5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

5 Elements of the Perfect Church Staff Retreat

There’s nothing like a church staff retreat to get people on the same page, get excited about the vision, plan for the culture, and contribute to a positive team culture.

A church staff retreat gives everyone the opportunity to work on the ministry, not just in the ministry.

Done right, a staff retreat can be productive, effective, and fun. People will return to everyday ministry energized and excited about the future. But do it wrong and people go back to the office feeling two days behind schedule.

For it to truly work, you don’t just need a bunch of team development ideas or a few vision-filled team dinners. You need the right people with a focused agenda and the right activities.

The Perfect Staff Retreat Agenda

Now is a great time to plan your next church staff retreat, so as you put together the agenda, here are five things to include.

#1 – Your Staff Retreat Agenda Should Include Time for Spiritual Formation

Churches have a lot in common with businesses. 

Even though we use different terminology, we do a lot of the same things that for-profit companies do. Things like…

  • Finance, including budgeting and spending
  • Operations, including planning and strategy
  • Marketing, including advertising and outreach
  • Human resources, including hiring, firing, and developing people.

Your church is much more than a business, but it is at least a business.

In fact, churches ought to be some of the most well-run organizations on the planet because our mission is more important than anything else.

But as you plan your church staff retreat, make sure you lean into the spiritual side of leadership. Don’t make it all business and all planning. Make sure you include spiritual development on the agenda.

If you’re looking for a practical tool to use, here is a free resource. 

These devotions were written for pastors to use in team meetings and team retreats.

#2 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Leadership Development

Spiritual formation and leadership development are related, but they are uniquely different.

You want everyone on your team to get better, to keep developing skills that will make them better at their jobs or in their volunteer roles. When you get your leaders together in a retreat setting, make sure you build in some time to help them skill-up.

In our discovery phase creating The Leadership Course, we surveyed hundreds of pastors about the skills they wanted to see in their leaders and volunteers. We consolidated all of those skills into this list, which we call “12 Core Skills.”

Imagine if all of your leaders developed or continued to develop these skills in their personal lives.  

They would do their jobs better. They would lead better as a volunteer. They would be better moms, dads, employees, and people.

We created a curriculum around these 12 core skills and it’s a part of that leadership development course. You can access this curriculum (which has both digital resources you can use and video teaching that you can play) immediately when you join Church Fuel.  

Click here to join Church Fuel.  

This curriculum works great as a kickoff to a regular team meeting, or pick and choose topics for your next church staff retreat. 

#3 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include Team Building that Helps Create Culture

Team building isn’t all trust falls and personality tests.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes, “Members of great teams trust one another on a fundamental, emotional level, and they are comfortable being vulnerable with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears, and behaviors.” 

That kind of trust isn’t built overnight, but every time you have a meeting or retreat, you can add a building block.

That’s why it’s important to carve out time to actually build culture and help people understand and trust each other.

Many churches do experience a ton of value by working through Myers Briggs or DISC and talking about interpersonal relationships. Tons of churches have grown together by processing through the Enneagram, perhaps bringing in a coach to help facilitate conversations.

While formal team development exercises can be helpful, don’t forget about less formal activities. Tanys Mosher, Communications Director at Southgate Community Church, says this:

Ziplining, hiking, Spelunking, road trip in an RV – these shared experiences have given us more personal connection and trust-building along with many laughs. We’ve worked through personality tests as well but the above has been far more productive on the human end of team building.

Fun Team Building Ideas for Your Church Staff Retreat

  • Brian Smith, a Church Fuel member, recommends Escape Rooms. “It was fantastic and required everyone’s ability to get out.”
  • Make a playlist. Ask everyone to submit a song that summarizes their life and listen during breaks.
  • Kari Sullivan remembers a staff and family camping trip with lots of time for just hanging out.
  • Make a bio book. Joan Garry suggests everyone write a 1-2 page personal (not professional) bio and put them together in a notebook. Have everyone read and give a quiz.
  • Wii Bowling or a tournament around some other video games.
  • Bill Rose, another Church Fuel member, says: “For some reason our most memorable was a Scavenger Hunt. It sounds youth groupish but we had 3 teams of 4, ages 31-66, piled in cars driving all over town and solving riddles for 3 hours.

