May 5, 2021

7 Hacks for Gaining Traction on Priorities – Episode 191 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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Creating Alignment in Your Church (Part 3)

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One of the most common frustrations we hear from church leaders is that they invest time praying, dreaming, talking, planning around what God has next for their ministry, and then… nothing happens. There’s zero follow-through. A distraction, or a crisisā€”something that feels more urgentā€”consistently derails the leader and the team from executing on the real priorities. 

Sound familiar? 

That drives leaders absolutely crazy.

As we planned this series on creating alignment, I started thinking about the things leaders can doā€”some “hacks” they can useā€”to make sure the alignment they focus on building actually results in action.


If you’re going to do all that work to define reality and priorities for your team (Part 1), and then fix span-of-care, management and meeting issues (Part 2), you ultimately want it to make a difference in the ministry your church is able to do.

You want to leverage alignment in the direction of the vision.

In Part 3, Amy and I unpack 7 things you as the leader can do to set your team up to follow-through on priorities. Here’s a preview of some things we cover:

  • How to hack the ministry calendar to reinforce strategic priorities and keep the team focused all year
  • How to use 90/30 sprints to get more done AND to build in time for rest, refreshment, and celebrating wins
  • A people principle to remember when hiring, structuring and assigning leadership of priority initiatives
  • Online tools to improve project management
  • 3 leadership hacks the senior pastor can own to shift the ministry culture towards strategic action
Sometimes the pivots you make as you respond to a crisis actually help you gain traction on your long-term mission u0026amp; vision objectives. #unstuckchurch [episode 191] Click to Tweet Sometimes the enemy of traction is your next shiny new idea. #unstuckchurch [episode 191] Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Have you ever felt the excitement of a clear plan for your day, but then pretty soon it’s ruined by a distraction or some other crisis. Maybe the same things happen to you in your ministry plans in the past. You have a clear strategy and priorities, but something that feels more urgent gets in the way. In part three of our series on aligning your team, Tony and Amy are going to share seven hacks that’ll help you gain traction on your priorities. Before you listen today, though, if you haven’t yet, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. Each week, you’re going to get resources to go along with that week’s conversation. You’re going to get access to the podcast resource archive for all of our past episodes and bonus resources that you’re not going to find anywhere else. You can sign up by going to Now let’s join today’s conversation with Tony and Amy.

Amy (01:01):

Well, thanks for joining us today to all our listeners. We’re in the middle of our four-part podcast series on alignment. And today we’re going to share seven hacks for gaining traction on priorities. But Tony, before we jump into that topic, will you just offer a quick recap of the first two episodes?

Tony (01:16):

Yeah, so in the first episode, it was related to this first practice around alignment, and it was all about clarifying direction and defining the win. And we talked a bit about how leaders have to embrace the DTR moments, define the reality moments, if they want to keep their team aligned and focused on mission and future direction, especially when change is involved. In the second episode last week, we talked about the second practice, which is more focused on getting the right people in the right roles, and where we spent a lot of our time last week was talking about the right span of care for us as leaders, because we need to get that right. We need to be trying to lead the right number of people to also keep everybody aligned. And Amy, last week we talked about if the span of care gets too big, it really does become more and more difficult to keep everybody pulling in the same direction.

Amy (02:16):

I’m just laughing because you said “to keep people in line, I mean, aligned,” if that’s what you said.

Tony (02:25):

But as you mentioned, today’s episode is all about gaining traction on ministry priorities, and we’re hoping to walk through the seven hacks. And I know this may sound like a rather dry topic, but I hope you’ll lean into today’s conversation. I mean, one of the most common frustrations that we hear from church leaders is that they have invested time praying, dreaming, talking, planning around what God has next for their ministry. And then once they do that, nothing happens. There’s no follow through. So hopefully today’s episode will help address that area of stuckness that maybe you’ve experienced in the past with your team. All of this though is related to team alignment, and this is such a huge topic. And especially if you’re hoping to be a part of a healthy thriving church, you need to get this right. And that’s why our next masterclass, on May 13th, will focus solely on these four keys to aligning your strategy and your team, and a lot of great content planned. We’ve invited some special guests to be a part of that conversation. But today’s episode on hacks for gaining traction is connected the third practice, which we’ll hit during that masterclass, which will be about gaining traction by embracing new systems. And we’re going to cover a lot more in the masterclass, but hopefully we’ll give you a little keys of what’s going to be included in that part of the class in today’s conversation. But if you need alignment with your team, you’re going to want to participate with your team in this masterclass, and you can register at

Amy (04:06):

All right. So let’s jump in. You indicated that today we’re going to cover seven hacks for gaining traction on ministry priorities. The first two hacks are related to our calendars, if I remember, right, so Tony, how can we leverage our calendars to gain traction?

