As a key planner for a large national conference, I was used to the host hotel paying attention to me. Sure enough, coming in the door, they told me I was a VIP and their goal was to provide me with the highest level of service and respect. They set a very high vision for an exceptional experience. They appeared to be focused on the goal because they greeted me at the airport and escorted me to my suite. They had left a wonderful cheese tray in the refrigerator with sparkling water to quench my thirst. To raise my expectations and demonstrate they were serious about their vision of excellence they gave me a special phone number and invited me to express my needs at any time. They had my attention. I was pumped! Then… policy and procedure stepped in front and showed who the boss was.

Toward the end of the first day as we were about to walk out the door for dinner, there was a knock on the door. A smiling face said: “Would you like turn-down service?” “Very nice”, I said. “We are heading out to dinner and could actually use a room refresh”. I had lucked out and taken a nap that afternoon and showered before dinner. Horror showed on her face as she said with emphasis, “OH, I can’t make up your bed. I can only turn it down. You will have to call housekeeping and request that service. Most likely I’ll be the one to do it but I have to have paper work.”

Ok, not what I expected but I will following their process. So I called room service. They called me by name and asked how they could exceed my expectation. I told them what I wanted and after a moment she said, “Oh, wait, you are with our VIP service, let me transfer you.” Before I could get a word out the phone began to ring. They answered using my name and ask how they could exceed my expectation. I told them my story and request to which they replied. “We will call housekeeping and take care of that immediately.” When we returned from dinner several hours later, the room was just beginning to be serviced. As the week progressed, the items on my list of process overshadowing vision grew.

The church is not a consumer business, nor should it be. The church is about ministry and service, discipleship and worship. However, I could not help but think of the parallels as I watched their policies and procedure undermine their talk of excellence.

In many congregations, it is history and tradition that shape structure and policy. We establish a rule about facilities use because of some negative experience. We were concerned about ”them” tearing up our building because it happened one time. Then we come to the vision table and dream about great things for the future. We dream of showing hospitality to ”them” (our neighbors) but our old policy stays in place… Procedure outmaneuvers vision.

Often a church has established a personnel policy because of a concern to meet a particular HR need. We failed to notice that laws related to this decision changed two years ago and we have failed to review how it affects our policy. Thus, we continue a process that now puts the congregation outside the boundary of good HR practice and could lead to a staff or legal crisis.

Just like staff alignment should be revisited around vision focus, Policies and Procedure should be revised as renewed vision is cast. Regularly the question should be asked, “What new laws or regulation have been passed that might affect our operation?”Many congregations conduct an annual financial audit, but few have a system to audit and review all procedures and process. Doing so by taking a contrarian approach is a helpful exercise when it is done in the spirit of revising process to support the current mission of the congregation more accurately.

Some questions you might want to ask as you think about your context:

  • Whose responsibility is it to align process and policy with vision?
  • When was the last time a full audit of bylaws and governing document was conducted? Do they help the church meet her current vision or are they a relic of the past?
  • How often do you perform staff evaluations? What is that process?
  • Does your staff have a staff development planning process?
  • What is your process for managing job description modifications?
  • What resources do you use to measure reasonable compensation?
  • What is your background check review schedule for staff and volunteers?
  • What procedures, written or understood, does your congregation need to review and change?

Healthy churches use policies and procedures as tools to drive and serve vision. Make sure when clarifying vision in your current context that you relentlessly align policy and procedure to that vision. Vision should always be in the driver’s seat. Otherwise, policies and procedures will outmaneuver vision.
If you would like to know more about a Policies and Procedures Audit, contact us at CHC.

Phill Martin
Rev. Phill Martin is the Deputy CEO of the National Association of Church Business Administration. Phill’s passion is to engage and connect individuals and organizations to help them reach their maximum potential. He enjoys coaching, teaching, mentoring and connecting people with information and resources. Learn more about Phill Martin. He is a coach and consultant for CHC.