April 20, 2022

Simple Shifts: Structure – Episode 241 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

simple shifts to church staff structure

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Simple Shifts (Part 3)

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Your team is the most valuable asset you have to move your vision forward.

In part one of this series, we spent time talking about what doesn’t need to change in our ministries. Then in part two,  we acknowledged that while God is constant, he is also a God of new things—so we explored some potential shifts related to our mission, mission field, and vision that we may need to consider in this season.


This week, we’ll move from our foundations to our structure, asking: now that we’ve determined our future direction, how do we structure our staff and ministry teams to be effective in that mission? Listen in as Amy and I discuss:

  • Bringing clarity to ministry leadership roles
  • Structuring for your discipleship path
  • The ideal staffing to attendance ratio
  • How to staff for your digital ministry
The healthiest churches we work with are staffed at 1 Full-Time Staff Equivalent for every 100 attendees. [episode 241] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet The ultimate win for your digital ministry strategy should be engaging more people that are still considering the claims of Christ. [episode 241] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Many churches have hired shepherds for positions that require a leadership gifting. [episode 241] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Your digital strategies should be built around your reach strategies. [episode 241] #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. Rather than dramatic changes, we’re finding that simple shifts in the way we do ministry are more effective for helping churches grow in health. But simple isn’t always easy. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy tackle the simple shifts any church can make when it comes to their structure and their digital ministry strategy. Before we get to today’s episode, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes. When you do, each week you’ll get one email with the leader conversation guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:55):

Well, welcome back to our listeners. Tony and I are in week three of our series called “Simple Shifts,” where we’re trying to make a compelling point that despite the messaging we’re hearing about the need to completely change how we do church and how we lead our churches, we would argue that that is simply not true. Yes, we do need to change and adapt to how culture’s shifted, but we think the shifts are more simple in nature. Did I state that correctly, Tony?

Tony (01:19):

Yes, you did, Amy, and I have loved the series because everything we’ve discussed so far, they’re shifts any church can make. And in week one, we talked about what doesn’t have to change. That’s where we began this whole conversation. And I hope that that brought some encouragement to our listeners. I mean, God’s been leading this church for over 2000 years, and during that time, there are many things that we can hold on to that are timeless and unchanging. Week two, last week, we acknowledged that God is also a God of new things though. And yes, there are some things we need to approach differently coming out of the pandemic and that’s normal in God’s economy. He celebrates new things and celebrates change. What is isn’t normal is doing the same things year after year after year. And in that second episode, we talked about three important shifts related to mission and vision. The first thing we discussed was getting focused on our mission field again. The second shift we talked about was being more intentional about our compassion for people around our churches. And then finally, we talked about setting aside some time to think about our ministry approaches by gathering a team together to pray and dream together about what God would have your church do next. And Amy, you and I were just talking about another church that is getting ready to go through that very process. So today we’re going to talk about a few more simple shifts, and these are related to structure. So how do we structure the staff team and our ministry teams? And also around digital ministry strategies and Amy, our listeners, haven’t heard from you in a while. So I’m going to have you take the lead on talking through these shifts today. And I love when I get to do this for two reasons. Number one, you bring so much great wisdom to these conversations, but secondly, I don’t have to do all the talking. So are you gonna be up for that?

Amy (03:19):

Yeah, I’m ready. I love those topics. And I think I’ll start by talking through some simple shifts related to how churches are organized or structured. But before I do, I wanna emphasize that our podcast from last week is ideally what needs to be considered first, refocusing and revisiting our mission as a church, gaining clarity on who we’re trying to reach and doing the work of getting before the Lord and seeking after what he wants our church to be accomplishing over the next few years. That is all important to determine first, because you’ve heard me say this many times, Tony, how we structure is a response to our ministry strategies. When we engage with a church, we always have them confirm their mission and mission field first. Then we work with them to determine where they’re going, their vision, and what success looks like. And then we look at their structure. In other words, strategies first, then structure. So having said that, I’ll try to encourage some shifts any church can make to organize their ministries more effectively, as long as we remember that part.

Tony (04:19):

Yeah. So let’s actually start there. What are some simple shifts that churches can make to structure for their ministry strategy? How can they strengthen their ministry as a church by revisiting their structure?

Amy (04:31):

