We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.”
— Jim Collins, author of Good To Great
The idea that a church, ministry, or non-profit must run like a business has gained enormous momentum in the last two decades. The world is exploding with business books by a variety of gurus and supposed “experts,” and as a result, business thinking has become accepted dogma in religious organizations. I’ve always been an advocate of this development, because over the years, after working with more than 1,000 churches and ministries worldwide, I’ve discovered that frankly, religious organizations are often the worst run operations on the planet.
Much of that difficulty comes from the tension between “performance” and “loyalty.” Naturally, in a religious organization, profit isn’t the bottom line, and therefore, performance isn’t as emphasized as much as it should be. As a result, churches and ministries are filled with wonderful but incompetent people. These employees and volunteers are committed to the organization, have integrity, and are good people, but they’ve often been promoted through the years because of loyalty rather than expertise.
I know of one major church with a single employee that I’ve estimated costs the organization at least $100,000 per year through sheer incompetence. She’s responsible for the marketing efforts of the church, but she misses print and advertising deadlines, makes costly mistakes in product shipping, doesn’t know how to evaluate advertising campaigns, and her decisions on any number of issues is usually wrong. She has no experience in marketing, but was promoted to the position after being a loyal and capable assistant to the pastor for many years.
Employees of one church on the west coast actually have a rather sick joke that to be fired, you’d have to show up at a shopping mall with a machine gun and shoot a few people. A job in that organization is pretty much a job for life, no matter how poor you might be at any given position. The lack of competence, poor stewardship, and resulting mismanagement of the congregation’s money boggles the mind.
In another major ministry, poor management has created an atmosphere of insecurity and terror throughout the organization. One incompetent senior ministry executive spent years managing employees through fear disguised as “concern.” For instance, when an employee would make a mistake, he would sit them down, express compassion, and then tell them, “I’m really worried that the pastor will find out about this. If that happens, he’ll fire you for sure.” Much like Absalom at the city gate, he would pretend to be concerned about people, but in reality, he was buying their loyalty, and using fear to undermine the pastor.
Completely unknown to the pastor, this manager was terrorizing people and pointing the finger at him. When I discovered the problem, and shared my assessment with the pastor, he completely denied the possibility. He couldn’t imagine that his employees were afraid of him, and flatly refused to believe it. But I asked him to spend a few weeks “walking through the factory” – causally spending time with employees, gaining their confidence, and listening.
Sure enough, during my next visit a month later, he pulled me aside, and confessed that I was right. Employees of the ministry were horrified of him, and thought he ruled with an iron hand. He eventually fired the senior executive, but it took years to completely repair the damage and change the perceptions of his employees.
Spend time with employees and volunteers. That means “listening” time, not just “talking” time.
And speaking of “walking through the factory,” let me share one of the most important secrets of managing a successful church or ministry – spend time with employees and volunteers. Whenever we brand a ministry, it’s critical to understand the thinking of your people, and the only way to do it is to listen. You’d probably be surprised at the number of corporate executives, church pastors, and non-profit leaders who rarely spend time with employees or volunteers. I know some that haven’t visited sections of the building in years.
In some cases, ministry leaders spend little or no time with the media directors, graphic designers, or writing staff – the very people who are the key to presenting that leader to a national media audience. They rarely hear his heart, or have close contact, and then the leader wonders why he’s not happy with the way he’s being presented on national television or radio.
Don’t automatically assume everyone’s onboard with your vision or the direction of the new brand identity. It’s critical that they feel that you have their interest in mind, know you are listening, and share their concerns.