A Chemistry Conversation with Matt Steen & Todd Rhoades
Are our congregations, volunteers, and leadership teams beat up, burned out, and bitter? How do we begin to engage our volunteers and find staff that is agile? What should we start, stop or continue based on what we are learning?
I enjoyed my time with Todd Rhoades, my Chemistry Staffing Co-Founder, and Kelly Norris, our Director of Strategic Initiatives, as we wrestled through these questions and discussed what we're seeing in the church on this side of the pandemic.
THE HARDEST PART OF LEADING CHANGE IS KNOWING WHERE TO START.
RESTRUCTURING PLAYBOOK: A Guidebook for Restructuring Your Church Staff:
The world is changing at a lightning pace these days and it can be hard to keep up, especially in the church. Church leaders know that leading change can be treacherous in the church world and that the hardest part is often knowing where to start. That’s why we have created Chemistry Staffing’s Restructuring Playbook. This playbook will give you the tools you need to analyze your current ministry, determine what works and what doesn’t, and develop a plan to shift your current ministry programming, budget, and staffing to a more effective structure for the season ahead.
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Todd Rhoades: Hey Kelly, how’s it going?
Kelly Norris: Good, good.
Matt Steen: She just said has the honor of having a conversation with us. She never says that when it’s not recording.
Todd Rhoades: No, she doesn’t.
Kelly Norris: Only for the camera, right. Well I just wanted to talk today and get some insight on what you are learning in the church right now. What are you seeing? You’re talking to pastors all the time.
Todd Rhoades: What are you seeing, Matt?
Kelly Norris: I see what you did there, Todd.
Matt Steen: You know, I think we’re learning a few things. I think part of what I’m learning right now is that there’s a lag on who’s coming back. Rich Birch and I, we talked about this a few weeks ago. But what we’re seeing across the church spectrum is the number of people that are engaged and volunteering and really kind of all-in, people that may have been there week in, week out in January 2020 really aren’t as engaged as they were. They may be coming. They may be showing up. They may be volunteering once a month or something like that. /But what we’re hearing a lot of from our churches is that getting people reengaged in that volunteer capacity has seen a significant lag. So I think that’s one of the things that we’re seeing. Some of the language that we’re using around Chemistry lately is that as we look to staff in this new - this is really a new environment, ministry-wise. People are sick of hearing that and all that, but I think it’s true. We’re looking for people that do three things. Because I went to seminary, I have an acronym, right. It’s PAD. We’re looking for people to PAD their staff. They need people that are pastoral. It used to be we were all about the specialists, but we need somebody who has more of a pastoral presence and can come and bring more of that pastoral skillset to the teams that they lead, the people that they work with. We’re looking for people that are agile. That can adapt on the fly. Next time an apocalypse sets in. We’re also looking for developers, people who understand how to develop people, how to recruit, how to get people to really want to engage and really be a significant part of a ministry team. Because frankly, I think that’s a skill that’s been forgotten. I think in a push to systematize everything, we forgot it needs to recruit people when the machine isn’t already going. And so without a developer skillset on your team, right now you’re going to be on the struggle bus. It’s just kind of how it is. Without a developer on your team ongoing, yeah you might have people doing stuff and actively being involved in your church’s day-to-day, but I don’t necessarily know that it’s going to be sustainable. I don’t know that it’s going to be long-lasting. You may have some churn that you’re not seeing, I don’t know. Todd, you think I’m on crack?
Todd Rhoades: On this, or just in general?
Matt Steen: Let’s stick to this.
Todd Rhoades: Stick to this, okay. I’ll start here. I totally, totally agree with you about the lag. I don’t think leaders, specifically senior pastors that we’ve talked to feel like they have gotten their arms around this lag part yet. Right? So we’re just now starting to see some things. Honestly, I think we’re at the very beginning of starting to see things coming out of COVID.
Matt Steen: Yeah. Because we’ve got about six months of data to analyze now. We’re just starting to see some of these patterns.
Todd Rhoades: Honestly, I think it’s going to be one, two, maybe three years of things being wonky.
Matt Steen: Yeah.