Yeah, well, I think the first simple shift is just to bring clarity to what each high-level leader on your team is responsible for. And I know that sounds basic, Tony, but it is so common when I used to do interviews as part of the staffing and structure, I’d ask ’em, you know, what does a win look like for your role? And they really couldn’t put words to it. So we give titles and things like that, but everyone needs to have clarity on what they are responsible for. I’ve worked with basically nine churches, Tony, these past months on their staffing and structure. I’m dreaming about org charts these days. And while there’s a basic understanding of what everybody should be doing, there’s rarely an identified accountable leader. So for example, if a church has a goal to reengage or increase their in-person attendance (a lot of churches are thinking about that right now), who owns that? Does everybody own it? You know, as they say, if everybody owns it, nobody does. Or how about re-engaging volunteers, right? Volunteer engagement. Again, does everybody on your team own that? Or have you assigned a responsibility for that to a leader on your team? And of course in both of these scenarios, many people on your team are engaged in the work that it’ll take to move the dial forward on these things. But who’s the leader that lies awake at night thinking about it, praying about it? And by the way, for our listeners, if you’re a lead pastor and you are the one lying awake at night thinking about all those things, then we don’t have this discipline built into our organization. The lead pastor has four things that should keep him or her up all night: the vision, the teaching, the culture of their church and the overall health of their church. But the organizational goals, things like in-person attendance, number of people in groups, number of people serving, number of decisions to follow Jesus and be baptized. These are all things we should track because a combination of these metrics, that’s what helps us understand if we’re healthy or not. So there should be defined owners of these high-level ministry targets. So the first simple shift is to, of course, determine what success looks like for your organization, right? So over the next 12 months, what does success look like? Set those goals and targets, and then have someone assigned the responsibility and accountability for those high-level metrics to specific people on the team.

Tony (06:49):

Amy, I’ve seen the summaries you provide to churches after their staffing and structure review. And just to be clear, you’re not suggesting that this just a random dispersing of responsibilities, is that correct?

Amy (07:01):

No, no, no. Of course not. Good point. For most churches, there are obvious ministry lanes that need to be established that are led by a handful of high-level leaders. And that actually leads to my next simple shift related to structure. I would say any church can do this. You wanna organize your discipleship steps under one leader. So Tony I’ve been doing again, a lot of structure these days, a lot of org charts. I really need a life, a common life. I mean, a common mistake I see churches making is that they have several people who are responsible for the discipleship pathway, those next steps, right? That we want people to take beyond attending the weekends service. So this includes things like getting into a small group or a life group, serving on a ministry team, engaging in a local outreach or global outreach, in prayer/care types of ministries. The mistake is that these leaders are often scattered all around the org chart. So the simple shift a church can make to get this ministry lane aligned, so that we find more synergy and effectiveness, is to name a leader who is responsible for all those next steps. By bringing all those steps under one leader, we eliminate the competitive nature of who gets announcements, who’s in the program, what the website needs to highlight, on and on and on. We don’t wanna compete for people’s next steps. As a staff team, we wanna compel them to take one and then another, and then another, and going back to this whole thing of responsibility and accountability, that’s the leader that will lie awake at night if we aren’t seeing people take next steps on our discipleship pathway.

Tony (08:36):

Amy, this is such good wisdom. But when you work with churches, what’s their response to this specific coaching. I mean, putting all of these steps under one leader, I’m curious to hear, what’s the reaction to that advice?

Amy (08:50):

Yeah. The first reaction is often like deer in the headlights, like that’s a really big job. How in the world can one person oversee all this? But for larger churches in particular, it’s solvable from a staffing standpoint. You just organize leaders of those discipleship steps under that leader. And sometimes it’s a joint role, like maybe that person is the group’s pastor and he’s the next steps/discipleship director. For smaller churches, it forces them to build out high-level volunteer roles that have a higher level leadership role to champion each of those steps. So either way it brings alignment to those discipleship strategies, and Tony, I would just add, okay, it is a big job. Okay. But again, when one person has responsibility, he or she needs to build the team out to own the components of that. But what I wanna say is this works. You know, being on the team now for seven years, working in the staffing and structure area for a lot of our engagements, when we organize this way, the churches begin to see more traction in their discipleship steps. This is a best practice that churches embrace.

Tony (09:57):

Yeah, Amy, and I think it’s critical, both of these two shifts that we’re talking about, that we’re including that in today’s conversation. First of all, again, I want to acknowledge the advice Amy gave earlier in this conversation. We need to be thinking about mission, mission field, vision first, but then we do need to talk about structure. And it’s interesting how many times churches, they get married to the structures that they’ve had for years and years and years. And I think a lot of that is maybe built around the people that have been in those positions for a long time, which is a good thing. But again, on this side of pandemic, as we’re considering some of these simple shifts, we do need to revisit structure in this season as well to help us figure out how are we gonna move this ministry strategy forward? How are we gonna move this mission forward, given some of the simple shifts that need to happen in those strategies? All right, before we finish up, let’s shift to digital strategies, and this has been a hot topic for a while now. And an area that feels overwhelming and is stuck for most churches. I made the case a few weeks ago that churches think everything that happens Monday through Saturday also has to happen online. And it’s as if every church needs to become a 24/7 online church, like Amazon has become a 24/7 online store. And that just seems overwhelming to me. And I’m certain it seems overwhelming to pastors that are listening as well. So what is the simple shift churches can make regarding their digital strategy?

Amy (11:39):

Sure. Well, let me start by saying that most churches right now, Tony, are overstaffed. They’re currently overstaffed. Pre-pandemic, the average church had one full-time person on their staff team for every 51 people that attended their church. And that’s low, by the way. We say the healthiest churches put in the systems and the leaders so that you can get to 100:1.

