Creating engaging workplaces

By Mike Klockenbrink

As a church staff, we’re always in the process of evaluating our worship program. We’re asking the question, “Do we have an engaging worship experience?”

I couldn’t help but think about our working environment in the same manner. In many work environments today, churches have cut back and/or downsized — yet still expect the same performance with fewer resources. This can create fear and incite employees to put in longer work hours, resulting in cynicism and burnout.

Have we created a work environment that’s engaging? Or, have our employees disengaged — are they getting ready to check out?

Leadership is required to fully engage each team member as a valued individual in today’s do-less-with-more workplace. By providing your people with a supportive, engaging environment, you’ll promote real results without driving your team — or yourself — crazy.

Below is a list of what I call “reminders.” Most of them shouldn’t be a surprise for many of you. However, in the busyness of life, we all meander from the path and need a little reminder now and then. By no means can any one of us accomplish all of this overnight. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Worthwhile work — Does your staff do what really matters? How does their work fit into the overall goals of the church? There’s nothing more frustrating than doing a lot of work with no perceptible payoff — in other words, if nobody does anything with it. Make sure employees can see the end result and how their pieces fit into the puzzle.

Workload — Is it “doable good” or “doable destructible”? When you don’t have time to take a breath, it won’t be long before you go under. You may have to help your staff set priorities or delegate some of their responsibilities to others. As an eternal optimist, I’ve taken the “I can do it” route more often than not. And yes, I can do it — but at what cost?

Variety — Everyone is different  with regard to how much variety they need to stay motivated. Some people find joy in doing the same tasks over and over, while others get bored after a few tries.

To find the right person for the right job, cross-training can make a big difference. Complacency leads to routine and boredom.
Matching employees with the right jobs can also be accomplished by moving around offices and workspaces and building work groups that are engaging.

Freedom — Do you empower your staff to make decisions about their work? Are they in control of achieving their goals? If not, how can you hold them accountable or reward them?
Along with that freedom, make sure you’ve given them the tools necessary to do the work.

Ongoing feedback — Employees should always know where they stand regarding their performance. Do you engage them on a regular basis to discuss their performance? Don’t make this a quarterly thing; engage with them at least weekly. This isn’t just an opportunity for one-way feedback; ask questions, and be willing to listen.

Responsibility — In many organizations, employees are looking for a career path or growth track to get on. In a church, there may not be those promotion levels to strive for. Often, what people are looking for in these unique workplaces is increased responsibility, trust and the opportunity to do more. When you entrust them, you value them.

Fairness — I think we can all agree that life’s not fair. The question is, Do you treat everyone the same? Do you have a process in place for making decisions? Do the rules you have in place apply only to a few, or are they for everyone? Be consistent in what you say and do.

Teams — People need to be connected to something bigger than them. In this sense, having interpersonal relationships with coworkers can be extremely rewarding. At Lakeside Church, we celebrate chapel once a month together as a staff. We assign teams to bake or cook for everyone that morning, and we recognize them for their efforts.

Collaboration — Just because you work in a different ministry doesn’t mean your skill sets wouldn’t be of benefit elsewhere on a project. Ask the question: Who should be on this team, and what can they bring to the party? We need to learn how to share — not just with resources, but with our employees. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that some of your staff has unique or exceptional skills set you’ve been lacking.
In this regard, several middle school dances come to mind. The majority of the guys stood around looking at the girls they wanted to dance with. One of the chaperones made a comment that has stuck with me ever since: “If you don’t ask, you don’t dance.”

Recognition — People need to feel recognized for the effort they put out and the results they achieve. Recognition or rewards don’t always have to be in the form of money; a hand-written note or a public acknowledgment of a job well done goes a long way. I personally have found the best reward is when the boss pulls you in and personally thanks you for a specific task you’ve done.

Set clear expectations — This is where many people get frustrated. The prevailing mind-set is sometimes, “I thought, therefore you should know.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

If you want and expect results, spend a little more time setting clear expectations. This requires a two-way conversation.

Hanging out with the boss — Your people need to know you care about them. Invest time with each of your direct reports. This doesn’t mean you need to hang out after work; just hang out at work on occasion. Don’t just give them the time of day; give them time.
Coffee, anyone?

I want to encourage you to create an engaging experience with your staff, one bite at a time.

Mike Klockenbrink is chief of staff at Lakeside Church in Folsom, CA. He may be reached at


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