Posted in Church Staff

The P Conundrum: Practice, Procedure or Policy?

What is best for your church…a practice? Procedure? Or policy?

When a practice suffices, great. When a documented procedure is needed, do that. And save the policies for when those two aren’t enough.

Too often churches become policy-heavy and the result is slowed ministry and confused workers. Over-the-top policies become “red tape” that stifles ministry progress.

Yet, there are certain policies required by law (and we should obey). And even below the legal threshold, there are best practices* for putting some polices in place even when not required by law.

But many times where churches implement policies a simple stated practice would suffice.

Determining whether an issue should have an established (stated) practice, procedure or policy will depend on the frequency of its occurrence (which could mean church size) or the margin for error or inconsistency for a particular issue.

We often look to large churches to model what should be done in our (smaller) churches. Large churches may use policies to deal effectively and efficiently with the scope of their work. But, where a large church might deal with a certain issue 100 times a year, the same issue may only occur three times in another church, so, it doesn’t need the same treatment.

One church is right to have a policy which gives clear decisions and action. But the same issue for another church, a policy may be a mistake. Unless frequency or 100% consistency requires it, appreciate the ability and freedom to make decisions based on your unique circumstances.

When you place policies or procedures where a practice suffices, it leads to slow work, it frustrates the people enforcing the policy, and the people abiding by the over-the-top policy.

The differences and self-assessing which one is needed

  • Practices are most often “what we’ve done in the past.” They’re precedents and come with authority of current leadership. Practices give a sense of direction about an issue, but also communicates there can be flexibility and exceptions to it.
  • Procedures occur when less ambiguity is desired. The issue’s decision points might have multiple steps and a documented procedure is best. A documented procedure gives clarity about how a decision is made (assuming typical circumstances) and provides steps on how to get it done without a lot of interpretation by those involved.
  • Policies assume legal or fiduciary accuracy. Or it addresses an issue demanding straightforward behavior or outcomes. And/or, the issue happens with regularity, and it no longer makes sense to slow a decision by having to consider the uniqueness of a practice or procedure.

Policies protect the people (decision-makers). It removes the leader from having to use personal discretion or persuasion in deciding an issue. An effective policy will be the right way 98% of the time. There could be exceptions, but they should be exceptional reasons (such as, a pandemic…consider how many policies got [rightfully] upended in this time).

Scaling of the Ps

Most times it’s best to begin with a practice. And use that as long as it’s effective. But as the decision points grow in number or complexity, you’ll move to the procedure or policy stage. And when you do, you’ll have the experience of what content needs to be included in those procedure and policies.

Policies are great, if written well and wielded prudently. I’m pro-policy, but only after I determine a practice or procedure is sufficient.

* If you need the direction, there are “policy audits” or CPA reviews of “agreed-upon-procedures” that can be provided for reasonable prices to assess if any procedures or policies need to be modified or added.

Want examples, continue on—

Examples for what P stage make most since in typical church setting:

Licensing ministers: If this is happening 1-2 times a year, it could just be a practice. But if that number grows or to ensure fairness and standards each time, a procedure may be best.

Room reservations at the church: If you have a church building, depending on frequency of requests, at least a procedure is needed, and perhaps, a policy. And it could be, it’s a procedure for internal requests, but you have a policy for “outside request of usage.”

Whistle Blower complaints: Policy.

Credit card purchase review: Procedure and should move to policy as quickly as possible or as advised.

Guest baptizers or speakers: A practice might suffice. But if you’re getting requests more than once a year and the vetting of each situation or person needs to delegated or shared my multiple people, then a procedure that outlines your biblical understanding, along with other standards and expectations of the guest, than a procedure makes sense.

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Ministry Magic

Have you ever felt the expectation to create “ministry magic?”

Sometimes this expectation comes from others. And sometimes we’ve talked ourselves into thinking we have to create ministry magic.

After a recent talk at my church, an intern on staff found a picture of me presenting and decided to dress up it a bit. While I thought it was funny, it also reminded me this unspoken expectation I’ve felt before…to create ministry magic.

“You’re paid,” or “You’re called,” and then they say, “You can make this happen, right?” They/us want kids to magically appear in the preschool. They/us want to have a trendy stage area like so and so church. They/us want to be as a large as the church across town. They/us want the financial debt to go away, overnight. And while seminary provided lots of things for me, it didn’t provide magical outcomes.

But the temptation is still there. The temptation to make ministry magic happen. Yet, there’s dangers in pursuing magical mans, and if you actually do have an “Abra cadabra” moment, well, that can be dangerous too (for your ministry).

Dangers of a ministry magic mentality

You spend too much time looking for a silver bullet (I blogged last week about that bullet not existing). At the chance of offending readers…magic isn’t real. It’s sleight of hand. It’s perception. It’s creating a distraction. I’ve been guilty of this in ministry programming before and I’ve blogged about the “dust of perpetual ministry.” Magic is looking to woo people. Ministry is rarely that. And one or two magical moments may woo you into believing it’s something you can repeat. Magical silver bullets rob you of the hard and spiritual discerning work that will create the best long term pathway for effective ministry.

Even if you do create magic, it’s short lived and shallow. Sure, we all stumble on some magical moments (they’re actually probably Holy Spirit moments). But like the smoke in a magic trick or the bunny in the hat, they do go away, and go quickly. And then there’s an expectation you’ll do it again. You’ll have an encore problem. And when you can’t repeat it, you get booed.

It perpetuates a consumer mentality. Who goes to magic shows? That’s right, people who want to be entertained. That is not our job as church and ministry leaders.

You become the center of attention and applause. If you’re good at creating magical ministry moments, you’ll be the one getting all the attention. It won’t be your fellow staff members or the faithful volunteers, and may even takeaway the attention of the actual miracle Worker.

What magic have you been forced into for your ministry lately? What are you doing that isn’t sustainable, but just short-lived magic? What are you doing that’s making you the magician and therefore always in the spotlight?

If your ministry is one big magic show—incrementalize change. Determine one thing you’ll begin to adjust so that ministry becomes sustainable and is substantial to the Gospel message?

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Creativity in Your Staff Meetings

We bring our staff together monthly from all campuses for an “All Staff” meeting. But four times a year we bring the same people together for Quarterly Staff Meeting. And we do it for four hours. That’s right, a four hour meeting. So to avoid people resigning on the spot, we have to work hard to keep people engaged (we’re not always successful). Here’s a few of the ways we do it:

  • We provide food
  • We mix up the content
  • We have a “fun team”
  • We use multi-media
  • We laugh at each other
  • We vary the presenters
  • We “show off” God’s wins in ministry and wins of staff members
  • We include development (professional, personal, or spiritual or all three)
  • And we have a “newsletter” so they can read rather than be bored by the executive pastor.

The last bullet above, the newsletter is titled “The Office.” It includes tid bits in the Dodridge Download column (see picture of my head split open), a feature article that highlights a staff member, and other pieces of content that celebrates ministry wins, celebrates people, and also pokes fun at people. Maybe there’s an idea or two for church—you can check it out on Resource Page.

p.s. We have a lot of talented people who write and design this content and I’m thankful for them and if it works for you, take their ideas.

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