How To Lead A Remote Church Staff with Jason Miller

In today's live session, I interviewed Jason Miller, Lead Pastor at South Bend City Church and Tim Stevens, Vice President of Consulting at Vanderbloemen about practical ways for churches to lead their teams remotely. Jason's team has never had a church office and always leads his team remotely, so his practical advice is helpful for those who are leading remotely for the first time during COVID-19.

There is no easy way to face a shift from working in-office to working remotely. However, there are practical steps you can take throughout the process to guide you during these challenging times.

Managing Work While not Having a Church Staff Office

  • Realize that your lifestyle and role will look a little different. Going from a physical gathering space to only working online shifts every staff member’s role.  Also, instead of walking through the office and talking with others on your break, you might be walking through your neighborhood instead. Take extra time to connect with your team members through video chat to ensure solid communication.

  • Place an emphasis on having a high capacity team. It’s helpful to know what your strengths are and what the complementary strengths are of those on your team. This helps you facilitate an effective workflow in a time when business is operating different than normal. Don't be afraid to shift tasks around to delegate projects to people who are energized by certain things. This is a great time to give new people a shot at something they haven't done before. Since we're already in a time of change, it's okay to shuffle responsibilities.

Tip: Incorporate team meetings, hangouts, workouts, and other fun activities with your team using Zoom or any other video chat software. 

Benefits of not Having a Church Staff Office

  • It enhances your imagination. Being outside of your office allows you to dedicate more focused time connecting with your community and the people your church is serving. You also have the opportunity to reach people who might have more downtime than normal.

  • You attract and retain different types of team members. It’s common for church leaders to be self-motivated and self-starters, so it’s often easy to attract staff members with those characteristics who will thrive in a remote working environment.

  • It allows you to be near your community. When you’re working at a local coffee shop or co-working space, you can meet and reach out to new people that you would actually like to become part of your church community. 

3 Challenges of Having a Remote Team

1. It isn't as easy to make customizations when you have a remote team. Ways to make this easier are: 

  • Assess the personalities on your team. Be on the lookout for some people who thrive in the lifestyle of working from home and others may have a hard time with it. This will help you be more aware of the challenges certain team members are facing and who might be able to pick up some new projects.

  • Communicate ways your congregation can stay connected. When you have a remote office, your church members may not know how to come to you. This is an opportunity for leaders to find proactive ways to show up for them and to also communicate with your members the ways for them to stay connected.

  • Assuming the best out of people is challenging when you don't see them every day, so make sure you are over-communicating with those on your team. Build strong bonds of trust that will carry into your in-person relationship as well.

  • Set the narrative of status updates that way everyone can know what to expect from others and when. Lay out what tools should be used for different types of communication to get everyone on the same page.

2. Miscommunication - Tools to help with this are:

  • Slack - Instant messaging with the ability to make video calls, phone calls.

  • Google Docs - Slides, sheets, and documents that allow collaboration.

  • Trello - Project management tool

  • Soapbox - Record the screen and the speaker at the same time to share on-demand videos with your team that feel like they were they

Tip: Pick your tool and learn them really well. Examine the kind of conversation you're trying to accomplish with each tool to determine what's best for you - tactical, strategy, relationship. One thing to keep in mind is that negative feedback should be verbal. As creatures of contact, seeing body language and hearing tone is important when having a tough conversation. On the other hand, even when given verbally, positive feedback should be written so the person can look back and remember times of praise. 

3. Staying relationally connected

  • Make it known to your staff that after meetings they are free to contact you since it is common for people to have questions after meetings. Don't lose your accessibility when you go remote.

  • Get to know how your team members work the most effectively by checking on them and communicating with them more frequently. Even if it’s just a quick, direct message. 

  • Implement touch-points twice a week that are not mandatory and have no agenda. This is another good way to check on others and help them if needed. It also provides opportunity for social people to connect if they need that time with others.

  • Delegate a specific day and amount of time for your entire team to work at one central location. Maintaining in-person connection is still important even if it isn't every day.

Ways to Communicate Effectively in a Remote Environment

  • Over-communicate so everyone knows who is working and when, especially if there are flexible working hours. Even if you have a consistent work schedule and you think others should know by now, it’s still a good idea to communicate that while working remotely. Try using your calendar to block times when you're out of the office. This will also help you set boundaries.

  • Communicate your expectations on tasks so your team knows the priority level of tasks. This helps alleviate potential pressure your team may feel if they see you working late on a project and wonder if they should follow suit. Take the opportunity to clearly communicate expectations on working hours. 

  • Build trust with your team by being proactive about status updates and what’s going on. 

  • Leaders should take responsibility for having positive communication especially since you lose body language when working remotely. 

Advice for leaders leading remotely for the first time

  • Acknowledge and empathize with your team knowing that a lot of people have lost the connection with the most rewarding part of their job. 

  • Extend grace towards yourself and your team while learning so many new things during this global crisis.

  • Know that this is also a moment for profound opportunities -

    • Moving forward after COVID-19, things will be different, and the way we do church will be different. New things you are learning and implementing will not be in vain.

    • Take some time to ask God for wisdom on how to move forward to refrain from clinging to what was. 

  • Implement effective tasks during this time of change. A few ideas might be:

    • Reaching out members in the congregation. 

    • Jason explained the 3-2-1 touchpoint that the Executive Pastor implemented where each staff member shares each of the following:

      • 3 things you’re working on. 

      • 2 things going on in your personal life. 

      • 1 goal you want to accomplish by the end of the workweek.

Keys to having a great home office space

  • Have good lighting and eliminate distractions

  • Use what you already have and know that it doesn’t have to be perfect 

  • Intentionally solidify a specific space for work to avoid distraction