20 Proven Ways to Improve Your Church Staff Culture
By: Vanderbloemen November 19, 2018
From the sermons to the tweets, your church’s staff and volunteers are the ones sculpting everyone’s experience at your church. A strong team culture can foster growth, attract great talent, and, most importantly, help your church stay on mission.
A toxic culture does the opposite. It harms relationships, tarnishes the church, and prevents Kingdom work from getting done.
Culture is vital. That’s why smart church leaders are always looking for ways to be good stewards of their staff culture.
It’s also why we’ve put together our top 20 tactics for improving the staff culture at your church.This list focuses on four major categories:
Let’s jump in!
Building a healthy staff culture must be intentional; you can’t just expect it to happen on its own. These tactics will help you strategically set the vision for the rest of your staff and volunteers.
1. Communicate your values often
A common misnomer about creating a great company culture is that it’s all about parties, free snacks, and cool events. That's not true. Culture starts and ends with your vision and values. If your team isn’t bought into why they’re getting up everyday and giving their talents to your vision, your culture is going to suffer.
If your church has already identified its core values, you are ahead of the game. But it’s one thing to say you value servant leadership—it’s another thing to have a culture of selfless servant leaders. Do your church values permeate everything you and your staff do?
As daunting as this sounds, if your values are solid, it can be done slowly and surely.
Communicating your values is vital. Without constant communication, the staff culture you desire to create will be nothing more than a mission or vision statement hidden in an employment manual or written on a wall.
Take a survey of your team’s current understanding and buy-in of your vision and values. Can everyone, from your administrative staff to your team leaders, clearly say what the short-term and long-term vision is? Can everyone clearly articulate why they’re invested in this vision? Can they recite your team values and which ones are their favorite?
If not, spend the next few all-staff meetings championing this vision, and give real and earnest inspiration for the coming year. Once you’ve reestablished where you’re going as an organization, spend some time every month revisiting this along with progress to achieving this year’s goals.
2. Give your staff goals and purpose
If your staff seems lethargic or apathetic about work, it’s time to make sure you’ve given them goals to reach and a reason to reach them.
Imagine a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is staffed with a full, capable crew. Morning comes, and they are ready to set sail, but no one is directing them. They have no set destination and no instruction from the captain. He is at the helm ready for the ship to begin sailing, but instead, the ship sits in the same place. The result is a ship tossed by the waves, surrounded by a cloud of frustration and despair. This is the imagery that comes to mind when thinking of a church staff without goals and purpose.
A common misconception about goals is that they are limiting, when in reality the opposite is true. Goals provide your team with a common end to work toward—something that they can see themselves getting closer to. If your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, it’s a win for your staff.
But goals alone aren’t enough—not for a church. No one wants to feel like they are wasting their life doing busywork at a desk. That’s why championing a vision and purpose for your church staff is so important. It gives meaning to their day-to-day work.
Seeing life and excitement in the eyes of your staff or fellow employees will make ministry and work life a much more enjoyable place for everyone, and when people enjoy their work, you can be sure the result will be a staff that runs like a well-oiled machine.
Employees work harder when they know they are accomplishing the intended result within a unified body. For employees who seem to be lethargic or uninterested, goals and purpose provide them with the necessary accountability to become good (or maybe even great), productive employees.
3. Organize a staff off-site
Most people on your staff are busy—which means finding time to get away for a staff off-site may be difficult. However, the advantages of doing so will likely outweigh the inconvenience on anyone’s time.
Whether it’s your whole staff, the executive team, or just a group of hand-selected individuals who you feel exemplify your culture, getting together as a group to brainstorm and answer tough questions about what you’d like to see in your church is an important step in building culture.
4. Be consistent with your own values
Consistency feels reliable, and your staff wants to know the person calling the shots is reliable.
When you treat all of your team members consistently in line with your church values and vision, it builds respect within the team for you and for each other. Plus, who you are as a church leader will trickle down and affect who your employees are as a team.
Remember: if you’re the leader, all eyes are on you. This means that your team can tell when you are behaving inconsistently, and it can make members of your team afraid to approach you. Consistency is a must, because ultimately, your staff will look to the leadership of your church to determine what the staff actually is, rather than what you hope it will be.