Todd Rhoades: Things that we’re discovering. Because of COVID, they’re going to affect our ministry. That have been affecting our ministry and we’re just now getting our arms around it and that are going to affect our ministry going forward. Just to touch on what Matt says as far as volunteers. Some churches are just now starting to meet. According to where they are, they’re just now meeting, and they haven’t met for 1.5 years. At the very minimum, a lot of churches didn’t meet for six months. So what does that do to the psyche of the people who attended your church regularly? What does it do in the minds of the people that were kind of fringe people in your church? A lot of that has to do with how engaged you’ve honestly been with the last 1.5 years with those people. But as churches get back in, what they’re finding is that - Matt kind of called it “the machine,” and it kind of is a machine. That the machine’s been devastated and kind of decimated. You used to have welcoming ministry or a greeter ministry or guest services, whatever you call it in your church, that was a large group of people that did all the hospitality stuff. But they didn’t do it for six months, right? So now churches are starting back up and they’re just thinking all those people are going to come back, that you start the rolling schedule again and everybody’s coming back. And they’re not. They’re just not. Because that whole thing has been dormant for six months. A lot of frustration that we’re hearing is that people just aren’t coming back. And that’s true. But the other part of the puzzle is, guys, it’s going to take a lot of work to get that. We’re finding on the candidate side and on the church side, people that either, number one, don’t understand that or don’t want to put the work in to make that happen. Just because it is a rebuilding thing. You close down a business for six months and you open up the doors again, you’ve got to rebuild that business, and that’s kind of where we are with the Church right now. A lot of rebuilding is going to have to be done. I’m hearing a lot from pastors and churches that churches are 70-80% back attendance-wise, and that’s the new norm. That’s all good. I mean, it’s not good, but it is what it is. Everybody’s like, it is what it is. But those 70-80% that are coming back, as Matt said, aren’t necessarily volunteering, aren’t necessarily getting involved. And quite honestly, they’re not coming back every week like they were before. They’re coming back a couple weeks a month, and they’ll get up maybe a little late and watch online. Online is still a really important piece. You still got to connect with those people that are catching you online. Because the people that were there every week before are starting to come back, but they’re still online too.
Matt Steen: And it’s easy for us to talk through this and have people just be like, “Oh Lord, here we go” and a kick in the gut. Everything is miserable, sky is falling. But I don’t necessarily think it’s that. Maybe this is the eternal optimist in me. I think this gives us, frankly, an opportunity. I think this gives us an opportunity to step back and say, our resources are different than they were before, our participation is different than it was before, and all this. Maybe it’s a chance for us to step back and say, where do we invest our resources to make the most impact? How do we realign our ministries to be able to lean into what this reality is? And a lot of times we just really struggle with that and don’t know necessarily how to go through that process. Maybe what we can do, Kelly, is share the restructuring playbook that we did. But just walk through a practice of saying, as I look around where we are now, what should we start, what should we stop, what should we continue? If we’re only going to have 70% of our people that we had pre-COVID, and of those maybe we’ve only got 25% of the regular volunteers that we had, so what does that mean for us? Is there anything that before was just a resource hog hogging the frays that is getting in our way, never really bore fruit that we can pull the plug on. There’s some opportunity in this if we lean into that to really begin to help turn our ministries. But we need to be willing to step into that. That’s some hard work in and of itself.
Kelly Norris: Do you think there’s some denial on the pastor side that there’s actually some rebuilding that needs to happen?
Matt Steen: On the pastor side, I don’t think so. Now in general, and you may push back on me, in general I don’t know of any pastor and look at me and say, “My church is perfect, and all the programs we do are working excellent.” Right? Now I know a ton that will look at me and say, “I really hate this ministry. It really is the bane of my existence, and it needs to die. But it can’t die because of this person, this person, this person are really invested in it, and it’s not worth the pain to pull the plug on it.” That kind of thing, right. And so I think honestly where people have struggled, I don’t think necessarily that it’s the pastor. I think it’s more the congregation. I think, and I may be wrong on this, but I think we still have a little bit of time left to pull the plug on something and blame COVID.