Team building activities aren’t just for fun and games (though there’s certainly value there). But as your team learns about each other and learns to work together, you’re building a culture to support your strategy.

Jenni Catron says leaders are keepers of culture. Your church staff retreat is an opportunity to build and curate a staff culture. It’s much more than an event, it’s an opportunity to build on your values and help everyone learn to trust those who are working together on the same strategy.

#4 – Your Staff Retreat Should Include a Time of Honest Evaluation

When you gather key leaders who care about the future of the church, one of the most meaningful things you can do is look back on what happened. 

When you look back, set aside phrases like “I liked that” or “I didn’t like that.” Your preferences aren’t what needs evaluation.

Instead, you should push hard to talk about effectiveness. Did this program accomplish its intended goal? Is this ministry helping us accomplish our mission? Those are far better questions.

Look at expectations and reality.  Talk about numbers. Evaluate plans compared to the outcome.

Ed Catmull of Pixar/Walt Disney Animation talks about the Braintrust, a group of people assembled to evaluate every movie and give notes to the director. In Creativity, Inc., he writes:

“The Braintrust is fueled by the idea that every note we give is in the service of a common goal: Supporting and helping each other as we try to make better movies.”

Evaluation isn’t just an activity. It’s a mindset. 

But each time you take an honest look back, you’re helping create a culture of continual improvement, a place where it’s normal to get better, not coast on past success or get used to a steady decline. 

Here is another tool to help you evaluate honestly. It’s a set of 7 distinct evaluation forms to help you look back on a special event, staff performance, a sermon, a church service, your website, and a ministry or program. There’s even a “secret shopper” form you could give to someone you ask to attend your church for the first time and evaluate their experience from an outsider’s perspective.

This particular resource is a part of the members’ Resource Library in Church Fuel.

#5 – Your Staff Retreat Should Allow Plenty of Time to Plan and Look Forward

There comes a time in most team retreats where some people feel like it’s time to start on the real work.  

This isn’t to say that spiritual formation and team development isn’t real work. In many ways, it’s the most important work.  

Team building and talking about the past aren’t good enough for some people. They want to make plans and get to work. While you’ll likely have to pull these people through the first parts of your staff retreat agenda, this is where they shine.


William Vanderbloemen says a staff retreat is an ideal time to cast vision or, “If your team has drifted from their mission, re-direct everyone back.”

At your staff retreat, you don’t want to look to the immediate future. You want to look into the near future and slightly beyond. The staff retreat isn’t the time to talk about this Sunday or even next month. You want to talk through the next horizon and the next milestone.

Dan Reiland says, “Be fierce about making progress, not merely dealing with more maintenance.” 

Our favorite tool for this is the Two Page Plan® – a strategic ministry plan that packs everything important into just two pages. There’s a PDF you can print, an online version where you can create, save, edit, and share, and a course to show you exactly how to use it.

The Two Page Plan gives you the space to talk about the vision for the future but keeps you from spinning off into visionary la-la land. The plan, not just a big vision, is what gets your team on the same page and moving in the same direction.

The Two Page Plan template really can guide your staff retreat planning session. And once you complete it, you can revisit from year to year, adjusting what needs to be changed for the current ministry season and reinforcing what should stay the same no matter what.

Mary Jinks, the Director of Operations at Grace Church in Knoxville experienced positive results as her team went through this planning process. Check out her story.

“Our entire staff went through about 5 months of deep depression. Then we decided it was time to do something about it. Stopped talking about “when things get back to normal” and started a whole new plan. Used church fuel’s ministry plan template. Spent 3 months developing and rolling out a completely revamped ministry plan. The staff is off the charts excited. Our people are re-engaging in new ways. Giving is up. In-person attendance is increasing. Online attendance is gaining momentum. Hang in there. Better days are ahead. Pray and seek. Love and bless. Go and do.”

Change Your Staff Retreat Agenda to Suit Your Needs

The perfect staff meeting usually includes components from each of these five areas.

  1. Spiritual Formation
  2. Leadership Development
  3. Team Building
  4. Looking Back
  5. Looking Ahead

But sometimes, you might need to throw out the perfect agenda and focus on just one or two activities.  

For example, in a normal year, this agenda might hit the sweet spot. But coming through all you’ve been through, you might prayerfully decide what your team needs most is a focus on emotional or spiritual health. It might be more important for you to rest and refresh rather than plan and advance.