Lead your church staff by example and live out what your church stands for. Make sure you and your executive team are living out the core staff values and working towards the mission and vision of your church in everything you do.
5. Recognize culture in action
Every week at Vanderbloemen team meetings, we take a few moments to share how we’ve seen our core values displayed throughout the office that week. We all have a list of them at our desks. Every month, we highlight one employee, known as our “VanderHero,” whom we feel exhibits the staff culture and values on a daily basis.
It’s easy to become busy and let things slide or do only the bare minimum, but battles are won and lost little by little. So even if your schedule is crazy – take a half hour and grab lunch with your team. Stop by your assistant’s desk to express your appreciation. These little gestures mean just as much (and sometimes more) than any large, but likely unsustainable, gesture you could do.
You’ve set the vision for your team—but are they thinking and working like a team? Building and maintaining staff morale is an important component of a strong culture. Good morale is like momentum: it takes a lot of effort to get there, but the more of it you have, the easier it is for your team to move forward.
Here are some smart ways to boost morale on your church staff … but this is just scratching the surface. If you really want to boost staff morale, you’ll want a copy of this checklist.
6.Give employees the freedom to be themselves
People are different. It's part of human nature, and it means that some employees will work differently than others. Some may be verbal processors; some may need time of quiet; some love systems and processes; others may come up with their best ideas on the fly.
Allow your employees to use their gifts and talents; otherwise they will constantly be looking for a role that allows them to implement their gifts to their fullest potential. Create an environment that allows people to grow their gifts, not suppress them.
This goes beyond embracing personality differences. Offer your employees freedom to take ownership of their job and the way they do it—freedom to make it better. When you take away all the pressure they may feel to accomplish things in a specific way, processes can be reviewed, trimmed, and sharpened. Creativity, efficiency, and morale are maximized when people feel they have freedom to do their job in their own way.
7. Celebrate the wins.
This one should be easy, right? When something great happens, you tell people about it and celebrate!
But there’s a common misstep that makes this practice fall flat: and it all comes down to how it’s celebrated and with whom it’s celebrated.
Too often, a win is celebrated in an immediate circle and not the whole church staff. It’s easy for leadership teams to be the main culprits here: they are privy to more information and updates than most of the team and can forget to pass along exciting news to the rest of the staff.
But you’ve got to let everyone in on the high-five moments. Find a way to publicly celebrate hitting these goals every week. Create a weekly email blast that lists the “Things to Celebrate,” or carve out time in every all-staff meeting for one of the staff members to share something great that happened that week.
Bottom line, if you bring your team into these exciting spaces together, it will foster a stronger culture around your vision.
8. Hire well, and train well
Picture this: After what feels like a lifetime of searching, you've finally found the candidate that you feel is qualified to do the job and a cultural fit with your team. You’ve achieved your goal, right?
Well, sort of.
Hiring the right people is a big part of the task at hand. But if your search for cultural bliss ends there, you will end up exactly where you started: working in an environment that no one truly enjoys.
You have to fully incorporate new hires into your culture. Take your new staff member to lunch on their first day. Organize a game night for your team so everyone can get acquainted. Don’t just onboard people into the role; onboard them into your culture!
Creating culture from the beginning will always be better than trying to teach it months or years down the road.
9. Get to know your coworkers
Sure, you spend 40 or more hours a week around your coworkers, but have you intentionally gotten to know them? We all have people who we don’t initially click with or understand well. Pick one of them and go grab coffee, spending a little extra effort to connect with someone you don’t naturally fall in line with.
It’s okay to not be best friends with everyone (or anyone). However, hearing from your coworkers about how they’re feeling, what they’re working on, and where they want to go will give you some insight into the culture and values or your organization.
10. Treat others as you want to be treated
It’s the golden rule for a reason.
The single most effective way to change the atmosphere of your workplace is to treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Practice intentionally caring for the people with whom you have conflict, whether that is practically, emotionally, or even just in the way you think about them.
Care about the people around you and their lives. Learn to respond to people with grace. Be to them who you wish they were to you, and one day they very well could be all you’ve hoped for.
