Church Management

I’ve been thinking about church management lately.  That has been prompted partly by staffing changes at my own church, but also by some discussions we’ve had in the Foundation office recently.  Just in general, it’s a topic I find interesting, in large part because the bulk of my working life has been spent working in non-profit management in some form, and church management is a form of non-profit management.

I entered the world of non-profit management by way of community theater.  I started volunteering for the local community theater when I was in high school.  When I finished graduate school and knew I wasn’t going to be the next great opera star, I came home and needed to find a job.  There was an opening at the theater as the Assistant to the Producer.  I applied for it, got it, and spent the next nine years learning how to manage a theater company.

Arts management and church management have a lot in common. Arts organizations and churches both start with the desire to meet a need, artistic or spiritual (possibly the same thing). They are generally started by people who want to engage in an artistic or spiritual practice, not by people who want to manage organizations.  Which can work, up to a point.

Take the theater I worked for. It started in 1936. At that time, Salem College let it use space on their campus, so they had no concerns about rent or maintenance. But think about what happens as a theater group performs. They begin to accumulate costumes and props. They build sets and start to think about reusing pieces instead of building anew for each production. That means they need space for storage. They start charging admission. Someone needs to collect and account for the money and maintain the bank accounts and pay the bills. Who does that?  The quality of their performances starts to improve, and they want the production quality to rise as well. They start to hire designers. Who chooses them, prepares the contracts, and makes sure they do the work and then get paid?

Organizations grow, and as they grow, they become more complex and the work involved in managing them grows. All too often, nobody ever looks at the organization as a whole and tries to determine what kind of organizational structure it needs.

Another thing that arts organizations and churches have in common is that the majority of them have small staffs.  The theater I worked for had – at that time – three full-time employees and three to six part-time employees, along with program-specific contractors and lots of volunteers.  Only three of the employees – two full-time and one part-time - were administrators.  That meant that those three had to handle all of the business aspects of running a small company – accounting and financial reporting, personnel management, marketing and development, IT, communications, and general organizational management. That was in addition to the administrative part of organizing productions, including scheduling, hiring, and oversight, which required a working knowledge of all aspects of theater.  Somebody has to do all the things that any small business requires, and when an organization has a small number of people, those people need to have multiple skill sets.

When I was in school, there were no programs to train arts managers.  That has changed.  Church management has lagged behind, but there’s now a program at Villanova University in which you can earn a Master of Science in Church Management.  I was intrigued by the classes included in the curriculum. 

Any two-year master’s program only has room for so many classes.  This program includes 11 classes.  They are (bearing in mind that Villanova is a Catholic university, so there is a slant toward managing Catholic churches built into the program):

  • Introduction: Leadership in Religious Organizations/Organizational Ethics/Catholic Thought- Villanova's Leadership Challenge; behavioral dimension of managerial action  and decision making; ethical responsibilities of managers; making the connection between one's faith and one's job; theology of administration; role of the laity; Catholic Social Thought.
  • Civil Law and Church Law for Church Administrators- Civil law issues (e.g., labor law, liability law, contract law); Church law, including Catholic Church canon law and a variety of other denominational legal documents.
  • Introduction to Effective Church Communications and Outreach- Systematic and analytic study of Communication process for churches and religious institutions; understanding identification and connection with both existing Church members as well as unaffiliated community members; framework to evaluate, describe, and design communication activities; decision-oriented overview of communication management.
  • Stewardship and Development- Presenting the stewardship message; factors affecting individuals' decision to contribute time or money to their church; volunteer recruitment, training, performance appraisal, and retention.
  • Financial Reporting and Controls- Financial and managerial accounting; understanding financial statements; controls over accounting and financial reporting processes; budgeting, performance measurement, and relevant cost analysis.
  • Human Resource Management in a Ministry Setting- Roles and functions within the structure of the organization employee compensation and benefits; developing job descriptions; establishing performance goals; evaluating and rewarding performance; employee recruitment and training; background checks; human resource policies regarding grievances and appeals.
  • Organizational Management- Parish as a system; group processes; organizational processes; shared problem solving and decision-making; change management; team building; conflict management; utilizing advisory councils; roles of communication and social skills; conducting meetings; communication networks.
  • Information Technology- Spreadsheets and databases; information ethics and security; managing information technology; information systems development; managing IT-related organizational change; use of local area networks; evaluating computer hardware and software; creating and maintaining web sites.
  • Church Teaching and Belief- Ecclesiology; Scripture; Church documents; liturgy and sacraments; Christology; ecumenism/inter-faith relations.
  • Pastoral Strategic Planning- Identifying complex problems; organizing, structuring, analyzing pertinent information; formulating and evaluating alternative actions and prescribing specific programs; vision and mission statements; goals and objectives; appreciative inquiry; program and project planning.
  • Contemporary Topics- Application of themes developed in curriculum to analyze contemporary management issues faced by churches.

I took the time to list these classes and their descriptions because I think it’s important to see how very well they’ve designed this program to have a balance between spiritual needs and business needs.  For example, the class title is not Human Resource Management.  It’s Human Resource Management in a Ministry Setting.  If you look at the description of Stewardship and Development, it doesn’t just talk about money, it also includes volunteer recruitment, training, performance appraisal, and retention.  Under Organizational Management, they talk about the parish as a system – just how we need to think when assessing management needs.  And I have to say that in the Introduction class, I love that they include the ethical responsibilities of managers, making the connection between one's faith and one's job, and the theology of administration.  Those are phrases I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in print before.

This curriculum can serve as a good starting point for discussions about where your church is and what it needs in terms of organizational management.  What skills are missing in your organization?  What does “running a church like a business” really mean?  What are the ethical responsibilities you face when you assume a leadership role in your church?  Who are the right people, with the right collection of skills that you need to have involved – either as employees or as volunteers – in managing your church?  And who has the ultimate responsibility?  These are all important questions for any organization, but crucial for something as important in people’s lives as their church.