Recently, I was asked by another pastor to describe briefly what staff and team development looked like at our church, for our staff of 50-plus. As I began to sketch out a response to his email, I realized that others would likely benefit from such a bird’s eye view.
I get that you may not have these sorts of options near your church in North Dakota, for instance, but Orlando’s not the only place with fun things to do.
This is specifically from my perspective as the Executive Pastor in a large church environment. Here we go ...
Big Group Level Team Development and Encouragement
Staff Retreat: Each year, the staff team takes a retreat in the fall to a local Catholic Retreat Center. The main goals during this time are:
- Encourage the team with great teaching and worship, that they don’t have to do anything to make happen. Each weekend, our team works tirelessly to make church happen for others. And even though we require everyone to actually attend one gathering, sometimes it can be hard to turn your mind off in the middle of the craziness.
At our staff retreat, I bring in an outside speaker and an outside worship band. I even hire a guy from another church to run media and sound, so that our tech team does not have to.
- Have fun as a team through shared meals, games and simple relaxation, in between a morning and evening session. As our team grows, this concentrated time away becomes super important in relationship building and keeping.
- Reorient the team through recasting vision and helping everyone understand what we are all trying to accomplish for the Gospel or digging deep into an area that we want to go in the future.
- Thank the team with time away from work, extra perks (like massage therapists!) and even a small customized and Mosaic-branded gift, designed really well. (We’ve done high-end SIG water bottles, metal luggage tags with all their info on them, staff sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats).
Christmas Party: Each December, our Lead Pastor and his wife host a great Christmas party for all the staff and spouses at their home, or at an offsite location. There is little to no agenda. It’s just a fun time to be together. We usually do some sort of game-driven gift exchange.
At this event, each director-level person takes time to publicly praise individuals on his or her team and give them a gift. (We leverage AMEX points to buy Christmas gifts for the staff).
Conferences for the whole team: Because Orlando has such extensive conference facilities and tourism, many national church leader conferences choose to have their big events here. Sometimes we participate in one as a team, for a couple of days. This cuts out all the extra costs of a conference, such as airfare, car rentals and extra meals.
Fun Days: Once or twice a year, we take the team out for a day of agenda-free fun. We try to plug this into a time when we think the team will be needing some connection and a break. We’ve gone to Kennedy Space Center, Busch Gardens, Sea World, deep sea fishing, Gatorland, escape rooms and other places.
I get that you may not have these sorts of options near your church in North Dakota, for instance, but Orlando’s not the only place with fun things to do. The size of your team will have a big impact on options available to you. If your team is big enough, consider renting a bus for travel, it’s another way of maximizing the time you have together.
Seminary Cost offset: All our staff and residents are offered the opportunity to go to Reformed Theological Seminary, or RTS, and only pay one-third of the cost. RTS has a program where, if the church pays a third and the student pays a third, then RTS will scholarship the last third. Currently, we have about five people taking advantage of this opportunity.
Reading Week: Once a year, in either January or February, the staff is given what we call, “Reading Week.” The idea here is that we cancel all normally scheduled meetings for departments or directors, etc., and we keep our schedule as free as possible, creating an extra 10-20 hours to do some reading on something that will grow us as a team.
We don’t tell them what to read. We just tell them, “read those books you’ve been wanting to read to make you a better worship leader, kids min leader, etc.”
In addition to the developmental nature of the week, it sends a clear message to the team that we care about them and we trust them to figure out the best way to spend that time. It has become an important part of our yearly schedule.
All Staff Gatherings: Once a month (taking certain months off each year around holidays or summer) we do an all-staff gathering that spouses, interns and residents are all welcome to attend (Lay Elders are also invited, but due to the daytime schedule, it’s hard for them to attend). These gatherings run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. We call it an “All Staff Gathering” instead of “All Staff Meeting,” because we want it to feel more like a church service for the staff, and not just another meeting.
Here are components of these gatherings. Some happen every month, some are intermittent:
- Vision-oriented teaching from Renaut (Lead Pastor) or Phil (Executive Pastor).
- Team oriented games
- We bring in guest speakers at times, to talk about something of developmental benefit for the team. (we’ve had experts on budgeting, team development, soul care, etc.)
- 2-4 times a year we assign a book to read and discuss at our next all-staff gathering.
- Introduce new staff and give everyone a chance to get to know them with a few questions.
- Celebrate milestone like births, marriages, engagements, etc.
- Talk through shifts happening in the org chart or various ministries.
- Remind the team of various aspects of our guidelines and procedures.
- Celebrate the team through something we call “Throwing Sun,” where people can shout out encouragement to fellow team members for something they’ve seen in the last month.
- Prepare the team for things that are coming down the road.
- Leverage in-house experts to talk through areas of needed development or known knowledge gaps.
- “Meet the Elders” where one lay elder will come in and be interviewed.
Smaller Group Level Staff Development and Encouragement
Directors Meetings: Department leaders meet twice a month, to get on the same page, and hear from each other on needs and issues that we need to be thinking through. Our Lead Pastor and I lead these meetings. We break them into two categories, Culture and Cloud. So, one director’s meeting a month is for issues related to staff culture. The other, to gain a high-level (cloud level) look at all that our departments are engaged in currently.
Department Meetings: Each department does their own development, based on the unique nature of their teams and focus. I visit these meetings a couple times each year to encourage, answer questions and do targeted development, based on what each team needs. Myself or our Lead Pastor also take each department out to lunch once a year, to connect with that team in a more casual setting.
Emerging Leaders Cohort: Every other month, I gather with our youngest and least-experienced staff members to do general ministry development with them for a couple of hours. They often show up with a list of questions, and I have some things prepared as well to train them in. This is a time when I just lean on 20-plus years of experience, to help them move forward in their own development.
For them, it gets them time with an executive leader, instead of going through their department director. For me, it gives me a chance to learn how to lead millennials and Gen Z'ers, before they actually become my direct reports in the next few years. They don’t know it, but I’m doing research when I meet with them! Currently, 67 percent of our staff are in the millennial or Gen Z category.
Conferences: Teams are encouraged to find and attend conferences that would be of unique developmental benefit to them. The church covers these costs for them within reason. No more than one a year in most situations. My role here is to simply tell them that it’s something they can and should do.
(On Thursday, look to read the second part of Phil Taylor's piece, specifically about individual level staff development and encouragement.)