Did you go to freshman orientation? New job orientation? There are a lot of places and jobs and associations which require some kind of orientation. But what kind of orientation do we do in the church? New member catechism classes. What else?

No question that teaching the faith is a priority. We are talking about eternal consequences here. But what else is important to convey, and if we don’t teach it, what will be unintentionally taught?

Co-workers and others in the organization will not be shy to let the newbie know: “Don’t let anyone catch you doing that.” “That’s not how we do things around here.” “What are you doing going home so early?” “Who said you can do that?” It goes on and on. What we are talking about is learning the corporate culture: what is important and what is not, who to please and who to avoid, what we should really do and what we really shouldn’t do.

The same things are “communicated” in the church. There is a lot being taught about the way we operate “around here.” Some ministries are oddly lacking. Sometimes the same people seem to do everything. New people need not apply. There’s always that “mood” at meetings. People seem to be overly concerned about certain people and things. There is a “corporate culture” even in the church. Another way to describe it is that it is the personality of the church. So in reality there is more that shapes and influences things than what we usually teach in new member classes. Now the practical question is: what are you as the leader going to do about it?

Much of the time we just ignore it and hope the negative things will go away. We work hard, try to be nice and over time hope that things will improve. But does that really work? Not really. Can we always correct things after the negativity shows itself? Not always. So is there a way we can get ahead of the bad attitudes and actions and behaviors before they infect the church culture? How about being more proactive?

There are a number of opportunities to pause for some valuable “orientation” to teach and reinforce the practical norms and values in the life of the church: When people join whether they be transfers in or new believers. When people are first time volunteer servants on boards or committees. Before key events, after event debriefs, and really, practically at any meeting of the church.

Ugh. Another meeting? Another thing on the to do list? Yes. Because this is something that will make your life easier in the long run. It will increase a healthy culture of the congregation. It will keep problems small. It will really make a long term difference.

What are some needed ingredients for a strong orientation to your congregation?

  1. Get clear about what is really important. What are your corporate values? What are the desired behaviors that should result from what we say we believe? What really annoys you that people seem to accept and tolerate but you know needs to change? Include the positive opposite to the list as preferred behaviors. List things that are important such as the reason why you even exist and what is required to live out that purpose that is unique for your ministry.
  2. Identify orientation opportunities: New member class, prior to the annual board or committee or officer installation service, before VBS or Sunday School rally day for teachers, Before the fall push for your staff, etc.
  3. Next, communicate clearly (member, lay leader, Sunday School, staff, etc) the attitudinal and behavioral as well as the doctrinal expectations.
  4. For example: modeling regular attendance, modeling defending, speaking well of, forgiving  other members, first fruits giving, attitudes of servanthood, sharing the faith and inviting others to church, raising up new leaders, and so on.
  5. Consider new member, teacher, lay leader covenants upholding these values, behaviors and teachings. Involve those who will sign it in the design and compilation of the list. This will more than likely increase buy in and probably give you some good things to include that you didn't think about before asking for their input.
  6. Acknowledge that there may be long time members who do not always follow these things so tell them that we are modeling this for the whole church.
  7. Celebrate and publicly recognize and give thanks to God for those who live out these behaviors as role models. This will further reinforce, remind and strengthen those things.

People will upgrade their behaviors when the expectations are high and people sense that others have confidence in them. People also appreciate clear priorities, boundaries and expectations. Intentionally add more orientation to your scheduled to avoid confusion and add more focus. This act of leadership will proactively avoid trouble and energize people for mission. It will also signal that you aren’t just playing church, you are serious about being the church.

Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"

Leadership & Orientation

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