Tony (12:01):


Amy (12:01):

But with more people valuing their time over their money. That ratio, when I said 51:1, it’s been eroding for years. In fact, when I started at The Unstuck Group, Tony, 2015, that was somewhere around 67:1. So in a very short amount of time, that’s eroded. But I think that’s because people are now valuing their time over money. And we’ve talked about that before. In other words, people are more apt to give, right, than to give their time. So pre-pandemic, churches just began to hire more people to do ministry instead of equipping the body to do the ministry.

Tony (12:36):

Yeah. And let me just jump in to confirm this, because this is the feedback I was hearing from both senior and executive pastors, Amy. We used to talk about the giving lag that happens between the time someone shows up to the church for the very first time and when they start to give. But what I started to hear from senior pastors and executive pastors, even before the pandemic, was the giving actually happens faster now than people’s willingness to serve. And so there’s actually a longer serving lag between when someone shows up and when they’re willing to give their time. And I think, again, it’s just a reflection of our busy culture. People are busy and our time is probably what’s most valuable to us. And because of that, I think what you’ve suggested is churches begin to overcompensate by hiring the things they used to invite people to do to, to volunteer. Is that correct?

Amy (13:33):

Yeah. And post-pandemic, what is everyone talking about? It’s all about getting people to use their time to come back to church, to serve at the church. And no one’s really worried about the finances, right? So I think, again, we say, what do we say through the pandemic? It accelerated behaviors, and this is one, too. It is not unusual, Tony, right now for me to see churches staffed at one full-time equivalent for every 25 to 30 attenders. No kidding.

Tony (13:57):

That’s not sustainable for the long run.

Amy (13:59):

It’s not. But when I’m coaching churches, I’m actually not trying to force them higher at the moment. I’m giving them ways to redeploy their staff so that they can get this flywheel going again of engaging people in ministry. So here’s simple shift number three, when it relates to digital strategies, is shift some of your staffing allotment to digital ministry strategies. Notice, I didn’t say shift some of your people to digital ministry strategies. So maybe this isn’t a simple shift. It’ll require that you prune in some other ministry areas to dedicate some staffing resources, to hiring a qualified leader to help you learn how to fish in the digital spaces. Then provide that leader with some head count to start trying to fish there. Again, these aren’t roles that just anyone can fill. You need people familiar with things like digital content marketing, websites, social media. And we made this analogy recently, I think on the podcast webinar or somewhere, when we build a building, we provide input on what we wanna do with a building, what we wanna accomplish. But we hire a contractor and people who know how to build buildings, to build a building. And the same is true with a digital strategy. We can guide what we want our digital strategy you to accomplish, but we need Jesus-loving professionals to build it for us. And so a simple shift would be to move some of our in-person staffing resources to digital so that we can have a chance at reaching the thousands of people that currently don’t know Jesus by having an effective digital strategy. And again, it is simple because everyone’s overstaffed right now to move that. So that’s the only thing I come up with simple in the digital, but here’s where we’re at Tony. There are no best practices here right now, not in the church. We see best practices in the secular world, secular organizations. I mean, I get hit every day with digital content marketing strategies. So the church, we need some research and development. We need to fail forward. We need to try something. Putting our services online is not a digital strategy. It goes back to last week. Who are we trying to reach? What products would they be interested in that could help us eventually point them to Jesus?

Tony (16:08):

Yeah. And Amy, on that note, the closest analogy I can give for what we do at The Unstuck Group is I don’t really care how many people see one of our webinars. I mean, I do, but that’s not the win for us. The win is us being able to engage with more church leaders. And what I’m celebrating, as an example, is over the last 12 months, we have 8,000 new church leaders engaging with our content on a regular basis. And so same principle I think can apply for churches, the win isn’t to get more people seeing your weekend services, though yes, we want that. We want people viewing our services online, just like we want gathering in our buildings for our worship experiences. But I think the win, when it comes to digital strategy for churches, is figuring out how can we engage more new people that are still considering the claims of Christ. They’re not connected to our churches yet. And digital strategy creates kind of that first step towards faith and towards our churches.

Amy (17:15):

And we’ve had two years of digital, you know, for content. And I bet if we were to go back two years, we aren’t as clear as we are today, which is, Tony I think you and I feel the same way, your digital strategies should be focused on your reach strategies first, right?

Tony (17:30):

That’s right. Yeah. And it’s just good Amy, every time again that you kind of take the lead on these conversations, you’re bringing so much great wisdom. So thank you for that. But any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Amy (17:46):

Yeah. Today’s was challenging in the “Simple Shifts” series, because while there are many simple shifts in the structure area that can bring life and focus back to the organization, many of them are actually difficult shifts as well. Like a simple shift put leaders in leadership positions. But many churches have great shepherds in positions that require the leadership gift. So that’s a simple change, but it’s a difficult one to take a next step on. Or another simple shift could have been get the right people in the right seats. But again, that can be difficult. And also it is necessary. So many of the churches we serve are often anxious about the staffing and structure portion because they need an outside perspective on their staffing and their structure issues. So if that’s you. If you want some help on that, we would love to help you. And you can find out more about our process at theunstuckgroup.com.

Sean (18:39):

Well, thanks for joining us for 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, and action. In everything that we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s a way that we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you heard on this podcast today, and it’s been helpful to you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the content out. And you can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another episode. Until then, 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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