July 27, 2022

Signs You Need to Restructure: Lack of Alignment & Span of Care – Episode 255 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

lack of alignment span of care

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Signs You Need to Restructure Your Staff (Part 4)

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After working with hundreds of churches through the years on the issue of structure, it’s become clear that some staffing and structure strategies help churches accomplish their mission… and some do not.

In this podcast series, we’re walking through a number of early warning signs that it’s time to address staffing issues and restructure in your ministry team. In part one, we explored three warning signs related to overstaffing in churches. In part two, we discussed four more warning signs related to a legacy staffing structure. In part three, we walked through three warning signs related to the lack of leadership capacity and diversity on staff teams.


This week, Amy and I are wrapping up our conversation around Signs You Need to Restructure with three final warning signs related to span of care issues and lack of team/ministry alignment. We’ll discuss:

  • The role of a senior leadership team
  • Structuring to create team alignment
  • The ideal span of care number for leaders
  • Structuring to avoid ministry silos

[Free Webinar] How to Restructure Your Church Staff


Leading an organizational restructuring process is one of the most challenging—and often painful—things a leader has to do.

Watch the replay of this event where Tony Morgan and The Unstuck Group are revealing the three key steps to restructuring your staff—and the tools you’ll need to get there.

Healthy churches begin by building a senior leadership team. Stuck churches have a flat leadership structure, where every pastor and every staff leader is added to the team and reports directly to the senior pastor. [episode 255] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Stuck churches tend to let span of care become unreasonable. They add too many direct reporting relationships which either compromises the mission or the care and development of the team members. [episode 255] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Stuck churches have ministry silos—so each ministry ends up competing with the rest of the church for resources and people’s time and attention. [episode 255] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Every individual ministry should directly support and connect to the church’s overall mission, vision and strategy. [episode 255] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Ministry alignment happens when everyone on the team knows the purpose, plan and the part they play in the future direction of the church. But many times a broken organizational structure is the leading cause of a misaligned team. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy finish our four week series on “The Signs Your Church Needs to Restructure” with a conversation about how staffing structure impacts overall team alignment. Before we get into this week’s podcast, I want to remind you there’s still time to sign up and join us tomorrow, July 28th for a free one hour webinar on how to restructure your church staff. Join Tony and Amy as we reveal the three key steps to restructuring and tools you’ll need to get there. You can register now using the link in your show notes. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (01:01):

Well, Tony, we’ve spent the last few weeks talking about the signs that you need to restructure your staff team. And we’ve talked about this a bit in the first episode, but will you just remind us why this subject has become a priority for us to hit this month?

Tony (01:14):

Well, as you know, Amy, we aren’t just pulling topics out of thin air for this podcast. We have a team of about 15 ministry consultants working with churches on a regular basis. Last month, that included being on site with 17 churches. And then we have these ongoing implementation coaching relationships with over 50 churches now. So on top of that, Amy, I know that you and I are either working with or talking with pastors on almost a daily basis. And when you have that much engagement with pastors on a regular basis, you start to hear things and notice trends. And this is what I’ve been hearing from pastors. We’re overstaffed. We’re starting to experience financial constraints, which may be related to our economy, including the high inflation. That’s starting to impact our thinking related to staffing. Our vision and our ministry strategy need to change. And therefore we need to make some changes with staffing and structure. We’re experiencing the impact of the great resignation, and we don’t want to just refill those roles without reassessing our structure, or something along these lines from pastors. I’m just too close to my team to make the tough calls and that may be necessary at this point. So I think they recognize it, but they kind of just don’t wanna just dive into that without maybe some guidance on what that should look like. And again, Amy, when I start hearing consistent themes like that, when our team engages with pastors, I know this is something that other pastors and church leaders are experiencing as well. And that’s why we focused on providing some practical wisdom related to staffing and structure in this month’s content. But here’s the problem. I don’t just like to pontificate on theories of what might work or not work for churches. And that probably comes out in the sense of urgency I have about our mission to help churches help more people meet and follow Jesus. Because of that, we only talk about the strategies we see working in churches we serve. And sometimes that means we get somewhat pointed in the advice that you hear on this podcast, and this series on the need to restructure your staff team is just one of those moments. And I know that can be off-putting to some because you don’t like hearing that some ministry strategies that churches are using don’t work, especially if that strategy has been used for years and it’s become tradition. However, when it comes to staffing and structure, it’s very clear to me as I’ve worked with hundreds of churches through the years that some staffing structure strategies help churches accomplish their mission. And some frankly do not.

