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Reduce planning fatigue with a short-term time frame

By Ronald E. Keener

There are few books available for the church administrator’s craft and so Church Administration: Programs, Process, Purpose (Fortress Press, 2007) by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White is a welcome and needed resource. Bacher was assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in his last assignment before retirement, and Cooper-White is president of Gettysburg Seminary (PA). Church Executive shared questions with Bacher:

What trends in church administration do you see for the next few years that we should watch?

There seems to be an increased interest in the administrative aspects of the church. There are new

training and educational programs at universities around the United States which aim to increase administrative competence among church leaders. Another trend is a better appreciation for the dynamics of conflict as a companion of change and not something to be managed away. Administered well, conflict is a major source of creativity and vitality. A third trend is attention to legal matters even though the First Amendment grants the church much freedom to operate.

Your longest chapter is on planning. Isn’t planning a foreign concept for most churches?

Planning can become less foreign when seen as integral to church life because it helps to answer three mission-related questions: What is God calling us toward, where are we now and how do we get to where God wants us to be? The process for answering these questions can be simple or elaborate depending on the needs of the situation.

What major mistakes do churches make in planning — other than not planning at all?

Two mistakes are common: Not preparing well and drawing planning out to the point that  seeing no results, participants become disengaged. Planning fatigue can be avoided by completing planning steps over several months rather than years. Then a new planning cycle can be undertaken when some results have been achieved and there is renewed interest and energy. Preparation for planning includes cleansing any negative aftermath of previous planning efforts, making the case, being sensitive to any shift in power among leaders from the outcomes of the planning, tending to conflict raised during the planning and meeting theological objections.

Churches don’t seem to want to evaluate their work, programs and activities. How important is formal evaluation to better administration?

It seems safe to say that many church-related organizations and in fact whole denominations do not value formal evaluation. One way to introduce evaluation is to include it as part of the planning process rather than as a stand-alone operation. Evaluation helps to answer the question of where we are now as a launching pad into the future.

Churches are known to forgo staff salary increases when they can’t balance the budget. How can this be avoided?

This is a dangerous practice beyond the occasional emergency or short-term situation. We have two suggestions. Conduct a regular review of staff responsibilities, performance and total well-being. If the present situation is in crisis, identify areas where small improvements can be made. Attempt to keep the staff from bearing the brunt of the financial crisis. Smaller or even no increases in compensation can be borne in the short run if there is a shared vision and movement toward a viable future. The second suggestion, therefore, is to do robust planning. That’s precisely the time for strategic planning.

What percent of budget should salaries and overhead be?

One can tell when too much is being spent on salaries and overhead by examining the sufficiency of program funds for staff and volunteers to carry out the work. If no new program ventures are being undertaken, this may be a sign that there are insufficient funds available.

Would you encourage churches to give salary merit increases based on individual achievement and program success?

In a word “No,” for three reasons. First, this approach assumes that outcomes in the church can be attributed to one person when most of the work is a shared effort. Second, merit increases require precise measurement in order to assign appropriate reward. Measuring church work is notoriously difficult. Third, misplaced motivation occurs. Service is the major motivation, not increased compensation.

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