Know your people. And pastor your people.

Other churches might find all five things in one event is still too much, choosing to break things into two parts. Something like this might suit your needs:

  • A Retreat focused on spiritual formation, leadership development, and/or team building
  • An Advance focused on evaluating the past and planning for the future

Adapt this agenda to suit your needs. Contextualize this plan to fit your context.

There’s nothing like a great church staff retreat to get people on the same page, excited about the vision and plan for the future, and contributing to a positive team culture.

Use the time to step back FROM the ministry and work ON the ministry.

Free Newsletter

Firestarter: Monthly Tips and Ideas on Church Growth

16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

16 Book Recommendations for Pastors to Read in 2021

Whether you are able to fully open your church doors or not is completely out of your control. The number of digital viewers you can garner and members that will fully engage in the life of your church online will continue to vary. 

In the day-to-day activities of running and leading your church, physically and digitally, most things are out of your hands. Outcomes and results continue to remind you of how not in control you are. 

But you can control how much you invest in your own foundational education by reading various books throughout the year. 

As education and learning have evolved throughout history, books have stood the test of time. Fewer things do a better job of convicting you, teaching you more about yourself, and shifting your once stubborn perspective quite like the right book read at the right time. 

Coming out of a year as chaotic as 2020, there’s likely a lot of anxiety to settle, trauma to unpack, and practical leadership guidance needed to lead your church well in 2021. We compiled a list of books we believe will prepare your heart and inform how you strategize in the year ahead. 

Each text spans different topics, subject matter, tone, and author background which is intentional on our part. 

And each book will provoke you toward new actions, fresh strategy, and create a solid ground to stand upon as you lead your church in the new year.   

#1 – When Breath Becomes Air 

Author Paul Kalanithi writes a deeply inspiring and shockingly honest memoir that attempts to answer the question, “What is a life worth living?” 

He writes the entire book in the face of his own mortality as he suffers from stage IV lung cancer. Confronted with death he pens a beautiful reflection on the value of life. 

This book will remind you of your own humanity and the fragility of life itself. It will point you to the very giver of life and breath, and as a personal writer’s note, it will make sure you hug your spouse extra tight. 

#2 – God and the Pandemic 

You may want to escape the global pandemic and you’re likely suffering from “COVID Fatigue” along with everyone else. 

But as a leader of the church, it’s necessary to formulate responses to this global health crisis and its aftermath. 

Classically gentle yet firm, N.T. Wright sheds light on Scripture and how it guides our thinking on what this pandemic means, what God has to say about it, and how we can recover moving forward. 

In less than 80 pages, this book will reveal exactly how Jesus would speak into this situation, its consequences, and its implications. 

Read this book and you’ll be as Peter and John were to the Romans.

“Surely they have been with Christ.” 

#3 – Start With Why

Third most popular TED Talk of all time? 

There’s a reason for that and it’s backed up by one of Simon Sinke’s original works, Start With Why

Throughout the book, Sinek investigates how certain organizations and historical figures, though entirely unrelated, are more influential, more profitable, and more successful than others.

As the title foreshadows, it all starts with “why” and every principle in this book can be applied to how you lead your church. 

Staff members, volunteers, and your congregation will not buy into any direction, vision, or message unless they understand the “why” behind it. 

Make that idea a guiding principle in your leadership this year by reading this book. 

#4 – Dream Big

When you’re a kid, you dream big. But somewhere along the way, fear tends to take the wheel. 

Bob Goff’s third literary installment will remove fear from the driver’s seat and put you back into the driver’s seat. 

As a pastor, you have big, beautiful ambitions for your church. 2021 is the year that those ambitions finally come to life. 

Based on his wildly popular (and successful) Dream Big Workshops, Bob will walk you through a life-proven framework with practical steps that will turn the biggest dreams you have for your church into a reality for you and your community.  

No more hiding your own dreams from yourself. This book can alter the course of your life and your church for the good of the Kingdom!

#5 – Seeing Jesus From The East

The late Ravi Zacharias did so much to bring the powerful message of Christ into the complex conversations of apologetics, world religions, and geopolitics. 

Seeing Jesus From the East is one of his faster reads, but that doesn’t vandalize the integrity of the message. 

