Employees need appreciation in churches too

By Ronald E. Keener

If there is any group of people who feel unappreciated, it is the staff of a large church, including the pastor.

We even have a special month for pastor appreciation (October). Gary Chapman and Paul White has written The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace (Northfield Publishing/Moody Publishers), and Church Executive asked the authors to apply their concepts to the church.

Dr. Chapman is the director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants Inc. in Winston-Salem, NC, and has served as senior associate pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in that city for 40 years.

Dr. White is director of Family Coaching and Personal Development for Navitas Wealth Advisors Inc., and is a member and small group leader of River Community Church, Wichita, KS.

Can you give an example of meaningful communication that will make coworkers feel appreciated?

White: To ensure that communication of appreciation is meaningful and impactful, the message sent must be:  a) individualized and personal;  b) in a language that is valued by the recipient;  and c) viewed as authentic and genuine.  So, within these broad parameters, there are literally thousands of actions that will help make coworkers feel valued and appreciated.

The key is to match the type of communication sent with the style of message desired by the recipient.  Conversely, there is no one universal act of appreciation that will be meaningful and valued by everyone; we need to find out what is important to the person we want to encourage.

To give a personal example, I value words of affirmation, while tangible gifts are less important to me.  So, if someone wants to communicate appreciation in a way that is meaningful to me, I would prefer they tell me how what I did impacted them personally (positively, hopefully!) rather than get me a gift card to go out to dinner.

Chapman: One man said to me, “My boss stopped me in the hallway and told me how much he appreciated my hard work on a project I finished two weeks ago. I thanked him, and walked back to my office.  I thought about what he said all afternoon. I went home and told my wife, and went to work the next day with a positive attitude.  I never realized how much I appreciated ‘words of affirmation.’” His boss definitely spoke his primary language of appreciation.

Are church staffs any different when it comes to applying the appreciation principles?

White: No and yes. No, in that we have found virtually all individuals, regardless of where they work, desperately want to know that what they do is valued by those with whom they work. We each have a deep need to lead a meaningful life and to feel appreciated by those around us.

However, applying the appreciation principles in church settings has some unique challenges.  First, you are usually dealing both with paid staff and volunteers – and the dynamics for these two groups differ (we wrote a chapter in the book specifically to deal with communicating appreciation to volunteers).

Secondly, there is the aspect of working in the context of ministry and serving God. Sometimes this results in leaders believing that their co-laborers don’t need encouragement or appreciation communicated from humans – that they should be internally motivated or just work for “treasure in heaven.”  Unfortunately, as a result, we find that many church staff members are “dying on the vine” because they rarely receive any affirmation for the services they provide.

Chapman: “On a scale of 0 – 10 how much appreciation do you feel from your immediate supervisor?”  The honest answer to that question may reveal that many staff members do not feel highly appreciated.

Is transparency with the CEO/pastor important in encouraging coworkers?

White: This is a great question, and one that came up recently when I was speaking at a pastors’ conference.  Many pastors struggle with how transparent to be with those around them regarding their own personal needs. Let me answer the question with a series of questions. If you were thirsty, would you hesitate to ask someone for a drink?  If you were tired and needed to rest, would you balk at asking for a chair or a place to sit? Do you think your co-laborers would like to know how best to encourage you – or do they like  “shooting in the dark”?  Would you be a better pastor if you felt truly valued, appreciated and encouraged by those with whom you work?  Or do you minister best when you are discouraged and feel unappreciated?

Chapman: When a pastor/CEO appears to be perfect, people begin to withdraw. When a leader shares his own struggles, mistakes, and is honest about his/her humanity, people are more likely to identify and be open to learning.  Relationship requires a level of transparency.  Where there is no relationship, people tend to resist the leaders ideas or respond with apathy.  Real people respond to real leaders.

What one thing will go a long way in improving the workplace in a church?

White: If we would stop to take time to find out how to encourage and show appreciation in the ways that are meaningful to the people around us, tremendous changes would occur. And we could really make a difference in communicating the value of each staff and volunteer in ways that impact them significantly.

This would lead to better staff relationships, less internal conflict, reduce turnover among both staff and volunteers, and – as research demonstrates – make the workplace a more positive, enjoyable environment.

Chapman: Pastors and other staff leaders tend to express appreciation in ways that are meaningful to them. That is, they speak their own appreciation language. Then, they often wonder why the person does not feel appreciated.  Imagine what would happen to the work climate if we all learned how to speak each other’s appreciation language. I believe it would greatly enhance staff relationships.


A quick review of the 5 languages

While the five languages of appreciation are the same (in name) as the five love languages, the ways they are demonstrated in the workplace can differ significantly from personal relationships. Let us explain each:

Words of Affirmation. White: Words, both oral and written, can be used to affirm and encourage those around us. Some people prefer personal one-on-one communication, while others value being praised in front of others (but it is important to know that relatively few people like to receive public affirmation in front of a large group).

Chapman: The words may focus on the person’s performance, but may also focus on his personality, his dedication, or his value to the company. The important thing is to be as specific as possible.

Quality Time. White: Personal, focused time and attention with your supervisor is highly affirming for some. But others enjoy different types of time — “hanging out” with their coworkers, working together as a team on a project, or just having someone take the time to listen to them. And the type of time desired can differ significantly depending on whether it is with colleagues or with their supervisor.

Chapman: Quality time may not focus on the work, but on family. How is your son doing in college?  Did your daughter make the team? Asking such questions and listening to the answer speaks loudly to the person whose language is quality time.

Acts of Service. White: Assisting a colleague in getting a task done can be extremely encouraging to them.

Helping a teammate “dig out” from being behind, working collaboratively on a project that would be difficult to do alone, or just working alongside of them: are all ways to demonstrate appreciation for their efforts.

Chapman: Ask, Is there anything I could do that would lighten your load? Or, Would it be helpful if I took this to the post office for you?  Such questions open the door to the possibility of speaking appreciation to the person whose language is Acts of Service.

Tangible Gifts. White: The key to an effective gift in the workplace is the “thought,” not the amount of money spent. Taking time to notice what your colleagues enjoy (chocolate, coffee, cashews), observing their hobbies and interests (sports, books, crafts) and buying them a small related gift shows that you are getting to know them as a person and understand what is important to them.

Chapman: Often co-workers know what gift would be meaningful to someone with whom they work closely.

Appropriate Physical Touch. White: While we acknowledge that physical touch is less important in work-based relationships, and the potential for abuse exists, we still find that appropriate physical touch is meaningful. Usually, it occurs spontaneously and in the context of celebration – a “high five,” fistbump, slap on the back, or congratulatory handshake. To not touch one another at all leads to a cold, impersonal environment.  GC, PW


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