Creating a Trust-Based Culture

One essential aspect to moving an organization forward is the establishment of trust. This may seem obvious, but too often change agents neglect to take the time to establish a foundation of trust before they try to make significant changes. This is true both for leaders within organizations and outside consultants and coaches contracted to assist with reorganization or transformation.

In a recent article at Inc.com, Marissa Levin, Founder and CEO of Successful Culture, discusses research that shows the significance of trust in the success of an organization. The article is directed to the business world, but also applies to faith communities and nonprofits. She suggests eight ways to build trust in an organization. Here I paraphrase Levin and add my thoughts on how faith communities can benefit from her recommendations. 

Recognize Excellence. Public and immediate recognition of a job well-done increases productivity and encourages others. Congregations and nonprofits depend heavily on volunteers. Often a small group of people do a majority of the work. How does your leadership publicly celebrate volunteer and staff contributions? Is it possible to have a time during worship to recognize what people have accomplished throughout the week? Note that a generalize “thank you” to everyone, or celebrating the mediocre may do more harm than good. It sets a tone that is not beneficial to the mission of the organization. 

Induce “Challenge Stress.” If people are not challenged, they will not step up. Attainable challenges are good for all organizations, including faith communities and nonprofits. I have worked with too many congregations that try to cater to the whims of the membership while expecting little to nothing from them. When I coach churches, I encourage them to challenge themselves with SMART goals that will move them into the future God has for them. Healthy congregations have healthy leaders that can create “challenge stress” – enough to stress to combat complacency, but not enough to overwhelm or discourage their flock. 

Empower employees [and volunteers] to choose their work patterns and habits. As Levin points out, staff would give up a raise for more autonomy and control of their work environment. Of course, we have certain boundaries and guidelines for what people do in the name of the church or organization, but we can be permission-giving within those limitations. Leaders who micromanage the mission dishearten and constrain their staff and volunteers. 

Give [people] a voice in their job design. Many congregations and nonprofits “assign” staff and volunteers to projects or committees that need warm bodies. Instead, encourage people to follow their passions to work on the areas of mission of which they are most excited to be a part. Spiritual gifts assessments are good tools for helping members discern their passions and areas of strength. 

Communicate often. Let me repeat this one. Communicate often. Every group that I have worked with has listed communication as a weakness in the organization. If Levin suggests that large corporations need daily communication with direct reports, what does this say to faith communities and nonprofits? If you want to engage people in your mission, keep it before them daily and be specific about expectations and opportunities. If you have a staff, practice direct and daily reporting, and encourage volunteers to report back regularly. Not only will this improve organizational functioning, sharing stories of mission activity will also encourage more people to get involved and financially support the organization.

Intentionally build relationships. This one should be a no-brainer for faith communities, which are in the business of relationship-building. All the major religions espouse having healthy, loving relationships with the divine and other people. For example, Christians are called to be friend to the friendless. Muslims are required to give alms to the poor. Judaism teaches that all humanity are one. Many congregations create small group ministries to encourage fellowship and mutual ministry. However, there are situations where the pastor feels isolated. The relationship between a pastor and member is unique, very different from member-to-member friendships. Pastors would do well to find friendships outside of their church, perhaps with other pastors or nonprofit leaders. Intentionality is the key.

Facilitate whole-person growth. I have known pastors and nonprofit leaders who never take their continuing education time. This is a big mistake. Continuing education and sabbaticals are opportunities to grow intellectually and spiritually. When you give so much of yourself to serving others, it is easy to get burned out or complacent. Faith and nonprofit leaders are no different than anyone else. We need rest, renewal and intellectual stimulation. In my workbook for Presbyterian ruling elders, I advocate that volunteer leaders also take sabbaticals from leadership and intentionally attend to their spiritual growth. Whole-person growth is not just for leadership. Faith communities can contribute to a well-rounded, intentional personal development of all members. Jesus said, “I have come so that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 paraphrased)

How do our organizations provide whole-person growth to our members and staffs? 