Living in the western world, it’s easy to forget—even as a pastor—the Eastern roots of Jesus. To fix your eyes on Jesus is, in reality, to fix your gaze to the East. 

This book will undoubtedly freshen your perspective on the parables you have shared for years and round your approach to the Scriptures as a whole. You’ll have no choice but to remember not just who Jesus is, but where He is from.

#6 – Atomic Habits

Do you think pursuing your New Year’s Resolutions will go differently this year? 

It’s okay to admit that they won’t. 

With Atomic Habits, Author and blogger James Clear will take your eyes off of goals and set them on daily habits that can create massive improvements in your life. 

As one of the world’s leading experts on habit formation, Clear reveals practical strategies that will teach you how to break bad habits, form good ones, and master the little behaviors that create astronomical results. 

Instead of setting yourself up for failure with lofty goals and unfair expectations, spend 2021 making tiny 1% improvements each day that lead to your ultimate success. 

You and your church will be better off!

#7 – Necessary Endings 

Sometimes life demands that progress stems from ending things instead of starting them. 

Put a clear stop to relationships, activities, and personal perceptions that stunt the very growth in your church that you’re trying to foster. 

Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings will challenge you to achieve the personal and professional growth your heart desires by following through with the tough decisions. 

Decisions you don’t want to make and that scare the daylights out of you.  

To not put an end to the right things could put an end to your church. Read this book and put its guidance into action. 

#8 – Deep Work

Imagine a workday completely free of any distractions from social media, email, and random interruptions. 

Cal Newport’s book gives you the tools you need to live in a distraction-free world where you execute deep work day in and day out. If Atomic Habits is an appetizer, Deep Work is the main course.

It’s easy to feel like your life and therefore your work is dictated by distractions. Your screen is bombarded with advertisements and click-bait. 

The intense regimen and call to deep work in this book will ensure that your days are full of productive work that has a deep impact on the world around you. 

Read this book to make 2021 the year of influencing your surroundings instead of another year of letting your surroundings influence you. 

#9 – Loonshots

If you’re tired of team dynamics within your church stifling the growth of your church or the execution of plans, then this is the book for you. 

In Loonshots, Safi Bachal explores and explains the science of phase transitions and how it causes groups of people to suddenly reject what they previously embraced. 

Using an engaging and witty narrative, Bachal is able to unveil the behaviors that cause teams of people to change their behavior and derail an organization’s mission in the process. 

There are structures you can put in place within your own church that will keep everybody aligned on the same mission and this book will teach you how to do that. 

#10 – Ruthless Elimination Of Hurry 

If you have felt the desperate need to slow down over the past 9 months, you are not alone. 

Actually, if you have felt the need to slow down at all over the past 10 years, you are not alone. The evolving digital world can easily make you feel surrounded by damage and destruction. 

And that causes you to hurry from problem to problem, achievement to achievement. 

This is the pain and the problem John Mark Comer address in his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

Instead of using illusive inspiration as a bandaid for exhaustion, Comer uses sound truth as a salve for your wounds. 

In this book, he reminds you who you are meant to be and provides the roadmap you need to stay emotionally and spiritually healthy in our increasingly chaotic world. 

#11 – Tattoos On The Heart

It’s unfortunate that the past few years have politicized the phrase “lead with compassion.”

Because empathy and compassion are not political characteristics. They’re gospel characteristics. 

Gregory Boyle’s book Tattoos On The Heart serves as a joyful reminder of what God’s compassion looks like when played out here on earth. 

If you want to laugh and cry in one sitting, we cannot recommend this book enough. It’s not exactly Boyle’s compassion that will compel you to lead in the same way, but the stories he shares. 

#12 – The Freedom Of Self Forgetfulness

Everything in our world today makes it seem acceptable to connect every experience and every conversation to ourselves. 

In this super short (49 pages) pamphlet, Timothy Keller shatters right through that very idea. Keller argues that a heart supernaturally changed by God is neither self-hating nor self-loving. 

It is radiantly self-forgetful. 

Drawing from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, this short pamphlet will rock your world and the way you perceive yourself in it. 

If you want the gift of rest in 2021, first give yourself the gift of self-forgetfulness. 

#13 – Liturgy of Politics

Turn on any TV or open any social media feed and you’ll hear or read about the political division in our country. 