Tony (04:19):

Yeah, so, I mean, generally we just need to put the most important ministry priorities on our calendars first before the urgency of life and ministry begins to crowd it out. And so the first hack is to put strategic planning on our calendars. And so we encourage ministry teams to refresh their strategic plans every year. And this is a good time to go back to confirm why do we exist? Where are we going? How are we going to get there? Who’s going to be responsible for what? We want to get alignment around that plan. And so ideally we’re going through this process before we build our budget plan. In other words, we want our ministry plans to drive our budget plans rather than the other way around. And so part of strategic planning is getting this refresh scheduled before we get into the budgeting process. But then once we establish our strategic plan for the next year, we recommend 90-day check-ins. And so you’re going to want to get those 90 day check-ins on the calendar as well. And what this does is it creates an opportunity for you to focus on the priority initiatives that you’re going after as a team. And then every 90 days to kind of report back on this is what we accomplished, and then share with the rest of the team here’s what we’re going to focus on next. And I can already hear it, cause I’ve heard it several times, working with churches through the years. Pastors, ministry leaders, you’re thinking now, wait a second. I have all of this ministry that’s happening. Sunday’s always coming. We don’t have time to set aside days to be planning and doing check-ins and things like this. And this is where I just, I’m going to give you the same encouragement. I first read about this in “Four Disciplines of Execution.” Great book, but the authors talk about the whirlwind and, of course, in business the whirlwind is everything that happens day to day to continue to sell more products or sell services or whatever your business is selling. There’s no doubt about it in ministry. The whirlwind exists too. I mean, it’s constant. Sunday is always coming. When ministry involves people, and because people are involved, there’s always going to be ministry to do. And in “Four Disciplines of Execution,” what they encourage us to consider is what would it look like if we could keep 80% of our time focused on the whirlwind and then free up 20% of our time to focus on where we’re going next in our ministry in our case? And just as a side note, too, as you’re thinking about getting planning on your calendars, again, we talk about once a year refresh, every 90 days doing a check-in. I’m actually a fan of the daily standup meetings too, that maybe you’ve read about, where it’s just an opportunity to check in every day and share as a team, here’s how I’m going to invest my time today. This is where my focus is going to be today. And I think that’s one way to keep us all focused, not only on the immediacy of what needs to happen in ministry, but also keeps one eye focused on where we’re heading in the future. So that’s the first life hack.

Amy (07:44):

Yeah. So can I just jump in? When I talk with churches about containing that whirlwind to the 80%, I often talk about we have to work in the ministry, but that 20% is working on the ministry. But if you do the math 20%, right, of a 40 hour work week is a full day. And so it’s a challenge for them, but it’s a good visual to think about how could I actually block out the equivalent of one day a week to be working on the ministry? Thinking, strategizing, evaluating all of that. It’s a good challenge, but it’s doable. It’s doable. And when we think more, we actually get more efficient in the things that we’re doing.

Tony (08:20):

That’s good.

Amy (08:21):

So you said that was the first one?

Tony (08:22):

Yeah. The second hack for gaining traction is consider using 90/30 day sprints. And what I mean by that is once you establish, this is our plan of attack. This is our ministry plan for the year. Look at it in 90 day sprints. And then 30 days of kind of just reflection and planning for what’s going to come next. And so we’re going to take 90 days. We’re going to pursue our priority initiatives. We’re going to tackle some tasks, action steps to move forward in our strategic plan. And then we’re going to pause for 30 days to review where we’ve come from, to refresh our plans, to take a breath, maybe to rest a little bit, and then we’re going to sprint for another 90 days. And what we encourage churches to do is to kind of build those 30 day windows that are in between the pushes that you’re making around priority initiatives, build those around the major holidays or those busy ministry seasons for your church. And so maybe those 30 day windows are happening around December, around Christmas. And then again in April around Easter. And then maybe in August, as we’re launching ministry for the fall and as school is getting back. So again, rather than just pushing hard all the time, to try to create these seasons where we’re working hard, we’re pushing hard, but then taking a moment for maybe 30 days just to reflect, to refresh, before we start pushing again.