Kelly Norris: [laughing]
Matt Steen: Some people may say that’s cowardice leadership. I don’t care. I’m just practical. So maybe we’ve got the opportunity to pull the plug and say COVID and everything, and we really need to focus, and maybe we’ll come back and reevaluate here, and really lean into different things. I don’t necessarily know that it’s the pastors. More congregation leaders.
Todd Rhoades: I think it’s both, honestly. To some degree. Blanket statements don’t help anybody, right? But this is a moment… 2021 is going to be a great year of reset where you have the opportunity to reset some programs, as Matt was talking about. And you’re going to look at all these things as either a problem or an opportunity, right? I think we’re just now, as we’re getting back into the swing of things, the last year and a half for most churches has been how do we get back to some semblance of normalcy. So now we’re kind of there. We’re back. People are starting to come back. And what we’re finding now is that things aren’t as they were, even though we tried to make them as they were. There are some things that worked pre-COVID that still work. There are some things that worked pre-COVID that don’t work anymore, and I think those are the areas of frustration, and those are the areas of recovery. We’re all the same, right? When things don’t match what we thought we were going to have, the first thing we’re probably going to do is belly ache and complain about it a little bit. I’m starting to hear a little bit of grumblings of this isn’t working, this isn’t working, that kind of thing. Why isn’t this working like it did before? All that’s good. Now’s the time where you press the reset button and figure out, okay, so we have 25% of the volunteers that we had pre-COVID. What do we do with that? Either we have to restructure our programming to be less reliant on our volunteers and our volunteer base. Or we have to find a way to increase from 25% back up closer to what we were. And all those are challenges. Those are problems, but they’re also challenges and opportunities. I think the next year is going to be trying to figure that out. We talked all along, even back March of last year, talking about how the cracks that were already there, COVID is expanding those cracks and making those cracks more visible. All of the trends and things that we’re seeing, COVID has actually moved everything faster. We’re in a time of discovery of finding out where those cracks are figuring out how to fix them. There’s going to be some innovation that comes out of here, and every church is going to have to figure it out. You’re going to find yourself, if you’re a pastor or church staff member, just scratching your head and saying, “This is not sustainable.” What we did before COVID and what we’re trying to do now is not working and it’s not sustainable and we have to figure out how to do it. That’s where some of the innovation and some of some of the things are going to come in. Churches will get it, but it takes us a while. Matt, so push back.
Matt Steen: [jokingly] You’re wrong.
Todd Rhoades: Okay.
Matt Steen: That’s all I got. No, I think I’m there.
Todd Rhoades: Kelly, tell us how we are just absolutely missing the boat.
Kelly Norris: I think you’re right on. We can’t tell the future. We’re doing our best guess to see some trends now. I know Todd already alluded to this - Matt, what do you see on the horizon that church leaders need to know about now to get ready for what’s coming?
Matt Steen: I see two things, and they’re kind of related maybe. But maybe not. So here’s the two things I see on the horizon, and this is where I go doom and gloom and just ruin everybody’s day. I think we are going to see a wave of moral failures in the next 18-24 months unlike anything we’ve seen before. I think we have been through a season of frustration, isolation, and exhaustion. And we know that anybody that we coach, we tell them to avoid those situations because bad things happen. We also know that for a lot of pastors, we’ve got a good bit of autonomy in our day-to-day, and we don’t have a whole lot of people looking over our shoulder, looking at our schedules, so there’s a good bit of freedom that comes with that, for good or for bad. So I think this is a season where we need to double down on having people in our lives asking us the questions that we don’t want to be asked. I think this is a season to double down and be really intentional about making sure that we are wise in our day-to-day activities. This is the semi-related point to that. I think the day of giving pastors a pass on things is coming to a close. I think that there was a time - I’ve been to churches where people would look at something their pastor did, and they’d say, “That’s just pastor. He just doesn’t turn in his receipts because he’s disorganized.”
Kelly Norris: A little dismissive.