Your church has a role to play in the reconciliation and unification that God has in store for the coming years. 

Kaitlyn Schiess’ book Liturgy of Politics offers practical guidance on how to navigate the choppy waters where church and state collide.

Throughout the book, Schiess’ makes you aware of how your church’s politics are often shaped by practices and habits that you’re not even aware of. 

This book will make you aware of the political forces surrounding your church and offers historical Christian context to shape the conversation moving forward. 

#14 – Prayer: How Praying Together Shapes The Church

It’s no secret that in general, our houses of prayer have become houses of programs. 

In his thought-provoking and convicting book, John Onwuchekwa reminds you that prayer is as necessary to the Christian, and therefore the church, as breath is to the human body.

Prayer is often encouraged in the personal lives of congregants but less often practiced in the local church. 

This one book can turn prayer into the very lifeblood of your church and how your community comes together in 2021. 

#15 – Gilead

You are divinely wired for story, so we couldn’t make a whole list without including a few fiction stories. 

Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead is the type of captivating story that will move you to tears and to dancing all at once. 

She elegantly tells the story of America, our America, through an intimate tale of three generations of fathers and sons. The characters are wrestling with the spiritual battles and changing of times that still rage against us today. 

Read this book for a narrative that will fill any void you have felt throughout this year of discourse. 

#16 – Let The Trumpet Sound

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is often reduced to a handful of quotes on the third Monday in January. This pastor, author, and leader had a complicated life that left a lasting impact on our world. 

In this authorized biography, Stephen B. Oates examines the whole man and challenges you to see our current challenges in a new light.

Biographies are always a good way of altering the way we allow the past, and past figures, to shape our outlook on the present. 

Let this heavily researched book on one of America’s heroes deeply inform and even challenge the way you view the varying tensions in our world today. 

If one of your New Year’s Resolutions was to start your own personal library, this may be your launching pad. 

Read one or a collection of any of these books and witness God move in and through you in ways you’ve never expected.

Take the Next Step

The Pastor's Book Club brings pastors and church leaders notes, summaries, and action steps from the best business and leadership books.

Ministry insights can come from anywhere, and business books are an untapped source of wisdom.

Pastors and church leaders are often well versed in Bible study, theology, and ministry, but are ill-equipped to lead an organization. That’s why The Pastor’s Book Club focuses on bringing the best ministry insights from world-class business leaders.  

How Pastors Can Kickstart Momentum for 2021

How Pastors Can Kickstart Momentum for 2021

Dedicating your life to the ups and downs of vocational ministry is like locking yourself onto a roller coaster of energized and exhausted. The life of a pastor or full-time church staff member is high on exhausting effort and low on immediate gratification. 

And whether you’re a megachurch pastor or a one-person operation at a smaller rural church, preaching on Sundays is not your only job. You’re likely wrapping up another year that required burning the candle at multiple ends. 

Aside from the regular duties of planning sermons, meeting with members of your community throughout the week, and overseeing volunteers, 2020 also forced you to migrate everything your church does online, find ways to reach new people in the digital world, navigate political tensions, and avoid contracting a potentially life-threatening virus. 

All while being the steady head among a sea of people losing their minds. On any given Sunday in any given year, we’d understand if you were running on fumes by early or late November. 

But in 2020, we’d be shocked if you have an ounce of energy left. We know you’re exhausted. 

With Christmas season lurking around the corner and a brand new year rushing right behind it, it’s easy to feel like you need a week off to recharge and prepare. If not a whole sabbatical. 

But rest isn’t going to solve the issue. 

A retreat to a quiet cabin will feel nice and solitude will surely reconnect you with the heart of the Lord. But it won’t give you what you need to make it through 2021 without fizzling out toward the end. 

You need momentum. 

It’s like a Dave Ramsey Debt Snowball, but for bringing your yearly vision to life and ending the year with more energy than you started with—the kind that will supercharge the start of a new year and grow with each passing day in 2021.

It’s time to break the vicious cycle of resting, working yourself dry, resting, repeat. Vision doesn’t spring to life and churches struggle to flourish when that’s the norm. 

You struggle to flourish when that’s the norm. 

Jump-start your year and maintain your emotional capacity to pastor a church with joy by doing these three things that will kickstart and sustain your momentum in 2021.

