As we move toward the end of 2022, there’s no time machine that will take us back to the pre-pandemic world of the previous decade. As pastors and church leaders, we need to envision a new way forward into 2023 and beyond.
You and your staff team may be discouraged by the lack of attendance and engagement among your congregation. You’re not alone in this concern—our culture has shifted, and every church leader is facing the challenge of leading forward. A survey by Pew Research showed that in-person church attendance isn’t rebounding as hoped.
While your staff team may have put on a brave face as they rolled out this fall’s programming, they’re more tired and empty than they’re letting you know. The dwindling pool of volunteers and lukewarm response to their efforts is wearing them down.
You need refreshment and so does your team. So, what’s next?
As you listen to God and observe the needs around you in this cultural moment, how do you as a leader draw your team together for fresh inspiration and strategy?
Looking forward rather than looking back is a key factor of inspirational leadership for this season. Rather than trying to patch together a strategy to achieve the past vision and mission of your church, acknowledge that you’re in a new season. Bring your team together to listen to God and receive insight. Then look for opportunities to exemplify the timeless Good News of Jesus in a culture that’s experiencing anxiety, loneliness, and dislocation. Knowing that the future won’t look like the past can be freeing for your team as they seek God for fresh ideas to reach outside the church and into the community.
We know from Best Christian Workplaces Institute research that Inspirational Leadership and Sustainable Strategy are two key factors that are present in a flourishing church or Christian organization. In a season of discouragement, it’s particularly important to focus on these two factors.
Inspirational leaders embody the qualities of trustworthiness, care, and selflessness. An inspirational leader listens to the concerns of the people they lead and continues to point people forward rather than dwelling on past issues. Sustainable Strategy provides clear goals, so the staff team knows how their work fits into the overall mission.
In a recent podcast episode, Craig Walker, HR director of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, underscored the importance of a clear strategy for staff to rally around. "Having a simple but clear focus was a major rallying cry for our staff. There's a lot of uncertainty in the world, but they knew what we were going after.”
Internal Culture Matters
Now’s the time to pay attention to the internal culture of your staff team, so you’re positioned with enough energy to pursue a healthy new vision. Guard and protect the positive aspects of your workplace culture and seek to maximize your strengths. As you demonstrate your commitment to the good of your staff team and community, you’re showing your team that you care about their contributions. This environment of connection and respect will infuse your team with the energy and momentum to move forward.
Also, it’s time to root out any “culture vultures”—those dysfunctional processes or people who sap energy from a team and impede progress. While this may mean making hard decisions about personnel or programs that are not strategically viable, any short-term pain from these moves will result in the long-term potential for growth and a flourishing culture.
Assessing Where You Are
While you may have a sense of what your staff team is thinking and feeling, how can you accurately assess your internal culture? You regularly measure donations, church attendance, and small group participation; in the same way, you need a mechanism for measuring staff morale.
Many leaders find that an anonymous, data-driven approach to measuring staff engagement is helpful. You may have a trusting environment where employees feel free to share thoughts, ideas, and even disagreements in a productive way. But using an outside expert to collect and interpret data can provide an even more robust and honest assessment of the current state of your staff culture.
Rather than waiting for ministry life to “return to normal,” take steps to assess your own motivation and vision and that of your team. Acknowledging discouragement and tiredness doesn’t mean you have to stay down. Honesty provides an environment for moving forward and seeking out fresh vision and energy from God.
While you’re assessing the current state of your team, have the courage to make bold changes if needed. Then you and your team won’t keep tripping over situations that need to be resolved. You’ll clear the way for momentum.
The Good News of Jesus still applies to the needs in our culture! Rather than looking back, we can look forward to new ways of connecting timeless truths to the needs of our day.