Amy (09:55):

Tony, I love that concept because ministry never ends. And what you’re kind of suggesting is let’s create some start lines and some end lines and finish lines. It’s always feels good to cross the finish line, take that breather and get ready for the next run. So great idea. Hey, the next two hacks are really connected to developing your project management muscles. So what are the third and fourth hacks?

Tony (10:19):

Yeah. So the third hack for gaining traction is really about adding the right people to your team and here, we’re considering all the different strengths and wiring that is required, but here let’s focus on actually adding project managers to your team, people that have that skill set. So these are the kind of the more strategic, administrative systems minded people. The reality is in churches, Amy, oftentimes we see church teams made up primarily of people with relational wiring, which makes complete sense. I mean, we’re in the people business. So naturally we have a lot of folks that are wired that way. But for us to accomplish the mission that God’s given our churches, that needs to be balanced in some respect by these folks, that they know how to move the strategy forward. They know how to move these key initiatives forward. So what you might want to consider then is once we identify our priority initiatives, let’s make sure we have at least one project manager on each of those teams. And so, you know, in larger churches, these may be staff people that you have that in addition to whatever their day job is, they’re able to link up on these priority initiatives and bring their project management expertise as well. But my guess is in your church, all churches, they’re going to be a lot of folks that are serving in your church. They have a different day job outside of ministry, but this is what they do for a profession. They bring their project management expertise to their jobs day-to-day. They would love the opportunity to come alongside you, to help you accomplish some of these bigger ministry initiatives and use their skillset to help you accomplish that mission as a church. I mean, we’re the body of Christ, and God has uniquely gifted people in his church to shine in this role. So that’s the third hack. The fourth hack is to find an online solution to help you manage these big initiatives. In other words, you can’t manage big projects and tasks through paper or through email or through text messages. It’s going to be really impossible to keep the broad team aligned around these significant initiatives. So you need to find some sort of web app to track tasks, all the tasks that are involved, who’s responsible, to track the due dates. Our team uses Asana for big projects like this, but there are other apps, as an example, is something that some teams are using. Wrike is another solution that some teams are using. That’s W-R-I-K-E. And there are, I mean, you can Google it. There are a lot of options out there, but here’s what I want to say here. Don’t make this optional. When once you commit to some sort of online solution to manage these big priority initiatives, you need everybody to be invested. And if for example, someone says I can’t, or I won’t learn how to use this web app, to me when I hear things like that, it’s like them saying, I won’t answer my phone. I won’t check my email. And what I hear is I don’t want to do my job that you’re paying me to do. So once you agree, this is what our team is going to be using, everybody has to use this. No excuses. So now some people may need more training and that’s great. Give them the training, but don’t make this optional.

Amy (13:56):

I was just talking with a church the other day, and they are unstuck and they are, they’re just thriving in this season. And we stumbled onto the fact that they are using Asana for their task management. There was just a correlation there. I don’t think we could make it without it, Tony.

Tony (14:11):

I don’t think we could, and Asana doesn’t pay us. So, I mean, maybe we should be getting paid for the commercials we do, but really there are a lot of great solutions out there to accomplish this. But in this day and age, you need to have some sort of solution to manage projects and tasks.

Amy (14:27):

That’s right. All right. That was three and four, the fifth and six hacks have more to do with how we lead leaders. Will you unpack those two hacks for gaining traction on priorities?