#1 – Move your body every day. No matter what.  

Start the year by taking your attention off of lofty resolutions and honing in on small daily practices and rhythms. 

These lead to small daily wins that build into a massively successful year. 

Too often, pastors burn out halfway through the year because they fail to unplug from their responsibilities and plug into their personal relationship with God. Yet we wonder year in and year out why we’re stuck in a never-ending loop of exhausted, refreshed, exhausted, refreshed, exhausted again. 

There’s certainly a place for vacation and taking extended time off to meet your needs. But in order to create and sustain momentum, you need to develop the regular habit of unplugging.

Making time for a 20-minute uninterrupted, undisturbed walk or exercise every day is a huge way to do that. No phones, no meetings, no company. This is your time to do an audit of your thought life, reflect on what happened yesterday, and look forward to what God has in store today. 

And just like author, speaker, and former Head of Global Sales at Disney, Dave Hollis, says, “Moving your body will change your mind.” 

Even Matthew McConaughey, the coolest guy on earth, said in his recent Joe Rogan interview that he has to move his body in the morning to get his thoughts in order. His thoughts are disorganized before and feel perfectly lined up when he is finished. 

When we asked our Church Fuel members if they have a daily exercise discipline, the responses certainly lined up: 

Creating new habits is difficult. Unhealthy habits are hard to break. But you can kick start your year with the healthy habit of unplugging from the world and moving your body. 

For help with starting new habits, James Clear writes in his book Atomic Habits,

“All big things come from small beginnings. The seed of every habit is a single, tiny decision. But as that decision is repeated, a habit sprouts and grows stronger. Roots entrench themselves and branches grow. The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us. And the task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.”

If you need guidance or accountability cultivating the delicate flower of a good, daily habit, consider our Church Fuel membership that gives you access to our incredible ministry coaches. 

Each coach holds their full-time position as a pastor for their church, so they know exactly what you are going through. They can not only walk you through starting this year off with a new habit, but they can walk WITH you as you do it. 

If you want to show up to work every single day of 2021 with enough mental real estate available to build healthy momentum in your church, start each day by unplugging from the world and moving your body for 20 minutes. 

#2 – Use. A. Planner. Please.

How many times have you started the week with intentionality and by the end of the week had accomplished nothing and were still unprepared for Sunday? 

Likely too many times to count. 

As a pastor and vocational minister, you need a planner. Not solely to keep you on track and organize your year, but to serve as a prayerful reminder of what is important and what will contribute to your overall mission in the church. 

There are plenty of planners and calendars out there that promote productivity and will challenge you to start the year with momentum and end the year with momentum. 

Jon Acuff’s Finish calendar is a really unique, helpful calendar for people who are big on achieving goals. 

The calendar is one big flow chart as opposed to a book of pages so it makes your year feel more fluid. People have accomplished things like building their own business and running their first marathon using his calendar. 

For a daily planner, Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner has helped thousands of people achieve a fulfilling year from wire to wire.  

Michael’s planner has helped business leaders break their gigantic vision into small bite-sized tasks that are manageable and achievable every day. 

But pastoring a church and leading a church staff is a whole different ball game. The playbook for productivity and success is different. There are issues in the church world that can derail your entire year that would never arise in the day to day life of a business person. 

If your planner is not church specific, you’ll have to bend it as best you can to fit your regular schedule. 

What may help you most is a planner made by pastors for pastors. A planner that emphasizes momentum being the key contributor to your overall success in 2021.

Our Pastor’s Planner ensures that the demands of ministry won’t keep you from doing the actual ministry. Each page is digital so you can print one page a week, print all 52 at once, or keep everything online so your backpack isn’t stuffed with yet another book. 

Whichever way you decide to organize your weeks and your entire year is up to you. And you should pick the option that works best for your personality and style.

To plan every week with purpose, get our 2021 Pastor’s Planner here. 

If you want deeper instruction on how to set 2021 up for success, watch this exclusive replay of our training on Creating a Strategic 2021 Ministry Plan

Use these resources to keep your momentum on track throughout the new year. 

#3 – Control what you can control 

Nothing will bring your momentum to a screeching halt faster than worrying about things that are outside of your control. 

When your focus is on the various things going wrong in the world, or even in your own community, your mind panics. 

