Are they supposed to know what they’re doing?
A few years ago, I had lunch with a few friends.  One of them had been pastoring for about two years, and had reached his (first) breaking point in ministry.  “What on earth happened?” I asked, after he had stated he was ready to kick everybody out and start all over with a whole new group of members. After he exploded into an uncharacteristically emotional tirade, I read between the lines of his rant and asked in slight disbelief “are you saying that all this is because your ushers look a mess and don’t know what they’re doing?” After he laughed and agreed that this was indeed the problem, I asked him “well, are they supposed to know what they’re doing?

You can’t measure up if you’ve never seen the yard stick.
One thing I’ve noticed lacking in many small churches is the ever-existent failure to clearly communicate and train ministry workers. If you’ve ever had a job, even as a paperboy, you know that the employer will communicate what his expectations are of the person he hires to fill this role in the job posting and reiterate it during the interview. After an offer is extended and accepted, you typically begin a period of training and/or orientation.  They tell you what you can and can’t wear, what time you should arrive, what you should do, what reports are due on which days, how to answer your phone, etc. And they tell you what the consequences are for failing to perform up to their standard.  Usually within 90 days, and periodically thereafter, your performance is evaluated to give you and your supervisor a clear picture of how you measure up to their expectations.

Small churches rarely do this. What we do instead is put people in positions, assume they know how to do what we’re asking them to do (and will do it with excellence), expect them to learn by watching, and complain about them when they don’t measure up. What we do is set them up to fail, which really sucks. I mean, really, who wants to be a failure… AT CHURCH?? It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Well, I’m not really a “new” pastor. My people are already settled comfortably in their positions. How do I correct this?

I knew you would ask that. And guess what? I have an answer for you, and it’s a simple one.

Expect. The first thing you’ll need to do is determine what it is you expect from those who serve in the particular capacity. In my friend’s situation, I asked him to tell me what he expects of the ushers (well-groomed, punctual, kind, attentive, helpful, good posture, in uniform, prepared, etc.). List everything from personality characteristics, to skills, to anointing, to specific tasks, attire, conduct, etc.

Evaluate. Then, list those who serve in this capacity, and evaluate them against these standards. A simple “check, check plus, check minus” will do. Or you can use a scale of 1 to 5 or letter grades. Whatever works for you.

Categorize. Separate them into three groups: (1) those who can and do perform well, (2) those who can, but don’t perform well, and (3) those who can’t and don’t perform well. (Now I know church folks don’t like the word “can’t” and are gonna want to pull Phil 4:13 on me. I get that. But umm, not everyone “can” sing on the praise team and not everyone “can” usher. Got me? Good). Now remember the categories, we’re going to come back to it in a minute.

Communicate. Next, make sure everyone knows what is expected of them in detail. And, make sure everyone is clear on what the consequences are for failing to perform. Keep it simple and give it to them in writing, to ensure there are no… uhh… “misunderstandings.” Review it with them and allow them space to ask questions.

Classify. Remember those who fell in the 3rd category? The ones who just don’t fit in? Direct them to a specific person in an area of ministry where they would be a better fit. Or if your church has one, refer them to the appropriate person who can help them determine what ministry area in which they may be a better fit.

Coach. Remember the ones who fell in the 2nd category? They’re the ones who would probably do well if they knew what was expected of them. After communicating the expectations, you should coach them to success. Give them regular feedback (constructive criticism and commendations) as frequently as possible.

Evaluate. Yes, I know I said that already.That’s because it’s important to formally and continually evaluate ministry workers’ performance on an ongoing basis. People want to know how they’re doing. Schedule periodic meetings (every 6 or 12 mos.) with each ministry servant to discuss their progress, goals, expectations, roles, strengths, and areas that need improvement.

The bottom line? Most people want to excel. You, the leader, can help.

Questions? Comments? Say so!