“I’m usually the last to know what’s going on.”

“All the work and problems are intensified because no one can meet in person.”

“This is a different, new level of stress.”

Church staff share many frustrations that are either unique to this season or made worse by this season.

And they’re sharing very little of it with their leaders.

So, we looked into what they’re saying. We talked to them and noted the changes they say would help them perform their roles more effectively.

Because leaders aren’t mind readers.

Because six months into a global pandemic, leaders need to know how to best serve and shepherd their teams.

Because when you don’t know what your team needs, you can’t address your blind spots or the frustrations that might be boiling under the surface and causing issues.

This insight from church staff serving in various churches across the U.S. can help you recognize what your own team needs from you as their leader.

Why Needs Are Different

It’s not that your team’s needs are wildly different and they need you to transform into a brand new type of leader.

But the changes that the world in general and churches specifically have gone through over the past few months introduced new problems to solve.

  • More work and stress. The weight of the changes and the urgency in which churches had to make those changes took everyone for a loop.
  • Lost connections. Like everyone else, church staff miss their people. Not only did losing in-person connection for a while cause some emotional distress, but it also made some tasks much more complicated for church staff.
  • Issues are amplified. If morale was already low before the pandemic or some problems were ignored, these issues are aggravated by stressful situations and sudden change.
  • Grief. When COVID-19 hit, psychiatrists and psychologists warned early on that we would see the effects of collective grief impacting many of our lives, including our work.

Remember these conditions and impacts as you consider what your church staff needs right now. Here’s what they said.

What Church Staff Need Right Now

It’s not just that church staff are tired. To that, we’d join you in saying, “Welcome to the club.”

But for each issue they raised, there are action steps that church leaders can take to increase morale, prevent burnout, and provide a better work culture for staff so they can be effective in ministry.

#1 – Communication and inclusion

These two are together because they go hand-in-hand for what church staff say is lacking right now.

With the loss of in-person gatherings, many of them also lost their main sources of communication with leaders: meetings.

The meetings either stopped completely or became sporadically virtual.

Or church leadership still meets but doesn’t include essential staff, which results in last-minute assignments, missed details that are relevant to their jobs, and increased stress.

What to do about it: Show your staff that you value and respect what they do by making sure they’re included in meetings that need their insight. Take another look at the guest list for meetings—is everyone invited who should be included in decisions and details? Should “brief the staff” meetings happen after leadership-only meetings to make sure everyone has what they need?

#2 – Schedule consideration

Even before the pandemic, church staff (and pastors, too) tended to struggle with boundaries and people having non-stop access to them.

Now, staff say that a life of “virtual everything” has made it worse. Leaders forget that they can’t sit in Zoom meetings all day—they have work to do!

The constantly flowing virtual calls, digital tasks lists, emails, and chats can leave them feeling frazzled and eat up the time they need to complete tasks.

What to do about it: “What I really need is space away from my screen,” one church staff member said. Leaders can help with this by being more considerate about flexible schedules and availability. Relax expectations for instant responses and schedules packed with virtual meetings. Create a healthy environment where it’s okay to block off space for focused work time or taking a mental break.

#3 – Play the long game

On one of my favorite shows, Worst Cooks in America, Chef Anne Burrell often points out when recruits (amateur cooks) start to “spin out of control” when preparing meals. She tells them that when they don’t focus and learn to enjoy the process, it shows in their final dish.

Some church staff are faced with leaders who started to “spin out of control” when the pandemic hit and all the sudden changes started happening. It’s an understandable reaction, but their teams wish they would remember to play the long game.

Like those dishes prepared by the worst cooks, when leaders change direction and strategy every few weeks, it shows in the final results that church staff rushed to make happen.

Of course, everyone has to make some shifts that might not be relevant this time next year, but church staff shouldn’t constantly work on the latest trends.

What to do about it: Create a ministry plan for your church and make sure that everything you decide to do is a strategic match for your church’s mission and long-term goals. 

#4 – Sensitivity to limits

It’s no wonder the tweets and other messages that say some semblance of, “Are we working from home or living at work?” have been going viral online.

Many people have been noticing how this season is negatively impacting their mental health and begging their employers to see it, too.

40% of people said they’ve experienced work-related burnout since the pandemic.

37% reported working longer hours.

31% of young adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression because of COVID-19.

1 in 4 Generation Z employees have sought mental health help since the pandemic began.

The mental health effects of the current season span even farther, but you get the picture. Some of your church’s staff may have lost family or friends to COVID-19. Some are distressed about racial tensions in the U.S. Some are overwhelmingly anxious about the future.

And all of this can make it more challenging to be productive and perform jobs at the same level as before. It’s the case even for church staff, who know their hope is in Christ but are still experiencing the mental health impacts of this season.

What to do about it: Whether your staff has been struggling mentally or not, they need the compassion and concern of a pastor right now. Church staff still have jobs to do but leaders can help them by being more sensitive to their increased workload and the possible mental or emotional struggles that can make productivity more challenging—especially now.

#5 – Appreciation and support

Ministry can be a thankless job. And of course, we’re not in it for recognition.

But church staff report that feeling loved, appreciated, supported, and acknowledged by leaders makes their days working through this strange time a lot more bearable.

Those with leaders who don’t recognize their sacrifices and dedication struggle to stay connected with the church’s mission and the purpose of their roles.

What to do about it: Schedule more one-on-one time with staff and key volunteers. People appreciate being heard. This can be a time of encouragement and a space to get concerns or issues out into the open.

Take the Next Step

Low team morale can be caused by a number of factors, but it’s often a consequence of team members who aren’t spiritually healthy. Leaders can help by creating intentional time to disciple staff members.

Download our free devotionals to use with your team. They give you questions to ask your team that encourage spiritual health, a devotional message to read together, key Scriptures, prayer prompts, and space for notes.

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