Ever visit the circus and wonder why huge elephants stay put with just a small rope tied around one leg? It’s simple: When elephants are young, their handlers use the same size rope tied to their leg, with the other end tied to a rod buried deep in the ground. At that age, since they are still small, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow larger, the elephants become conditioned to believe that when they feel the rope around their leg, they cannot get away, so they never try to break free. Because they believe they can’t, they remain right where they are. They’re going nowhere.
As a church leader, you may find yourself in a similar situation. Despite your best efforts, you are stuck. Understanding the need to improve your church’s systems and processes, you researched options and ultimately selected a Web-Based Church Management Software (ChMS) to empower the ministries of your church. Months or years have flown by. The initial excitement of purchasing the technology has worn off, yet you have not found the level of success you were hoping for and, much like a circus elephant, your church is going nowhere.
Here are five steps you should consider to help move your church from going nowhere fast to fully benefiting from your ChMS.
1. Plan Strategically
Churches often jump into using their ChMS without first undertaking this critical step. Gather your key staff and volunteer leaders and brainstorm. Identify critical short- and long-term goals for what success looks like at your church. Prioritize these goals and create a strategy for moving forward. You can’t improve what you don’t measure, so establish metrics to help you gauge success. Implement your plan, evaluate frequently, and adjust as needed.
An established ChMS provider will have a team available to help you adjust your strategy, build leadership consensus, and create or refine your processes to support your overall vision. Investigate to find out if your ChMS offers this type of help.
2. Intentionally Communicate “Buy-in”
It’s common to hear grumbling from your staff such as, “I can’t get anyone to use this” or “Why can’t I just keep using email and Facebook like I always have?” Leadership buy-in goes way beyond buying a ChMS and expecting everyone to jump on board. There’s no magic in new technology that will inspire people to eagerly work at overcoming the pain of change—even when they know the change will be worth it in the long run.
Be intentional and consistent in painting the big picture “why”. Communicate to all of
your teams how using your ChMS will support their work and will, once fully implemented, make their jobs easier.
3. Provide Accountability
It’s vital to communicate clearly and set proper expectations around usage of your ChMS. Be specific. Work to establish rewards and/or negative consequences to help motivate and inspire your team. When this doesn’t happen, the tyranny of the urgent typically leads people to continue with the status quo and churches go nowhere, operating largely as they were before purchasing their ChMS. You didn’t invest your church’s God-given resources to purchase a digital paperweight, so don’t let your ChMS become one!
A key element of working with your people is to identify “rogue agents” in your church who may intentionally or subconsciously undermine the overall vision with negativity or refusal to change. If not addressed directly, these folks can prevent your church from finding success in effectively implementing your ChMS solution.
4. Invest in Training
It would be foolish to hand over the keys to a new Maserati to your 16 year old and say, “Go to town!” without a significant investment in driver’s education courses and making sure your insurance was maxed out. In the same way, where’s the wisdom in church leaders buying a ChMS, then telling their people to start using it while providing little to no guidance or specific direction?
A ChMS, like any other tool, is only as good as the people who properly and effectively use it. Leaders who find success in using a ChMS equip their team by investing in coaching help to develop and implement a strategic roadmap for moving forward and training for the practical how to’s of using the many features available. Leaders who follow such a plan set themselves up with the best chance of success in using a ChMS to support their ministry efforts and are much less likely to find themselves going nowhere.
5. Verify Before You Jump
It’s common for church leaders to leave their current ChMS provider for a different solution thinking it will be “the answer”, only to learn that the real challenges they have are inside the church. Perhaps they have people in the wrong seats on the bus—or even the wrong people on the bus, such as a Negative Nelly bringing people down, sabotaging efforts, and so on. Or they may be suffering under a considerable lack of direction from leadership. Whatever the particulars, a change of ChMS providers solves nothing. They’ll inevitably drag their current challenges along with them to that new ChMS and wind up wasting time and money, not to mention the relational capital expended putting their team through such an unneeded and stressful change.
If you’re considering leaving your current ChMS, be sure to evaluate carefully the real reasons you’re not finding success. The last thing you want is to go through the brain damage of investigating, paying for, and implementing a new solution, only to find yourself a few months or years later facing the same circumstances that led you to leave your last ChMS.
A Word of Encouragement
There’s no reason your church has to stay where you are— going nowhere. Circus elephants are only held back because they lack understanding. Don’t allow fear or a sense of being overwhelmed at the scope of work needed stop you from improving. Keep in mind the old adage (with apologies to the circus elephants): How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.