And when you panic, you stop working and start worrying. Every moment spent worrying about things beyond your control is a moment you could have spent working in your ministry. 

Think back to the beginning of COVID. Your church and every other church that wanted to stay afloat had to move the bulk of their in-person ministry online. 

The churches that chose to panic instead of pivot ended up sinking. 

Brian Beauford helped his church in Boston control what they could control by starting up weekly webinars as a form of community outreach when meeting in-person was flat out not an option. 

Hear more about how Brian decided to focus on what he could control by listening to his episode on our podcast here. 

Look outside of the church world and into the restaurant industry. During a year when eating out is heavily regulated, restaurants, have been faced with a choice:

  1. Let COVID and all of its chaos control their destiny
  2. Control what they can control and command their destiny

Restaurants that threw in the towel early were forced to close their doors for good. 

Restaurants like Canlis Restaurant in Seattle decided to control what they could control. Overnight, they transformed from an iconic fine dining restaurant to a drive-through burger stand so they could stay in business, keep their employees employed, and feed the surrounding community. 
At one point along the way, they started hosting drive-in movie nights in their parking lot!

Currently, they are joyfully still in business and serving the community around them. You can hear more about their story on Donald Miller’s Building a Storybrand Podcast here

No matter what 2021 decides to throw your way, control what you can control. Be stubborn on your vision and flexible on your strategy so you can stay laser-focused on the impact that is directly within your control. 

Try and control what you can’t control and you’ll fail. Every single time. 

Put all three of these little things together and pursue the small wins so that you can generate unbelievable momentum throughout the year.

You’ll kickstart your momentum in 2021 and never have to pause, catch your breath, or look back.

A Sermon Series to Help Your People Reset

A Sermon Series to Help Your People Reset

Whether your church is beginning to meet in person again or your plans to reopen are still underway, one thing is for sure.

People have experienced a lot of disruptive changes.

For many, it feels like a time of wandering in the wilderness, just waiting to return to some sense of normal.

For others, it’s a time to reevaluate everything and focus on what’s most important.

The local church is a place people can turn to for help, support, advice, and truth. We want your church to be the voice of hope, encouraging people through tough times but preparing them for what’s ahead.

And while there is much to lament and still much concern for the future, both churches and people can use this time to reset many areas in life.

That’s one reason we put together this three-part sermon series themed around the word “Reset.” It’s a look at how the early church focused on their mission after a time of great chance. It’s a study through the first few chapters of the book of Acts, helping people build new rhythms and fresh community.

We’ve put together everything you need to do this series in your church, including…

  • Sermon Graphics
  • PowerPoint Slides
  • Message Notes and Outlines
  • Promotional Assets

It’s great for when you reopen the doors.  But you can use it whenever you feel like your people are truly ready for a reset.

Here’s a look at the first week in the sermon series.

Week 1: Reset the Church

Text: Acts 1:1-12

Topic(s): Waiting, Reset, Movement, Patience, The Holy Spirit

Big Idea of the Message: Setting things back to the way they are supposed to be.

Application Point: Discover where the Holy Spirit wants to direct you in this reset.

God specializes in resetting. Throughout the scriptures we see God resetting His people. We see it from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We see it with Noah and with Moses. The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus…a reset. Resetting is what God does best. The good news is the resetting is always for our benefit and for His glory. Sometimes the opportunity to reset is grace. Our struggle is that we always want to go back to the familiar instead of into the unknown. But resets are not about going back to the normal comforts of what we knew, but instead, a reset puts things back to the way they are supposed to be. As followers of Jesus, we have to move in the direction that God is leading us instead of moving back to where we use to be. We have to reset.

What if we were as intentional about the community we help create outside the church as we were cultivating within the Church?

This three-week sermon bundle is a part of the Rebound Course from Church Fuel, which gives you a full game plan to lead your church to bounce back so you can move forward.  There’s practical help for church services and weekend activities, strategic advice for what happens throughout the week, and a plan to keep church finances healthy.

You can get the Rebound Course here.

Because our members get everything, this sermon series is included for all Church Fuel members in addition to all of our other premium courses and 150+ documents and templates in our Resource Library. At $45/month with no contracts, this is a great option for most churches.

Join Church Fuel here.