Amy (04:02):

Well, with that, let’s dive into today’s topic. In this episode, all the warning signs that it’s time to restructure are related to a lack of alignment.

Tony (04:10):

Yeah, that’s correct. We aren’t going to address how to align the team today. However, we’re going to focus on how structure impacts alignment, and that begins with the leadership structure. So here’s the first sign. The first sign that you need to restructure is that your leadership structure is designed to foster division rather than alignment. And let me give you one example that we really see on a regular basis. Healthy churches begin by building a Senior Leadership Team, and by doing so, they’re modeling a team based approach to leadership from the top of the organization. But this also helps with streamlining strategic decision making because this Senior Leadership Team, when it’s designed correctly, also aligns the rest of the staff and volunteer teams in a way that eliminates ministry silos. Stuck churches, on the other hand, build a flat leadership structure where every pastor and every staff leader is added to the team and reports directly to the senior pastor. And over time, this leads to an unmanageable span of care for the senior pastor and fosters competition rather than alignment among ministries, and Amy, I mean, I’ve seen pastors trying to lead, not just eight or 10, but you know, 14, 15. One pastor many years ago was trying to lead a couple dozen different pastors and ministry directors. And needless to say, it was beyond his capacity but it was creating all kinds of division and mistrust and lack of alignment on the team.

Amy (05:52):

Yeah. What I see too, Tony, is sometimes it’s not the lead pastor. Sometimes it’s the executive pastor. So the lead pastor will have one direct report. And then that executive pastor will have 14 direct reports and the same outcome is there. You just can’t wrap your arms and unify that large of a team well. So you mentioned though, Tony, the Senior Leadership Team. I just find some churches I work with aren’t really familiar with what that is. We know what it is, but can you explain it a little bit further?

Tony (06:20):

Yeah. I’m glad you asked that question. In fact, I thought for sure we’ve done a previous podcast episode on this topic, but the other day I went back through every episode, and I don’t think we’ve ever hit the topic of Senior Leadership Teams in any detail. So this may be something we need to hit in a future series. But when we talk about Senior Leadership Teams in churches, we’re not talking about the church board or the elder board. Instead, we’re talking about the senior staff leaders who are responsible for moving the church’s mission forward. And really in every church of every size, we recommend a team of anywhere from three to eight leaders and no more. And this team should be made up of people who obviously love Jesus. They love the church. They meet all those biblical qualifications of leadership. But specifically, you want to be looking for leaders who are fully aligned with your church’s mission, vision, your ministry strategies. You want leaders who model the behaviors of the culture that you’re hoping to create. So not only are they high performers, but they’re, I mean, they’re the type of people that you want to be around and that you want kind of modeling for the rest of the team this is how we act towards each other. This is how we interact with each other. You’re looking for leaders who are big picture, strategic thinkers, and you want people that have demonstrated the ability to identify, develop and empower other leaders.

Amy (07:54):

Hey Tony, just to build off when you talked about modeling the behaviors. I mean, whoever you choose, they will model the culture that’s going to be created.

Tony (08:04):

That’s right.

Amy (08:04):

So be choosey.

Tony (08:05):

Well, that’s right. We should be thinking about the culture we want to create when we’re identifying these leaders. And again, we’ll circle back at some point in the future to talk more about the responsibilities of this team. However, the key thought today is that, you know, healthy churches, they structure around this team and by doing so, they bring full alignment to the rest of the staff and the various ministries of the church. So when this team is too small or too big, or non-existent, it’s not unusual for us to see signs of dysfunction, distrust, unhealthy competition, and then the formation of ministry silos within churches. And so it really does begin with getting this Senior Leadership Team right.

Amy (08:51):

Hey, and just for churches that are seriously considering a restructure, here’s just one thing I see that happens when they identify this Senior Leadership Team through that filter, Tony. They feel bad that they’ve taken some leaders off this team, so they create a second leadership team, and they just call it something different, and it has no purpose. So just for those of you who are going to restructure, don’t do that. Don’t do that.

Tony (09:15):

That’s good. Amy,

Amy (09:16):

What’s the second sign related to a lack of alignment that should indicate it’s time to restructure?

