How Healthy Competition Can Make Your Church Staff Better

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During my time in college in Oklahoma, I made a few visits to Life.Church. One Sunday, Craig Groeschel shared a story about competition that has stuck with me through the years.

The story goes something like this: When Life.Church was a very young, small church, Craig would pass similarly-sized churches on his drive in every Sunday. He'd catch himself counting the number of cars in their parking lot compared to the number of cars in Life.Church's parking lot. This went on for some time before the Lord impressed upon Craig’s heart that it wasn't good or helpful. Craig made a conscious choice to start praying for the churches he passed instead of comparing himself to them. I remember him saying that he found himself rejoicing when he saw they were full instead of feeling small and insignificant.

How many times in our lives have we thought, “My church or ministry is better than _____” or been envious of others' talents, posessions, or influence?

There is a big difference between unhealthy envy/comparison and healthy competition. The examples above describe unhealthy comparison. I think a small dose of competition can be very healthy on a church staff. There are several members of our team here at Vanderbloemen who are drivers and achievers - a healthy amount of good-natured competition helps them create their most excellent work.

When thinking about the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition on your team, remember that the line that differentiates them is when achievement or the goal becomes more important than caring for the people around us. Jesus sets up our priorities as the church clearly in Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

Healthy competition is important on a church staff. It builds momentum and unites a team around a common cause.

Healthy competition occurs when we see an unmet goal or need (the obstacle) and all seek to find an effective solution (winning). Often, healthy competition occurs internally as we all try to be the best versions of ourselves and be the best we can at what we do. This could also be defined as goal-setting, but I intentionally use the word “competition” because it creates a visual obstacle to overcome.

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Here's one small example: At Vanderbloemen, we have a fun, monthly competition called the “Strong Man” competition. In order to encourage our staff core value of "Stewardship of Life," whoever exercises the most times each month wins a funny trophy and Starbucks giftcard for the month. It is small, but it has created a fun camaraderie among our team to spur one another on to healthy lifestyles.

The key here is that the true goal or obstacle isn’t to beat one another (because staff unity is worth far more than a Starbucks gift card), but actually to get to the gym and inspire healthy, balanced lifestyles. Do you see the subtle difference?

Healthy competition needs to be aimed at a cause or vision, not at people. The purpose of competition on your staff should be to unify your team, not to trounce one another. Healthy competition creates momentum to achieve a goal and can result in a more productive, effective, and fun workplace.

For Craig Groeschel in his story, he was initially viewing his goal as success over other churches. At his low point, he realized he viewed "winning" as having better attendance than other churches (ouch!). His sense of competition became healthy when he redefined winning as other churches succeeding, because that meant meeting the greater goal of the kingdom being advanced in Oklahoma. 

Within any church or ministry staff, there should be set goals each year that they are trying to meet. Having goals - both team and individual goals - forces us to continually evaluate what's working and what's not, as well as ask the Lord what is missing to help us advance the Kingdom. Healthy competition is the vehicle to achieve those goals.

Competition derails positive momentum when we lose sight of the value of the goal.

Using the example of Life.Church, if the goal becomes someone else losing, then it’s a worthless goal. The priority for church and ministry teams is always loving God and pointing others to him. If our goal stops holding both of these in high esteem, it has been derailed and isn't healthy.

For church teams, a good litmus test is Ephesians 4:3. If you "have unity through the bond of peace," continue forward. Unity comes when we’re connecting with Jesus and getting our needs met with Him first and then caring for those around us. When there is discord among staff, it’s a huge warning light that we are not on the same page, running towards the same goal, or creating a healthy momentum. You can spot unhealthy competition or goals in your staff by looking at your staff culture and the health of your volunteers.

Healthy competition with goal setting can be a great thing for your church staff. It creates a visual picture of a common goal, and, if defined well and returned to on a regular basis, can lead a ministry to bigger Kingdom results.

How has the concept of healthy competition helped your team? How have you seen it played out in practical ways?

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