April 28, 2021

How to Determine Your Span of Care – Episode 190 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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Creating Alignment in Your Church (Part 2)

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To experience alignment in your ministry strategy and among the staff and volunteers on your team, you have to help every ministry team and every team member know what part they play. Without that clarity around roles, people start pulling in different directions.

The senior leader’s span of care can significantly impact a team’s ability to clarify roles and maintain alignment.

When I talk about “span of care,” I’m really talking about the number of people that I’m responsible for or that are responsible to me as far as leadership and direction.

And the thing in ministry, of course, is there’s a mission that we’re trying to accomplish.

So part of that span of care is giving direction related to that mission and strategy and the priorities of how we’re engaging that mission, but the other piece of it is discipleship of folks on our team.

Many leaders think that by directly trying to lead as many people as possible, more people will be directly connected to the mission. I’ve seen senior pastors try to directly lead well over 12 different people. (And once in a very large church, I saw one pastor with 25 direct reports.)

But when your span of care gets stretched too wide, you naturally have less time to invest with each person on your team. And that means that over time, the people that you’re leading will become less connected to the overall direction and the priorities of the ministry as they get more disconnected from their leader. And then, the more they begin to operate independently from the rest of the ministry—and this is when silos begin to form.


In Part 1, we dove into how to define reality for your team. In Part 2, Amy Anderson and I give you some really practical ways to think about getting your span of care to its healthiest place—for both you and for the ministry:

  • How many direct reports are WAY TOO MANY for senior pastors, in general, and a test to help you determine your specific span of care with 3 critical questions
  • Amy and I share our ideal span of care numbers
  • The Rule of Eight for meetings
  • Visionary leadership, the value of an integrator, and letting go of pastor guilt
Healthy span-of-care looks different for different leaders. That also means the staff structure for different churches will look different. #unstuckchurch [episode 190] Click to Tweet At best, when a team isn't aligned, some ministry silos form. At worst, division begins to set in. And as the team pulls apart, the church begins to pull apart. #unstuckchurch [episode 190] 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. All of us as leaders want to lead people well and provide great care for them because well, we care. But in order to care for them well, it’s more than likely that you need to provide direct oversight for less of the team. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on aligning your strategy and your team with a conversation on how to determine your span of care so that you can leave more effectively. Make sure before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your email. You’re going to get tools to go along with this week’s conversation, all of the resources we mention, and then access to the archive of all of our podcast resources from past episodes. You can sign up by going to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.

Amy (00:55):

Well, Tony, last week we started a four week podcast series on how to experience alignment in your ministry strategy and among the staff and volunteers on your team. And to gain alignment, we said you have to help every ministry team and every team member know what part they play. And without that clarity, as we discussed around roles, people start pulling in different directions. And so I’ve heard you, Tony, suggest span of care can really impact a team’s ability to clarify roles and maintain that alignment. Will you explain why that’s the case?

Tony (01:25):

Yeah. So let me first back up and just explain span of care. That may not be a familiar phrase for you. And actually it’s a little bit different. I went to business school, and in business school they used to talk about span of control and that doesn’t seem to fit in a ministry context. And so when I talk about span of care, I’m really talking about the number of people that I’m responsible or that are responsible to me as far as leadership and direction. And the thing in ministry, of course, is there’s a mission that we’re trying to accomplish. And so part of that span of care is giving direction related to that mission and strategy and the priorities of how we’re engaging that mission. But the other piece of that, of course, is in ministry, there’s also an important part of discipleship and relationship that also happens through the relationships that we have with folks on our team. And so, I’ve always viewed this, it’s more of a span of care because I’m providing care and direction to the folks that I’m leading. Now, many leaders think that by directly trying to lead as many people as possible, more people will be directly connected to the mission, the direction and the ministry priorities that they’re trying to pursue. Because of that, I’ve seen senior pastors try to directly lead well over 12 different people. I mean, I’ve seen one pastor, I walked in, we were having conversations and he was talking about some of his leadership challenges, and one of the challenges was he was trying to lead 14 people. I saw one pastor in a very large church. He had 25 direct reports. So, when your span of care gets stretched too wide, you naturally have less time to invest with each person on your team. And that means that over time, the people that you’re leading will become less connected to the overall direction and the priorities of the ministry, and the more disconnected they are from their leader, the more they begin to operate independently from the rest of the ministry. And this is when, Amy, silos begin to form. So at best, when that happens, the team isn’t aligned, and people begin pulling in different directions, but at worst, this is when division begins to set in in churches. And the team begins to pull apart, which means the church also then begins to pull apart. And again, sometimes we think increasing the number of people we directly lead will fix this misalignment. But at some point, trying to lead too many people has the opposite effect. It only compounds the problem that we’re experiencing.