Show vulnerability. As Levin indicates, the research shows that leader vulnerability increases trust and cooperation. Some faith leaders are afraid to be vulnerable with their members. They believe that they need to be an example of true faith and strength. Healthy leaders are able to show appropriate vulnerability and ask for help when they need it. Followers need to know that their leaders are human, that they are not only trustworthy, but trusting as well. This is also true for subordinate staff members. Team leaders who ask their team members for help and acknowledge that team members have knowledge and skills that they do not, establish a higher level of trust, respect and cooperation.

As Levin states, the bottom line is that trust-based culture is able to attract and retain high-quality workers and achieve greater results. A trust-based culture begins with leadership. Two questions for faith and nonprofit leaders to consider:

  1. How would you rate the level of trust in your organization?
  2. What steps do you want to take to strengthen the culture of trust?

 

Bouncy Church

Today’s congregations, no matter what denomination, size or theological bent, are experiencing change at a rapid pace. Many are bleeding members and money, while others are struggling with vision and relevance. They compete for people who still feel a call or need to be a part of a religious community. Thousands close their doors each year.

One characteristic that enables a congregation to thrive in this environment is the ability to bounce. Resiliency is the ability to overcome obstacles and manage change in healthy ways. A resilient congregation has the capacity to adapt to changes or transform itself into a new way of being.

In their book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt discuss this ability to either adapt or transform. They suggest that adaptation means that a system can get through thresholds to get back to a desired place. Systems can also transform themselves into something completely different.

To be a bouncy church a congregation needs to be willing to go through the groan zone, the place of discomfort, chaos and confusion that leads to clarity and convergence. Trying to avoid this zone leads to floundering and apathy. Trying to go around it may lead to temporary gains, but not long-term success.

Resilient congregations make a conscious decision to adapt to the changing world around them, and some also choose to transform themselves to better minister to the surrounding communities and follow what they discern to be God’s will for them. Congregations that cannot bounce choose to either ignore what is happening around them, or make half-hearted adaptations for which they have no real commitment.

How do you know if your church can bounce?

Resilience requires diversity, modularity, communicational intelligence, openness to change, trust, innovation, imagination, accountability and humility. It also requires healthy leaders who are self-differentiated and visionary.

Transformation requires all of these plus financial, human and social capital, readiness and commitment to change, and realistic options for the future.

Your congregation may be resilient if …

  • You are poised to cross the threshold, including engaging the groan zone.
  • The majority are committed to change, and you are willing to lose the resisters.
  • You welcome diverse ideas, opinions and cultural perspectives.
  • You can let go of traditions and habits that are no longer relevant or useful.
  • There are strong and healthy relationships between leadership and membership.
  • You can handle the truth.
  • You sincerely want to go where God is leading.

What Do They See?

What is the first thing that catches your eye when you look at this picture? Is it the flower? Maybe the bee? When I walk in the parks, I am attracted to the things that catch my eye; that are inviting enough to get me to stop my walk long enough to admire God’s creativity and take a picture. 

What is the first thing people notice when they pass by or visit your church? Does your property’s outward appearance entice people to stop and come in? Does your exterior witness to the God you worship? 

It is a challenge to create an appearance that is both attractive and representative. I have coached congregations that struggle with their building and grounds, particularly with making them attractive and accessible. How do churches create spaces that convey the message they want passers-by to receive?

Some churches have flashy signs, or signs with clever slogans or comments. People seem to enjoy cleverness and humor in church signs. They take pictures of the signs and post them online. There has even been at least one book published about such signage. Do these signs work? Do the people who enjoy reading the signs ever stop to check out the church? 

Some churches use banners or yard signs to make public statements or advertise events. Typically, these are temporary ways to communicate particular events or activities. They usually work well to get people’s attention for that particular activity and sometimes make clear statements about a mission or belief of the congregation. 

Signage is not the only way churches can communicate. Landscaping also makes a statement about who the church is, as does architecture, outdoor furnishings, and the condition of the buildings. What does the exterior of your campus say to folks passing by? 

Congregations like to think of themselves as friendly and welcoming. However, if people drive by your facilities without taking notice, they may never know how friendly and welcoming you are. How do the building and grounds reflect the welcome of the church?

