Performance Evaluations (Part 1): Using Performance Evaluation in a Church Staffing Context

by Greg Anderson – 

How do you know your church staff members are performing their jobs satisfactorily? Do you base opinion of staff success solely on member feedback or are you more intentional with performance criteria? Have you defined performance criteria? Do you have a set schedule in place to provide feedback to church staff members related to areas where they are succeeding and areas where they need improvement?

For many church staffs, “performance evaluation” is not part of the staffing equation. Perhaps church leaders and members generally assume staff members to be competent, ethical, and trustworthy. Or maybe we feel performance measurement should be reserved for business contexts and not communities of faith. Regardless of why many church leaders do not utilize performance evaluations,  IMP (a division of HOPE Network) proposes they should. We explain why we make this recommendation from the perspective of the staff in this post; and will explore why from the perspectives of the leaders, congregation, and Kingdom in subsequent posts.

Here is a simple but profound truth: People can’t know what they don’t know. Church staff members may assume they are delivering desired outcomes; but in reality, their elders, shepherds, or governing board may have different outcomes in mind. If performance measures were not outlined at the outset of the staff person’s job and if those measures were never subsequently reviewed and updated, then how can the staff person truly know if he or she is meeting leadership expectations?

A job description clarifies performance expectations for both the staff person and the governing board.

Over the years, I have spoken to numerous ministers who were asked to resign or were fired. While some contributed substantially to their own demise, others were told, “We just feel like it’s time for us to go another direction.” No warning. No preparation. No real explanation. One day you have a job and the next day you are looking for one. While such actions are unprofessional, that pales in comparison to the fact that they are ungodly! Sadder still, they may be totally unnecessary. Good performance evaluation mitigates such outcomes and creates proactive solutions to staff development and alignment with organizational goals and desired outcomes. Let’s explore…

Staff members are hired to meet real or perceived needs. Generally, when a position is created a job description is written. The purpose of the job description is to identify necessary competencies and skills required to realize desired outcomes (in other words, to meet the real or perceived needs filled by the position). In essence, the job description clarifies performance expectations for both the staff person and the governing board.

So, if your staff members do not have a job description, work with them to write one. Begin by outlining what you believe the staff member’s job includes and ask staff members to do the same. Be sure to include as many specific job responsibilities as you can think of. Then compare lists. If your lists are very similar, then a good foundation for performance evaluation is already in place. If your lists vary drastically, then you have some communication work to do before you begin evaluating performance.

Once you are in agreement with staff on job responsibilities, you can then begin identifying competencies that are required to fulfill the expectations of the job. This is where it is critical to understand that performance evaluation is not a punishment. Instead, it is a way to coach the staff member: “You are doing a fantastic job in these areas related to the work we expect you to perform,” or, “You work in the particular area is good, but we think there is room for improvement. Let’s explore some options (course work, book study, conference, etc.),” or “Your work has really suffered the past few months. We need to strategically process some ways to increase your ability to meet the expectations for which you were hired.”

People can’t know what they don’t know. Church staff members may assume they are delivering desired outcomes; but in reality, their elders, shepherds, or governing board may have different outcomes in mind.

These are not always easy conversations, but they are “must have” conversations and they should be held every six months at a minimum. The performance evaluation should look back on work through the previous six months and work planned for the next six months. Otherwise, your ministry staff has nothing to reflect on and nothing to shoot for. Done right, a performance evaluation can be a great employee motivator.

It is important to note that some staff may be reluctant to adopt performance evaluation. They may assume implementation means trust levels are low. Quite the contrary!

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