BONUS (because it’s obvious): Let them eat snacks
Some of the companies that tout the best culture provide full meals multiple times a day for their employees. Nobody expects your church to provide catered lunches every day, but you can give your staff some snacks to munch on.
For a few hundred dollars a month, you can stock a break room with snacks and items that will keep your staff full, on campus, and engaged rather than leaving to scrounge around and satisfy that afternoon blood sugar lull.
Snacks can also visually make a break room look more fun and inviting. Ditch the bags and boxes and purchase some inexpensive clear, acrylic sealing jars to fill with popcorn, granola, candy, or other small items that will keep. Your staff will love the way they look and love the inviting nature that it will bring to this company public space.
Communication makes everything better. Marriages would be better, flight delays would be better, and workplaces would be better. Communication is a huge part of your team's culture.
One of the biggest reasons the Vanderbloemen team has won multiple culture awards is the emphasis we put on good communication—both how we communicate as an organization and how we communicate with each other.
Let’s look at a few sure-fire ways to up your staff’s communication game.
11. Confront privately, praise publicly
Publicly embarrassing staff members is extremely harmful to culture. Whenever possible, choose to confront privately. There may be moments when a confrontation needs to happen in front of other staff in response to a staff-wide issue; however, these moments are likely rare.
Public criticism is one of the quickest ways to lose an employee’s loyalty. Church staff members who feel publicly shamed will shut down. Everyone needs constructive criticism to improve his or her work, but that is best done in private. A public venue does not serve either of these purposes and will instead cause a person to shut down
When you praise a team member, be intentional about praising in public. Not only does this help encourage the team member but it also helps affirm and communicate expectations to the rest of the team.
12. Write positive things, say difficult things
If you need to communicate difficult feedback or news, say it face-to-face for two reasons: first, tone is interpretive in written form. Tones and intentions can easily be misread in an email. Second, it’s important to address a negative situation and move on. It’s unhealthy for staff to re-read and ruminate on difficult messages that are communicated in writing.
However, if you want to encourage a staff member, written encouragement has a far more lasting impact than verbal encouragement. Go “old school” and write thank you notes to staff members. Positive written word has amazing effects on relationships and culture—and they’ll likely be referenced for years to come.
13. Encourage More Than Correct
There is an old joke about a couple who has been married for a long time. The wife suddenly breaks down in tears and says to her husband of several decades, “I don’t even know if you love me.”
He responds with a shocked look on his face and said, “I told you I loved you the day I married you and if it changes, I will let you know.”
It is a joke a bit too close to reality for some staff members who long to please their immediate supervisor but rarely hear encouragement. They only seem to hear from them when they do something wrong. This is demoralizing to staff members.
Before a difficult conversation with a staff member, ask yourself how often you have encouraged them. If you have nothing encouraging to say to them, they probably should not be on your staff. But if they are a good staff member and hear from you only when they have done something wrong, you need to reevaluate your approach as a leader.
14. Be Transparent
If you are more of an introvert and more of an internal processor, you may not realize how silent you seem to your direct reports. In spite of what may be natural for your personality, tell your direct reports what you are thinking. Do not make them figure it out. Be transparent. Be clear with your vision. Create an environment of trust by letting your team in on your thought process.
If your staff members have to figure out what you’re thinking, they will make assumptions that may not be close to reality.
15. No gossip allowed
One common grievance from staff members from in a poor office culture is gossip.
Eliminating gossip is about more than just resisting the spread of rumors. Positively impacting your team also requires not speaking about something that you wouldn’t say to that person, or that he/she wouldn’t want you to tell others. Be the person who not only refrains from gossip, but terminates it.
You’re not running a static church. Healthy churches grow, and healthy staff members are constantly stewarding the opportunities that come their way.
Let’s finish up this list with some dependable ways to bring out the innovative ideas in your team.
16. Allow Room for Growth
People often want to know there are opportunities to move up the ladder. They want to see a clear path for growth that will reward their efforts and their hard work.
So provide ample opportunities for individuals to demonstrate their strengths. Identify ways to delegate bigger tasks and roles and most importantly, give them ownership.