Tony (14:37):

Yeah. So, this fifth hack may sound a little bit counter intuitive, but here it is. You need to start every priority initiative with this. I don’t know. It sounds so simple. But before you tackle any new initiative, you need to admit what you don’t know. In other words, you need to start asking questions. You need to do your research. You need to ask questions outside your team. You need to ask questions outside your church. And Amy, I don’t know what your experience is. This is mine. What I have found is as I work with bigger churches, the bigger the church gets, the more that they tend to be unwilling to learn from other churches or organizations outside the church. I think there’s this sense that we have the expertise, the experience on our team, and we should be able to figure this out ourselves. But when leaders stop learning, their organizations also stop learning. And here’s the deal. We know the stats because more than 15,000 churches have completed our Unstuck Church Assessment. At least 85% of churches are stuck. 60% of those churches have said, we’re in maintenance. We’re in maintenance. We’re stuck. And so if that’s you, don’t assume that you have all the answers. Don’t assume that you know how to move forward with some of these priority initiatives. You have to start with, I don’t know, and you need to start learning. So that’s the fifth hack. The sixth hack for gaining traction is, and this one’s specifically for lead pastors, you need to stick to your plan. Sometimes the enemy of your traction is that next shiny, new idea. And so I’ve seen this happen time and time again, a pastor goes off on a sabbatical, or they go to a conference or they read a book or they listen to a great podcast, like The Unstuck Church Podcast, or they get coffee with another pastor. And through those experiences, there are new ideas that come. And here’s the deal. If you have put strategic planning on your calendar, and it’s just part of your natural rhythm, you’re going to have a chance to introduce that shiny, new idea the next time you refresh your strategic plan. And by the way, between now and whenever that happens, you’re going to have more time to confirm is this shiny, new idea worth the investment of my team’s focus and all that it’s going to take to pull this off? But sometimes what I’ve seen, many times, is that the enemy of the traction, the follow-through that we’re trying to get around the plans that we’ve created, is that lead pastors start running after new ideas before we’ve actually accomplished the last idea.

Amy (17:38):

It’s so hard, isn’t it? I mean, I hopefully say this respectfully, but the lead pastors are at the top of the food chain, organizationally speaking. And when you’re lower in that organization, you’re still in the midst of trying to do what we’ve already set out to do. Whereas sometimes the leaders can get bored or see something new, or see a new direction. When we work with churches in The Unstuck Teams area, that’s actually on our Unstuck Teams Assessment. And it’s not often a very high score. Often, the team broadly is a little bit critical of leadership for moving on to something else before we finished what we committed. Now, I’m not saying we don’t have to pivot sometimes. Like when there’s a pandemic, that’s obviously something we have to do, but there’s a little bit of whiplash if we do that too much to our staff teams. All right. So that was six. What’s the seventh hack for gaining traction on our priority ministry initiatives?

Tony (18:31):

Yeah. So number seven is really about recognizing we’re creating plans. We’re trying to move forward on priority initiatives. We’re trying to see the follow through, but when the next crisis hits, we need to put those action plans on pause. Systems people can kind of get lost sometimes in efficiently working their systems and missing the fact that the world around them is experiencing a disruption. And so sometimes strategic plans have to pause so that we can face the new, significant crisis that we’re experiencing as a ministry or as an organization. As an example, whatever priority initiatives that we identified in January of 2020, we’re paused when the pandemic hit. Responding to the crisis became our new priority initiative. And just like how budgeting is just a plan for how we’re going to spend our finances in the future, strategic planning for ministries, it’s just a plan for how we’re going to prioritize our ministry initiatives going forward. And sometimes the pivots that we need to make as we’re responding to a crisis, those actually help us gain traction on our longer term mission and vision objectives. So this is an opportunity. I think sometimes we get so locked in to the plan that we made yesterday, that we forget that we also need to be sensitive to the world that’s still evolving around us, Amy. And so we need to sometimes set those plans aside, at least for a time, so that we can address whatever that priority is that we’re facing in the moment.

Amy (20:15):

Yep. That’s really good. All right. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (20:21):

Yeah. So next week, we’re going to cover the last practice in the series on alignment. And again, we’re just hoping to whet your appetite for the full conversation that we’re going to be having at our upcoming masterclass on May 13th. We’re going to focus solely on the four keys to align your strategy and your team. It’s going to be a great day, Amy. I’m really looking forward to it, and I hope you and your team are looking forward to this as well. If you want your team to be aligned, your team should participate with you in this masterclass. So you can register at

Sean (20:56):

Well, thanks for joining us for today’s conversation. As Tony just mentioned, we would love to have you and your team join us for the upcoming masterclass on alignment. This one day experience is going to help you and your team collectively cut through the murkiness of 2020 and clarify your priorities together. To sign up, just go to Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

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