Tony (09:21):

Yeah. This is a sign that has to do with span of care. And I know this is a topic we’ve talked about previously, but maybe not as it relates to protecting alignment on the team. So the second sign is you have people trying to lead and care for too many people. And here’s what I’ve noticed through the years. Healthy churches maintain an appropriate span of care. They make sure every leader is managing the right number of staff and volunteers to accomplish their part of the mission while also caring for the people on the team. And stuck churches, on the other hand, they tend to let span of care become unreasonable to the point that it really outpaces the capacity of the leaders. So they’re adding too many direct reporting relationships, which either compromises the mission that the church is trying to accomplish, or it compromises the care and the development of the team members. So here’s how I’ve seen this play out with our Unstuck process. Part of our process includes a couple of days of strategic planning to take a look at future direction and to identify ministry priorities. And when there are six to eight people involved in those conversations, I get to know every individual very well. Everyone gets to fully participate in the discussion. There’s more space for dreaming and appropriate conflict around future direction. And at the end of our time together, it’s a lot easier for the team to find consensus and alignment. But when there are more than eight people in the room for that process and Amy, at one point, there was one church that tried to get 20 people involved in the strategic planning process. It was really a nightmare. When you have too many people in the room and therefore too many people on any team or too many people that any person is responsible for, it’s impossible to get to know everyone, to truly get to know everyone. It becomes difficult for everyone to participate in conversations. Rather than focusing on strategic shifts to grow the church’s kingdom impact, the conversation tends to drift back to protecting the turf of the various ministry areas. And at the end of our time together, it’s almost impossible to get consensus about future direction, especially if that future direction involves any degree of change that needs to happen. And that’s just the dynamic I see over two days, when my span of care as a facilitator gets too big, but I can only imagine the challenges that a leader must have if they’re trying to manage, coach, develop, lead and care for too many people on the team.

Amy (12:09):

Well, that begs a question then, what’s the ideal span of care?

Tony (12:13):

Yeah, Amy, I really do think this is different for different leaders. I mean, honestly, my sense is your span of care may be even a little bit, the ideal span of care, may even be a little bit larger than my span of care because you have that giftedness with people-capacity that I don’t have as much of that. So I think it’s different for different leaders. What I’ve noticed through the years is any more than five or maybe six, and I’ve just found it becomes challenging for me at that point, because when there are more than five or six people that I’m trying to lead, I can still stay on top of mission priorities, but it’s that people side of my leadership that starts to fall. And these are the types of questions I begin to wrestle with if I’m trying to lead too many people. I mean, do I really know, not their names of course, but the names of their spouses, the names of all their kids. Do I know what they’re celebrating in their life? Do I know where they need my leadership support? Do I know where they’re hoping to develop further their leadership or their skills? Do I know the challenges that they’re currently facing, and this is the key thing, do I know specifically how to be praying for them? And what I’ve seen is if my span of care gets too big, I’m just not able to address those questions. So span of care, I think it’s gonna look different for every person. I’ve seen some research that shows manager engagement actually drops off, though, when there are more than eight direct reports. So I think for anyone, more than eight is going to be a challenge. And generally I would say senior pastors, because of the uniqueness of their position, typically need a span of care that’s smaller rather than larger. And that’s why many large churches have moved to a model that incorporates an executive pastor role to reduce the senior pastor span of care.

Amy (14:15):

Tony, that is so true. I think senior pastors often value the staffing and structure part of our engagement most because someone is finally advocating for them to focus on the areas that they can’t delegate. And we’ve talked about this many times on the podcast, but healthy churches have senior pastors who have the time and capacity to focus their best time on the four things they can’t delegate: preaching and teaching, vision, culture and leadership with the Senior Leadership Team. And I, in fact, I was working with a church in Pittsburgh a few months back. And when I walked them through the proposed structure they should move to, the pastor just said quietly, “that’s like a dream.” And he was just like big eyes. Like, could that happen? Another pastor here in Minnesota, he said, you know, I was on the edge of quitting, but if this is actually my role, I’m energized. And so when I work with senior pastors that have two broad of a span of care, it’s usually one of two scenarios. The first type, they don’t have enough high capacity leaders around them, so they end up being buried in meetings and conflict and care, for both their staff and the congregants. You know, they’re just checking off boxes of all the things that if you could see my air quotes, things they “have to do,” and then they neglect the things that they must do. And these are all the things that they actually wanna do. Those are the things that bring energy and life to them. The second scenario I run into are the senior pastors that have a bit of a control issue. They’ll admit it Right? They feel like they have to keep their hands in everything. But if I bottom line it for senior pastors to do what only they can do, they really should have between one to three direct reports, in my opinion, that’s it. I think if they have more, they will put a ceiling on ministry.