Consider these ideas:

church sign (2)Put together a team of folks with the skills and interests to evaluate the church exterior and make recommendations on how your space can better communicate your identity. Evaluate everything — buildings, landscaping, signage, and parking.

Be generous and clear with directional signage so that guests know where to park and enter the building. If you have multiple entrances, label each one with what guests will find once they enter. Once they enter, have signs directing them to different locations (sanctuary, nursery, educational wing, etc.) When there are activities like worship services, have a volunteer at each entrance to assists guests. 

Be invitational, purposeful, and playful with outdoor messaging. List worship times and special events, but also consider ways to draw people in. 

If you have a large campus, have volunteers in the parking lot as well as at entrances. 

Consider an outside sitting area or meditation garden, and be clear that the public is welcome to use them. Have some type of informational station that informs guests about your congregation. labrynth

Whatever you decide to do, start with the question, “What do we want our exterior to say about the God we worship?”

 

 

Ten Things Pastors Can Do to Have a Great Day

Pastoral ministry is hard work, and often stressful. We have the privilege and responsibility of accompanying people through their most vulnerable circumstances. Our parishioners have expectations of us, and look up to us for guidance and moral example. It is easy to succumb to the burdens of ministry, and to put ourselves last on the list of those who need care.
To be healthy and happy leaders, we need to be intentional about our own attitudes and self-care. I offer here ten things that pastors can do each day to have a better day. This is not a complete list, but just a few ideas I want to share with you.

  1. Start your day with happy thoughts. Research shows that for every negative emotion, we need three positive emotions to overcome an overall negative point of view. When you first wake up in the morning, think of someone or something that makes you happy, remember a joke or a funny occurrence. Say, “thank you” for a new day, and a good night’s sleep. Put a smile on your face first thing and it will go with you the rest of the day.
  2. Schedule time for exercise or play. Take a walk or hike. Play a game with your children. Go to the gym. Find some way to get your body moving for at least 10 minutes. Do this three times a day and you will have exercised for 30 minutes. This will make your body and your mind stronger, and make your feel better.
  3. Greet everyone you meet with a smile. Whether it is your family, a stranger on the street, a parishioner, or a co-worker, smile and say “hello.” Take at least one minute to talk with each person at work and at home. Let them know they are important to you, and you will be important to them.
  4. Listen more than you speak. In prayer, listen to God more than you talk to God. Listen to other people who are sharing themselves with you. Be intentional about giving them your undivided, undistracted attention.
  5. Listen to yourself. Be aware of how you are feeling emotionally and physically. Do you need a break from what you are doing? Are you thirsty or hungry? Are you able to focus on what you are doing or the person you are visiting? Being aware of your own emotional and physical needs helps you do what you need to take care of yourself, and be more in the moment.
  6. Eat well. Healthy meals and snacks make for a healthier, happier you. Make good choices about what you put into your body. When eating, be mindful of tastes, textures and smells, and avoid eating too fast. Really savor your food. You may find that you eat less and enjoy it more.
  7. Set healthy time boundaries. A 40-50 hour week is enough for any pastor. When you over-function or overwork, you set a poor example for your staff and parishioners. Hold dear your family and alone time. Keep Sabbath. When you go home, be home. Let go of the concerns of the workday, and be present with your family, God, and yourself.
  8. Let others own their own problems, and make their own choices. Be present for others, but you are not called to fix others or dole out unsolicited advice. Give it only when it is requested.
  9. Trust your staff and volunteers to do their tasks. Give encouragement, but don’t micromanage. Ministry is a communal affair. Even Jesus called people and equipped them to share in his ministry. He loved them even when they made mistakes, and he trusted them enough to send them out on their own. Micromanaging not only takes too much of your energy, it also disrespects the gifts and skills of others.
  10. End your day with gratitude. Just like you start your day with happy thoughts, finish your day by giving thanks to God for your life, your family, and your call. Name specific things and people from your day. Go to sleep with gratitude in your heart, and good thoughts on your mind.

What do you like to do to have a great day? Post your thoughts so that my readers and I might learn good habits from you.
If you want someone to help you have the life you want, contact me. I am committed to helping congregational leaders be the people God created them to be – whole, happy, and exceptional.