Amy (04:15):

I cannot imagine leading 12 people, nonetheless, 14 or 25. I’m still stuck back there.

Tony (04:23):

Yeah, and this is the reason why team alignment, it’s just an important aspect of what it takes to get to a healthy, thriving church. And that’s why our next masterclass on May 13th will focus solely on four keys to align your strategy and your team. And we’re going to be discussing four practices to achieve that alignment practice. Number one is about clarifying direction and defining the win. Second practice is about getting the right people in the right roles. The third, gaining traction by embracing new systems. And then finally the fourth practice leading collaboratively to eliminate silos. And in today’s episode, we’re going to tease out a little bit of that second practice about getting the right people in the right roles. But if you need alignment with your team, you’re going to want to participate with your team in this upcoming masterclass on May 13th. And you can register at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Amy (05:24):

Yeah, it’s going to be good. Hey, getting back to the span of care though, Tony, it seems like this typically isn’t an issue early on for churches. Rather, it’s something that develops over time. That was my experience at least. Do you believe that, too?

Tony (05:36):

Yeah, I do. And I think this really connects to the church life cycle that we talk about quite often. I mean, at launch, it’s not unusual in that season of a church team that everyone is connected directly to the senior pastor, but as the church experiences momentum growth, more people connect to the more people are added to the team. Then at that point, some of the support staff and some of the folks that are in more administrative positions maybe, they might not report directly to the senior pastor anymore, but every other pastor or ministry director in this season of momentum growth, it’s not unusual to see all of those pastors and directors connected directly to the senior pastor. But then as the church continues to experience growth and they move into strategic growth or into sustained health, toward the top of the church life cycle, it’s at this point that changes have to be made in the structure. The senior pastor can’t continue to lead and give care to every pastor and every director. There’s just too many. And this is when a shift has to take place where leaders who lead and empower other leaders, this tighter group of pastors and directors are the ones that are reporting directly to the senior pastor. So going back to span of care, Amy, when we increased the number of people we lead, it also increases the number of people who will expect to have a voice in decisions that you’re also making. And after a certain point, too many voices leads to a diminishing return when it comes to making better decisions. In fact, when there are too many voices, we usually resort to one of two options, when it comes to decision-making. Either we resort to voting, and that’s a challenge because anytime you vote, there are winners and there are losers. I mean, there are people that are thinking their opinion didn’t count in the decision. And just because something has gotten the most votes doesn’t mean it’s the best decision. It just means it was the most popular decision. And then the second way we might resort to making decisions is by using compromise. And the challenge there is to when you try to find the middle ground that results in the fewest unhappy people possible, just because you get there and you have fewer unhappy people doesn’t mean you have made the best decision. And sometimes the best decision involves the most change. And because people naturally avoid change, many times compromise prevents us from experiencing the best results in the long run.

Amy (08:21):

That brings to mind for me, that’s blended worship right there. That’s just compromise.

Tony (08:24):

There you go. We’ve been there. We’ve been there. My son, Jacob, I can’t even remember what he was talking about. But it was about a decision that was made, and he said, “Dad, it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made. And it wasn’t the worst decision I’ve ever made. I think it was the most medium decision I’ve ever made.” That’s a good way to articulate where you end up sometimes when you compromise. So I don’t want you to go through life compromising to make the most medium decisions in your ministry.

Amy (08:59):

Yeah. And when you talked about voting, when I do staffing structure reviews, we often talk about majority vote is a decision right, right? But I don’t think it creates any buy-in. So I often tell churches it’s a great decision right for Subway or Chick-fil-A, but generally in ministry decisions, it’s one of the worst actually.

Tony (09:20):

That’s right. That’s right.

Amy (09:21):

Alright, so I think the question that’s probably on people’s mind is how many people is too many people?