If they are able to own a project, they will be significantly more invested in its success.
17. Ask questions, rather than offer solutions
As leaders, we can get into the habit of wanting to solve problems or move projects forward ourselves. It's only natural to want to rely on your own instincts and experience to address challenges. However, our ultimate job as leaders is to empower other leaders.
Immediately offering a solution doesn’t empower those working for you; rather, it creates a culture of dependence. When a staff member or volunteer comes to you with a problem or hurdle, start by asking questions. You'll demonstrate to them that you realize they have great solutions and that you trust them to implement the solution. Ask them questions like:
What do you think the best thing to do would be? Why?
Have you had a similar situation that you have dealt with in the past? How is this different / the same?
How will you implement this solution? How can I support you?
Have you gotten feedback from any of your core volunteers, other staff members, etc. who have skin in the game?
If it doesn’t work, will it give you the opportunity to fail fast and forward?
Ask for the opinion of those working with or for you. Create a staff culture that is open to collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Be open to running with an idea that is not your own.
As Pastor Matt Keller of Next Level Church stated in an interview with our staff member, Holly, “At Next Level Church, team is everything to us. I stopped believing that I had the best ideas in the room a long time ago.” People work harder for something in which they feel personally invested. Your team will become more cohesive, individuals will grow in their position, and so will your efficiency.
18. Expect Individuals To Own Their Issues And Solutions
When you ask guiding questions that lead others to their own solutions, it gives them ownership. We all work a lot harder when we have ownership over something – it becomes a reflection of our work ethic and skillset, so naturally, we want to make it as good as possible so it is a good representation of ourselves.
Leaders should be coaches and sounding boards, warning others about possible pitfalls or unnecessary detours while still allowing an individual to map out the route and the steps needed to arrive at the final objective. Let them be ingenious! Let them feel empowered! A staff member's idea may end up working better than anything you could come up with.
19. Allow Them To Fail
Failure is the best teacher because it is an opportunity for growth. Leaders need to teach others how to fail fast and forward. Failing fast does not mean that when we see failure around the corner we step in and stop them. (You can’t afford to debilitate the church!)
But you shouldn’t be afraid to try a new way to gain volunteers that may end up being a flop, stopping a ministry that has lost momentum, creating a new event, etc. We never desire failure, but it happens.
Our job as leaders is to coach our staff through failure so they can learn from it and move forward in coming up with a new plan. Always be available to have candid conversations privately after a failure.
Never say, “I told you so.” Always say, “I am so grateful you tried something innovative. What can we learn from it? Don’t get discouraged. Keep moving forward.”
20. Follow up (after failure and success)
It takes time and energy to create a culture of innovation and growth. Part of that time spent is in follow-up. Everyone processes things differently. When you start asking the questions that make people think through their challenge, they need to have time to process it.
Some individuals process externally. Maybe you need to take them to lunch and allow them to process out loud. Other individuals need to process internally. Let them think about it overnight and check in with them the next day. See how they are feeling. Have they had any epiphany moments since yesterday?
Some people may need to process with their teams and colleagues. Continue to follow-up throughout the process. Check in occasionally and make sure you have an open door that allows them to come and bounce ideas off you any time.
In these moments, keep asking questions rather than offering solutions. Follow-up is important in both success and failure. Follow-up is what keeps people failing forward rather than never trying at all.
And of course: have fun!
Most people could use a bit more fun in their lives. Injecting some scheduled fun into your staff culture will do a whole lot of good.
People form bonds in times of laughter. Planning some fun for your church staff doesn’t need to be expensive or excessive, just intentional. Here are a few easy ideas:
Theme dress days: Alma mater day, wear your favorite sports jersey day, silly Christmas Sweater day, etc.
Surprise ice cream bar: Invite everyone to take a break and make their own ice cream sundae in a common area.
Karaoke lunch: Borrow or rent a karaoke machine and have the team show off their pipes.
Video of the week: Everyone has a favorite cat video on youtube. Once a week, a staff member can take turns sharing their favorite funny video. It creates a lot of fun conversations that day!
Every church’s culture is different, so think about some fun simple things your staff would enjoy doing, and plan some of these throughout the year.