When I walk through the offices in any church, it doesn’t take long for me to have gained an accurate sense of the staff’s morale. Volume is usually my first clue. OK, I’m kidding, but only a little! Teams with high morale don’t behave as if they are in a library or museum. When I walk through the halls at 12Stone Church where I serve as Executive Pastor, some days you’d think there’s a party going on! And in some ways there is. I love it that way. Don’t get me wrong, the 12Stone team works hard, but there is no reason it can’t also be fun.
Warning signs of low morale:
(If three or more of the following statements describe your church, even if under “mild” circumstances, you need to work on improving the morale of your team. If either of the last two statements describe your church, please take action immediately.)
1. The team develops a critical spirit. Faultfinding, complaining and negativism in general find their way into day-to-day work life.
2. The team exhibits an uncooperative attitude. There is a lack of a servant’s heart. Some are territorial and protect their own turf, and even have a political edge.
3. The team loses sight of the vision. The big picture has been lost to individual agendas.
4. The team displays a lack of enthusiasm. There is little passion and low energy. The teams are comfortable. For a few, it’s “just a job.”
5. The team reveals a lack of commitment. Initiative is not strong. There is little risk in play. Meeting only the minimums and cutting corners is noticeable.
6. The team lacks spiritual fervor. It seems more about work and less about prayer and God’s favor. Momentum is probably lacking.
7. The team begins to cause more problems than they solve. Most churches explode from the inside, and this is how it happens.
8. The team shows a disregard and lack of respect for top leadership. This is one of the most dangerous signs. Trust is in jeopardy and trouble is brewing. Ignore this, and potentially lose your church.
9. The team uses low morale as a rally point. This is a lethal warning sign. When the team uses low morale as a point to discuss, rather than a specific issue to solve, it’s past time to take action. Jump on it. Confront the issue. Call a consultant. Do something!
Let’s continue in the diagnostic mode. The next list includes a number of the top things that will lower your team’s morale. Which ones do you need to work on?
Unclear responsibilities and expectations. Even well-written job descriptions are often unclear. Wordy paragraphs filled with philosophical and theological overtones leave the staff member wondering what they are being asked to accomplish. It’s better to have a short and very “net” bullet list of measurable expectations. Review that list at least twice a year.
Inconsistent or unavailable leadership. There is nothing worse than a moody leader and one that is hard to get to. Even the best of staff need leadership. This doesn’t mean you need to provide an “open door” policy, but being available and quick to respond is important.
Top leadership not willing to confront problems. From end-runs to gossip to poor performance, many church staff teams suffer from some level of dysfunction, including immaturity. While it may not be pervasive, it can begin to erode good morale. Facing problems quickly, honestly and with integrity goes a long way to improve morale.
Under-staffing and over-staffing. Prolonged under-staffing causes stress and frustration. Over-staffing allows a team to get comfortable and lazy and doesn’t help to attract eagles to your team. Lean staffing is best. Lean staffing means hiring the best, but running the team a little light because the leaders can handle more.
Poor communication. This is the most common on the list. In fact, I’ve never been to a church that didn’t struggle to achieve good communication. This isn’t meant to excuse the issue. In fact, it’s more to acknowledge that we all have to work on it, and the better the communication the better the morale.
The absence of professional evaluation and constructive feedback. People want to know if they are doing a good job or not. They really do. Regular and written evaluations are vital to a healthy and growing organization.
Lack of initiative for leadership development. Simple and consistent investments of leadership development are essential for a healthy and happy team. If the staff are not growing and getting better at what they do, the church can’t achieve the Great Commission success it desires. I’ll give an idea of what you can do in “Morale Builders” under “Invest in your leaders.”
Absence of a clear vision. You know I couldn’t leave this off the list. It’s obvious, but without vision, and without clear direction and a strategy of how to get there, the morale of your team will decline.
Generous amounts of encouragement and gratitude. Nothing lifts the human spirit quite like sincere encouragement. You really can’t over-encourage someone. Consistently expressing gratitude to each individual on your team goes a long way to increase morale. It’s amazing what a simple thank-you can do.
Maintain high receptivity to change. Growing organizations are changing organizations. Your church is no exception. If you have been doing the same things over and over, I can promise this causes an ebbing away at the morale of your team. Ask the hard questions about what needs to change, not for the sake of change, but to get better at what you do.
Embrace risk and creativity in order to realize the vision. Leaders take risks. Yes, it can raise your blood pressure but it also increases your faith and keeps the team alive. Prayerfully ask God where He wants you to be pressing against the edge. Experimentation is also needed to achieve the vision. This kind of creativity lets you try new things in an environment where it is hopefully OK to make mistakes.
Cultivate positive and faith-oriented attitudes. It is surprising, but nonetheless true, that church staff teams can “sour” quickly. When the culture of the team goes toxic, you have a mess to clean up. Cultivating a positive spirit and sustaining strong faith doesn’t happen automatically. You have to work at it. It requires intentionality. It requires honesty and confronting the issues. It’s not a pie-in-the-sky attitude, it’s a choice to see even the difficult things with a positive solution-oriented bias.
Insist on results. The team needs to know that results matter to God. It’s not just about what the “boss” wants. The Kingdom is at stake. Teams get fired-up when they know everyone is kicking in on all cylinders and making things happen. When everyone is digging in and working hard to achieve success, there is a wonderful kind of chemistry that gives a big boost to the morale.
Invest in your leaders. Leadership development is near and dear to my heart, and I hope it is to yours too. There are so many things you can do to help your leaders grow, but it’s important to keep it simple and consistent. You can start by simply taking a group through a good leadership book and asking two questions: 1) What are you learning? 2) How are you applying what you are learning?
Lean into trust and the benefit of the doubt. When your team has a high degree of trust in each other the morale gains an automatic boost. One of the best ways to cultivate trust is to establish within your culture a commitment to grant each other the benefit of the doubt. This includes everything from email to group meetings. Assume the best, and if you're not sure, ask!
Promote a sense of community. Even in the midst of hard work, the team needs to play and take time to care about each other. Above all the job descriptions rides the truth that each one on your staff is a human being with their own hurts, struggles, joys and questions in life. It’s so important to acknowledge and embrace this truth. Take time to talk, pray and play together.
I encourage you to take some time with your team and look at the lists. Talk honestly through them. Share some fist-bumps about what you are doing well, and work on the areas that need improvement.
The Lord is at work redeeming and sanctifying a people for Himself.