Tony (09:27):

For your span of care? Yeah. That’s a great question, Amy. So the reality is it’s going to be different for every leader, but here are a couple of tests that you can use to help you determine what’s right for you. So the first test is to consider how many people can participate fully in a meeting where we’re discussing future direction and future strategy. And Amy, you and I do this all the time. We gather with church teams, and sometimes they think the more people we have and talking about future vision and strategy and so on, the better, but you and I know that when you get too many voices, it just really becomes challenging to get consensus and to get everybody’s voice and so on. And so, I first became familiar with this concept. I think it was Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the CEO, talks about the two-pizza rule. In other words in no meetings should there be so many people that you can’t feed everybody in that meeting with more than two large pizzas. And I thought, well that’s an interesting way to look at it. But I just figure, and churches, sometimes they overestimate how many people can be fed with only two pizzas. So I’m going to cut to the chase. I’ve referred to this as the rule of eight. When there are more than eight people trying to make decisions, it becomes difficult for everyone to share their ideas, people don’t ask questions that need to be asked when there are too many people in the room, decision-making slows down. It becomes hard to assign ownership to priorities and action items. And people are less likely to fully embrace decisions because they feel like they haven’t had a chance to provide input. So I would argue, at the max, eight people for span of care. However, here’s a second test that you can consider to help you determine the appropriate span of care for you. The second method, I have found for me is really helpful because there are these series of questions that I’ve considered about the folks that are on my team, like these. Do I know their current work priorities? Do I know where they’re seeking development currently? Do I know what they’re celebrating in their life? Do I know the challenges that they’re facing in their life? This sounds so basic, but do I know the names of their spouse and their kids? And then most importantly, do I know how to specifically be praying for them today? And what I have found, Amy, is when I have more, for me personally, I think it’s maybe five at max. When I have more people than that, that I’m personally trying to lead, then I’m not able to answer those key critical questions. And what I know is, for me, I think my strength tends to be more around how to get stuff done. And so I’m aware of some of the specifics of their job and the tasks that they’re needing to complete, but all of these other elements of what it means to be a good leader of people, it’s just too many. It can become too many people for me to lead effectively. So that’s what I have found for me. Hopefully those two tests will also help you determine your appropriate span of care. Amy, what do you think for yourself?

Amy (13:00):

I’m at about five too. Five, maybe six, depending on, but I actually love four. When I have four direct reports, and the lanes are really clear on what they’re responsible for, that’s actually probably my favorite sized team to lead.

Tony (13:14):

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Amy (13:15):

And by the way, you’re spot on, I don’t know if you know this, but it was June of 2018. Harvard Business Review put an article out called, “The Most Productive Meetings Have Fewer Than Eight People.” So maybe we go with that on our link to the notes or whatnot, but just reiterating that they agree with you, Tony.

Tony (13:32):

They must have heard about the rule of eight that I came up with.

Amy (13:35):

Must be listening to the podcast, right? All right. Well, you mentioned eight being the maximum number for someone’s span of care. But really, Tony, that still seems kind of high for me when I think about the senior pastors I work with. I can’t remember the last time I recommended a senior pastor have seven direct reports. What are your thoughts on that?

Tony (13:55):

I agree. I think for senior pastors specifically, I think eight is just way too many. And it’s because of the uniqueness of the senior pastor’s leadership role. I mean, they are still leading a team of people to accomplish a significant mission. There’s no doubt about that, but what’s unique about the senior pastor’s role is they’re also, in churches, primarily responsible for all the study of God’s word, the message preparation, the teaching, everything that comes with that, and that’s a significant chunk of their time, or I think it should be a specific chunk of their time. And because of that, when you’re carrying that load, I think it’s impossible to also be leading eight other people. And so it’s going to vary, of course, depending on the size of the church and the size of the staff team, but it wouldn’t be unusual for us to be recommending to a senior pastor that they only have one or two direct reports. In fact, many times, and it looks different for every church and then for every pastor, we might suggest that they have an executive pastor that’s over the ministries of the church and then another executive pastor over the operations of the church. Sometimes again, those roles might be combined with only one person, one executive pastor that’s then leading the rest of the staff team. But it wouldn’t be unusual for us to recommend that type of structure. And here we’ve leaned on some of the wisdom from entrepreneurial operating system. It’s from Gino Wickman and Tom Bouwer. They wrote “Rocket Fuel”, and, Amy, you’ve talked about this, too, where you have the visionary role and the integrator role. We want to help position senior pastors to really lean in to that visionary responsibility within their ministry. But it’s the integrator role that, I think, a lot of pastors are needing because they, I mean, again, so much responsibility given to the teaching responsibility in their role. They need another leader to carry some of the integration, all of the integration, and then to have the responsibility for caring for the rest of the staff team. Do you want to speak into that at all, Amy?