Matt Steen: Yeah. They’ve just kind of come to the realization that they’re not really good at that, or there’s a personality quirk. Maybe they’re just a little bit abrasive. Maybe they’re just dismissive or there’s things that they just don’t want to do. I think we have left that and for some people who “that’s just pastor,” maybe excusing things that may not necessarily be sinful but are unwise, I think that’s enabled some people to get to the point where we start going into the moral failure route. That’s the tie to that. But I think the other piece of this is we are getting more and more divisive as a culture. We are getting more and more divisive as a society, and we’re seeing this play out in our churches now. Things that used to be kind of excused, I don’t think are going to be excused as easily anymore, and it may very well turn into something that may be more painful down the road. Does that make sense?
Kelly Norris: Yeah. Todd, how do you -
Matt Steen: Have I just killed the mood?
Todd Rhoades: Totally, totally. I hope you’re wrong. I don’t think you’re wrong, but I hope you’re wrong. Here’s the way I look at it. So let’s back track to even January/February of last year 2020. Everybody’s barreling along. Everybody’s got their ministry plans. According to where you’re at, you’re doing pretty good. You’ve got your year planned out, right? And COVID hits, and boom, everything’s out the window. And for the next 15-16 months, you can’t do anything right. Even something as silly or simple as masks, what do you do with wearing masks? However your church or you came down or your leadership came down on that, you had people on both sides of you. Some people praising you and some people absolutely tearing you up over that.
Matt Steen: No, no. You didn’t have anybody praising you. All you had were people tearing you down, whether you said we’re wearing masks or not wearing masks.
Todd Rhoades: That’s true. You had people who agree with you, but those people were the quiet ones.
Matt Steen: You never heard them.
Todd Rhoades: But after 15 or 16 months of having your plans totally derailed and having people all on your case for everything it seems - we run Chemistry Staffing, a staffing firm, and this is what we’re seeing. I wrote down, we’ve seen candidates that are beat up, burned out, or bitter. I’ll tell you what, if you’re bitter or you’re beat up or burned out, that’s when you start making bad decisions. Every person I’ve ever talked to or read their story about falling from grace or falling from ministry, that happened at a time when they were beat up, burned out, or bitter. And we’ve got a ton of candidates that we interview now that are in one of those three states, and we just have to have an honest conversation with them as to, you need to be healthy. Maybe even take some time out and get healthy for you and your family before you take on your next ministry role. But honestly a lot of the people that are beat up, burned out, and bitter are not looking to leave. They’re not. They’re going to hunker down because this is your church darn it and you’re going to work through it. You know you’re tired, and you know you’re burned out. You know you’re angry, but you’re going to work through it, just like you have before, but you’re going to end up making some bad decisions. And those bad decisions very well could cost you your job. They very well could cost you your ministry. And they very well could cost you your family, if you’re not careful. Yeah, I would just expand on what Matt said. You’ve got to guard your heart during this time. If you need to get some counseling, if you need to get some help, reach out to Matt or myself, we’ll try and hook you up with somebody at least you can talk to. Guard your heart. Everybody’s vulnerable right now.
Kelly Norris: I do think there’s been a lot more conversation around soul care, around taking a sabbatical, taking a break. Now the pastors need to receive that, and they need to do something about it. That’s where sometimes we fail. Nope, Sunday comes every week so we’ve got to keep the motor, the machine going. We’re forgetting how much care we actually need week-to-week. I have come across some pastors in my conversations who are taking longer sabbaticals and leaning into this time so they can be refreshed and renewed to their congregations. But you have to realize that you need it, and that’s the part that’s hard.
Todd Rhoades: It’s a tough time. Everybody knows it’s a tough time, but you can’t always power through just like you always did.
Kelly Norris: Right.
Todd Rhoades: Sometimes you really need to get a little bit of extra help so you don’t totally flame.
Kelly Norris: Yeah, yeah. Well we’d love to hear from our audience as well.
Todd Rhoades: On that note.
Kelly Norris: What have you seen in the recent past in the church, and what do you feel is coming on the horizon for church leaders? We’d love to hear from you. Thanks, Matt and Todd, for the conversation. We will certainly provide some links below for some resources that you can tap into.
Todd Rhoades: Thanks, Kelly.
Kelly Norris: Thank you.
Matt Steen: Thanks, Kelly. Happy to brighten your mood.
Kelly Norris: [laughing]