Tony (16:03):

That’s good wisdom, Amy. In fact, speaking of control issues, that pastor I mentioned that had a couple dozen people reporting directly to him, there’s no doubt about it. The reason why that was happening is he felt like he had to control everything that was happening in everybody’s ministry area. And, I mean, that was just a constraint, not only on his leadership, but certainly on the impact of the church’s mission.

Amy (16:28):

Well, in one of the churches I worked with recently, this lead pastor actually had the capacity to lead the number of people he was leading. However, now he let go, and he’s gonna have some leaders carrying some bigger weights now, which is gonna grow their leadership, which is gonna grow the leadership of the people underneath. So, well, I think we have time Tony, for one more sign that it’s time to restructure your staff team. Where would you like to finish up today?

Tony (16:54):

Yeah, so, since we’re focused on how a lack of alignment could be an indication that it’s time to restructure, let’s talk about what should be the most obvious sign that we need to restructure. And this is when you have people and ministries operating in silos and disconnected from the team. In other words, you have staff or volunteers who are either individually, or as a ministry team, living kind of on their own islands. And let me explain it this way. Healthy churches make sure every ministry and every person is linked to the Senior Leadership Team. There are no silo ministries that aren’t connected and aligned to the rest of the team. And more importantly, every ministry is connected to the mission and the strategic direction of the church. Stuck churches, on the other hand, allow ministries to operate independently without connection to the Senior Leadership Team. And this leads to silo ministries and people who eventually compete with the rest of the church for resources, people’s time, people’s attention. So let me give you some specific examples as it relates to where we tend to see ministry silos forming, where there’s not really a true connection to that Senior Leadership Team. And oftentimes these are things like church schools, daycares, Awana, Upward, or any of those other kind of semi-parachurch ministries. But also we’ve seen some disconnection in the past in areas like global missions, community outreach partners, men’s and women’s ministries can sometimes get disconnected from what the rest of the church is doing. All of these ministries, when connected and fully aligned, could be helping the church accomplish its mission. But too many times I’ve seen ministries like these begin to separate themselves from the rest of the team. So when your structure encourages that, these ministries will begin to operate independently, and then over time, they will commonly start to compete for resources, time and attention. Let me give you a specific example of this. Several years ago I was working with a church, and it was just fascinating how this played out, and unfortunate at the same time, because the church had over the years really been committed to global missions. And in fact, at the moment I engaged with them, all of their missionaries were fully funded, but the church was not able to pay a student pastor. And as a result of that, it’s just through the years, there was such a disconnect with what was happening with their global missions, that they were beginning to neglect some of the core ministries of the church. And so obviously part of the solution to this disconnect is to make sure every ministry supports the church’s overall mission, vision and ministry strategies. But one simple step towards alignment is to make sure that there aren’t any people or any ministries operating independently from the rest of the team. And more specifically from the entire Senior Leadership Team.

Amy (20:20):

Tony, will you just explain how church boards can encourage alignment on the team?

Tony (20:25):

Yeah, Amy, it begins with this rule of thumb. There should be one staff person, and it should be the senior pastor, who is accountable to a board or a committee. Every other staff person should be hired, led, directed, managed, coached, and if needed, fired by a staff leader under the ultimate direction of the senior pastor. But we’ve seen instances when multiple staff people are accountable to the board or different committees. So for example, the student pastor is accountable to a student ministries committee, or we’ve seen individual staff who are accountable to different elders on the elder board. And in all of these instances, you can probably imagine how difficult it is for the senior pastor and other staff leaders to keep the team aligned and focused on the same priorities, I mean, for obvious reasons. This also makes it almost impossible for the appropriate staff leaders to lead, direct and provide accountability for follow through on the mission and ministry priorities. And that’s just one example of how bad structure can actually create a lack of alignment on the team.

Amy (21:38):

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

Tony (21:41):

Well, in this series, we’ve discussed the signs that you need to restructure your staff, but once you’ve identified the need to change, the question is, how do you go about it? And it’s not too late. You can join us tomorrow for a free one hour webinar on How to Restructure Your Church Staff. We’ll reveal the three key steps to restructuring, and then we’ll give you some tools that you’ll need to get there. And you can register now at the link in your show notes. And we also hope you’ll come back and join us next week for the podcast. We begin a brand new series on Volunteer Engagement. So if you are like just about every church I’ve connected with in recent months, I’m guessing that you’ll be very interested in hearing how we’d like to help you increase the number of people serving at your church. So until then, I hope to see you tomorrow for our free webinar.

Sean (22:35):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team in action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way we can serve you in your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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