Amy (16:19):

Yeah, I think I’ve said it before, but I think sometimes senior pastors have a little bit of leadership guilt, you know, when they bring in someone like an executive pastor because all the leadership books that they read, you know, talk about a team of four or five, but it’s so different in ministry. You know, if I was a business leader and I was the CEO, I could be the visionary and I could also lead several other people because I don’t have a final exam, you know, every Sunday that I have to be preparing for and delivering. And so it’s just, you can’t compare the apples to apples, and having that integrator, someone who takes the vision and integrates that execution through the rest of the team, it is such a load lift. And the mistake though that some teams have made is that when the executive pastor comes in, the lead pastor, senior pastor, can kind of drift away from the leadership team. And that’s the miss. The goal is that the executive pastor is conducting all this, but the senior pastor can step in and really be engaged with the senior leadership team without having to manage all the people that are on that team.

Tony (17:23):

Yeah. And so with this in mind, we could actually add a third test for senior pastors to know whether or not you have a healthy span of care. And it actually relates back to some previous conversations that we’ve had about the four roles that senior pastors can’t delegate. And so senior pastors, if you’re listening and you don’t have enough time to invest in teaching, if you don’t have enough time to invest in those key leader of leaders in your ministry, if you don’t have enough time for the vision casting that needs to happen, if you don’t have enough time to be the culture champion, if there are other responsibilities related to your span of care that are pulling away from these four key roles, that suggests you’re trying to lead too many people. So that might be a third test that pastors can consider as they’re trying to figure out what’s the healthy span of care for your leadership?

Amy (18:20):

So what I’m hearing from kind of our last conversation is that span of care might look different for different leaders. And because of that, it sort of suggests, Tony, right, that the staff structure might look different for every church, right?

Tony (18:32):

Absolutely. Yeah, it is. I mean, every church has a unique mission, unique strategy, but more importantly, they’re made up of unique people, and we all come with different strengths, different wiring. And so this, yeah, it’s just going to look different for every church and because of that, this is a key part of our process when we engage with churches because we do know that we just can’t help a church with strategy and direction for the future. We need to help them take a look at their structure as well because their structure is gonna look different than the church down the road or the church that they’re kind of watching from a distance online. And it is. It’s gonna depend on the wiring of the senior pastor. It’s gonna depend on the leadership capacity of the core leaders around that senior pastor. The structure is going to be different depending on the size of the team. And most importantly, the structure is going to be different because the strategy and the direction of the ministry is probably going to be different. But all of these factors together are going to shape the structure that you need for your team. And we have to get the right people in the right roles with the right span of care of we’re going to experience that full alignment that we’re talking about within our team and within our churches.

Amy (19:52):

I feel like we could talk about this for another hour, Tony.

Tony (19:56):

I think I could. And this is one of those topics that I enjoy Amy. And not only because we’ve had the experience of working with so many churches around these types of questions and challenges, but we’ve also seen the results when you get this right. It’s just senior pastors love their jobs more. The staff that they’re leading love their jobs more because they get better direction, better care, more clarity, people understand their roles, and it just, it makes ministry more fun when you get this right.

Amy (20:28):

Yeah, it sure does. Yeah, as you were going through that list, wiring a senior pastor, leadership capacity of the leaders around him, I just had pastor after pastor popping into my head and the various ways we’ve had to pivot with the church based on those factors. But well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (20:44):

Yeah. As we’ve talked about in these last moments, getting your span of care right is only one part of the second practice that we’re going to cover in our upcoming masterclass. It’s going to be on May 13th. Again, we’re going to focus solely on the four keys to align your strategy and your team. And it’s a lot of great content, a lot of great conversations not only with Amy, but also some other leaders from the church and ministry that we’ve invited in to be a part of this day. And if you want to align your team, your team should participate together in this. So register at theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass.

Sean (21:25):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, we’d love to have you and your team join us for the upcoming masterclass on alignment. The experience you have that day will help you collectively cut through all the murkiness of 2020 and clarify your next priorities together. To sign up, just go to theunstuckgroup.com/masterclass. Next week, we’re back with part three of our conversation. So until then, have a great week.

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