff turnover is a reflection of dysfunction within the staff environment and its leadership. Healthy churches have low staff turnover and interestingly greater retention in the congregation as a whole. Where turnover is high, someone needs to pay attention and ask why. There are always reasons.
The lesson: As it goes on staff so it goes in the congregation as a whole. Pay attention to your staff culture. That culture will ripple on the rest of the congregation in good ways and bad. Problems within the staff culture may also be an indicator of problems in the congregation as a whole. Your culture is your brand.