3 Tips for Managing Your Church’s Volunteer Staff

3 Tips for Managing Your Church’s Volunteer Staff

Many churches we work with have paid staff members, and all of them have volunteers who function like full-time staff.  

Your volunteers are often the most needed yet most neglected group in your church. 

Not because you’re intentionally neglecting them. It simply takes more than free donuts on Sunday at 5 am for them to feel noticed and cared for. They may not be your paid staff, but they still need to be managed. 

It’s the lack of management that makes your volunteer team a revolving door instead of a solid, thriving team of people excited to contribute to the work of the church. 

While managing your volunteer staff may feel awkward, it doesn’t take an MBA or an extra class at seminary to do it well. 

So, save the extra tuition money and follow these three tips for free. 

#1 – Recognize Your Volunteers Have A Whole Other Job in Writing 

Your 8-5 job is working for your church (as well as your night job—we know). 

But before your volunteers come to fulfill their volunteer duties, the majority of them spend 40 hours per week or more at a whole other job. 

Volunteering their time and talents for your church is definitely a priority, but they still have to do their full-time job to keep the lights on and the mortgage paid.

So, when a volunteer no-shows the Tuesday night meeting or the 5 am Thursday meeting, it’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they have already worked a whole day and have kids with five games and thirty piano lessons before the sun goes down. 

Don’t assume they aren’t committed. Assume they’re pursuing the family time that you have likely preached on a time or two.

If you’re willing to be flexible on time, your volunteers will be flexible in return. 

And flexibility will precede grace when time commitments change or fall through altogether. 

To set the standard and make your volunteers feel relief from the get-go, send them a quick handwritten note recognizing that they have full-time career commitments at their place of work. 

From the start, they won’t feel neglected. 

#2 – Clarify What Each Person Needs to Do

Without clarity, there will always be confusion. 

Confusion on a volunteer team leads to the wrong job getting done, jobs being done incorrectly, jobs not getting done on time whether they are right or wrong, and frustration on both sides. 

Frustrated volunteers will quit and take their talents elsewhere.  

Get ahead of frustration with clarity. Clearly define what each volunteer team needs to do and clarify what each person on that team needs to do in order to contribute. 

Be clear on expectations and role descriptions. 

“Make dinner on Wednesday nights,” will not serve you or your volunteers well. 

“Smoke brisket for the men’s group that meets in the fellowship hall at 6 o’clock on Wednesday night,” will get the right volunteers in the right place at the right time. 

This may take extra work and thought on the front end but will develop thriving volunteer members and teams in the long run. 

If you want to save the extra work, we have excellent role description templates you can find here. Download as many as you’d like so you can relieve your stressed volunteers with clarity as soon as possible. 

#3 – Let Every Volunteer Know What to Expect From You

Unsaid expectations are unmet expectations. 

It’s easy to let a volunteer know what you expect from them, but it’s uncomfortable and challenging to let your volunteers know what to expect from you. 

We have seen many pastors express anxious feelings resulting from volunteers swamping them with questions and needs while there are church members to meet with, facilities to take care of, sermons to plan, and various other time-consuming duties that come with being a pastor. 

Unsaid expectations are unmet expectations. 

You have the ability to fix it. It is not your volunteers’ fault or their responsibility to change it if you have not set an expectation of what you can give them.  

When people join your volunteer staff, give them a uniform set of expectations for the jobs you can help them with, how much time you have during the week to communicate, and who the point of contact is for duties you do not have a responsibility for. 

This way, each volunteer knows what is expected of them and what they can expect of YOU. 

Like the rest of your congregation, your volunteer staff should always feel known and loved. 

A huge part of knowing and loving them will be equipping them for success using these three tips to manage them well.

Take the Next Step

If you want further help managing your volunteer teams, we have a course dedicated solely to volunteers. Join Church Fuel to take The Volunteer Course.

This insanely practical course is designed to help you recruit, train, and shepherd healthy volunteers who will meet your church's needs and increase your impact on the community.

What Church Staff Say They Need Right Now

What Church Staff Say They Need Right Now

“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.

Firestarter Newsletter

Join 30,000+ pastors and get ideas, resources and tools from our free, bi-weekly newsletter.

FireStarter is the free church growth newsletter from Church Fuel for pastors who want to lead a healthy and growing church. Fill out this form and we’ll make sure you receive it. Your privacy is protected and you can opt out anytime.