Saturday, December 11, 2010

Church Office Life Stories

I've got a great idea for a sitcom - church office life. Problem is that I could collect all these stories and try to sell them to Hollywood but Hollywood would never believe these actually happened. So I'm going to share with my readers (all two, so far!) some funny and amazing stories of church office life. Here's the first one - I've got a bunch more. And if you're reading this, please contribute your own church office life stories.

Best story I heard this week:

A church changed its email and its URL. They had to. A church member (who is about 80 years old) owned the URL and would not release it to the church. In fact, when the church administrator went to Mrs. Smith's house to talk with her about this, Mrs. Smith very proudly showed the administrator her three computers. When one of the computers had a new entry on its screen, Mrs. Smith invited the administrator over. "Look, here's a new email. Let's open it." Mrs. Smith not only had hijacked the church's URL and the email but she was reading all church email!! The administrator quickly left the house and realized the church had to change its URL and email in order to protect itself from Mrs. Smith!

Lead On!

The Church At Play

I really wanted to address two separate but related issues: church staff and the church itself.

What I mean by "at play" is very simple - how do church staff (and members) do fun things together on company time. Here's why: years ago I had a boss who said that the only time he gets worried about his staff is when he did not hear laughter in the halls of the church office. Laughter is an indication that the staff is having fun together and not taking life too seriously. If you don't hear laughter, you're going to hear gossip. Laughter is much better.

Most church staffs do church together. Nothing else. That is not healthy - they need intentional times when the church approves (and funds) the staff going out on the company clock to do something memorable together: bowling, watching a movie, painting pottery, playing golf (if you like chasing a little white ball) or frisbee golf, playing softball or flag football, going fishing or sailing, etc. You get the idea. Do something that does not involve church. That will the staff something to talk about for months (years?) to come that does not involve "talking shop." Give your staff something else to remember - not just last week's worship and Bible study. After all, church is very stressful - giving your staff permission to play will reduce the stress and give them good memories and a pleasant shared experience. You'll never regret it.

That leads to the church at play. I know a couple of churches that intentionally shut down their doors on Sundays for the entire church to go on a retreat over Labor Day or Easter. It's the same principle as above - give the church members something to remember, an experience to share that is out of the ordinary. Going through seminary I worked for a large hospital company - 7000 employees. Each year during the state fair, the company rented a large tent, provided free food (served by top management), and gave away free admission tickets to the state fair to all employees and their families. Many churches do a picnic once a year and that is very healthy.

Most churches know that fellowship is a key component of a healthy church. Most churches view fellowship as punch and cookies after a Sunday music function or the Wednesday supper. Sorry to burst your bubble, that is not fellowship - that is a church program (church programs are quickly becoming a "four-letter word" to me - more in another post). The best fellowship invovles getting away from the church buildings - do something out of the ordinary and out of the four walls of your church. Get out, go away, make memories, take pictures, and have FUN!

Lead On!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Churches as Businesses

Every so often someone will tell me that "the church is not a business and shouldn't operate as such." Just as frequently, I get the comment, "the church really is a business." So, which one is correct? Well, let me say unequivocally, both are right. Here's why and why not.

Churches are businesses in that they have the same basic building blocks of a business - every church has:
  • operating budgets
  • staffs
  • "products" (in churches it is "intangible religious benefits" in IRS terms)

Churches are not businesses in that they have a different purpose
  • Their goal is to give to people, not get from people
  • Their goal is empower people to give away more to other people
The foundational structure of every church is business-like. The programming of churches is not necessarily business-like. However, I need to clarify one area there where churches should be more like a company: evaluation.

Churches shy away viscerally from evaluating their programming. They hide behind the phrase "but if it helps just one person, it was worth it." After 35 years in church work (I worked in a Christian bookstore as a teenager), I feel that churches must evaluate almost everything they do. They can't hide behind the trite phrase of helping just one person - I do not believe God honors that (or better said, God blesses even more those ministries that are regularly evaluated and improved). The church today must evaluate its staff, buildings, and programming.

Staff: many churches do an acceptable job of evaluating staff but it is frequently a look back and not setting goals for the future. Staff (from the pastor on down) need to be assessed on what they did in the past 6 or 12 months against goals that were established for those staff. Too infrequently bosses fail to set expectations for staff so that there is nothing against which to measure the staff. Then you have the hard part, staff that is not performing need to be encouraged/mentored if they have potential. But if there is no chance that a staff member is going to succeed in your church's environment, then that person needs to be terminated. Termination is very hard on everyone but in the long run it is beneficial to the rest of the staff and the church. In the words of Spock from Star Trek, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." Pruning is hard, but it leads to greater growth in the next season.

Building: this represents sunk costs. A church has already built and paid for those bricks and mortar. But the evaluation should be, "is what this building was originally built for still a viable option or should we change the building to meet future needs?" Buildings can be retro-fitted (for a price, yes) for needs that the church leadership feels is coming up. Do not be wedded to the past "just because we've always done it that way." Years ago I learned how the new anti-termite pesticides work: the chemical inhibit the termites from shedding their old skin when they outgrow it. Thus, the termites strangle inside their old skins. Don't let your church do that - change your skin as often and necessary to keep the church from killing itself.

Programming: by far, this is the most politic- and emotion-laden area of church work. People have invested their own blood, sweat, and tears in their pet ministries and feel that any mention of cutting them is a threat to them personally. Evaluation is not acceptable and they play their trump card almost immediately - "God is using this ministry." My grandparents decided that a car was better than a horse and buggy; my parents decided that telephones are better than letters; my generation decided that computers are better than typewriters; the next generation is totally committed to the internet (which is replacing just about everything!). Change is painful but evaluation is an absolute necessity if a church wants to grow or not lose ground.

Evaluation is a matter of opinion - not everyone will evaluate the same program or person the same way. Church leadership needs to determine how the evaluation will occur and how the results will be implemented. That cannot be explained in a blog - every church has a unique culture and that culture must form part of the decision-making/evaluation process. But please heed this note of warning: to do nothing, to not evaluate things on a regular basis, is to ensure that the church will continue its present track with no heed to the future of the church. If you want a biblical example, read Acts 15 when the church in Jerusalem struggled with whether or not to permit Gentiles to be part of the church. Enough said.

Lead On!