Systems and Processes for the Small Church

How to Create Systems and Processes in Your Small Church

Do Sunday mornings at your church feel scattered or disorganized? Do you feel like you’re constantly putting out fires or duct-taping solutions together “for now?” 

Maybe your desk is covered in papers and post-it notes, your to-do list is a mile long, and you have several people you need to follow up with… if only you could find the time.

These are classic symptoms that your church needs better systems and processes. 

That’s why, in this episode of the Hello Church! podcast, we’re discussing the most important systems and processes all churches need to have and how to create them. 

What are Systems?

A system is a collection of interconnected components and elements that function together as a whole to achieve a specific goal. 

Whether we realize it or not, we all use systems every day to get things done. Our bodies run on systems. (Our nervous system and digestive system, for example.) And we typically have a morning or evening routine we follow each day without even thinking about it. 

When one of your internal systems is broken, you know. You start experiencing physical symptoms, and you may need to visit the doctor or hospital as a result.

The same is true for our churches. When one of our systems is missing or broken, it can affect multiple systems throughout the church, causing stress, chaos, and anxiety. 

What Do We Need Systems?

No matter how busy we are, our churches need systems if we want to grow and scale. 

Systems allow us to steward our people and resources well so we don’t drop the ball in important areas. They allow us to work more efficiently and effectively since we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each and every time. 

Systems allow us to delegate responsibilities to others, and they empower others to get the job done correctly. They offer predictability and flexibility. When a system is well-documented, if someone is sick or unavailable, another person can easily step in. 

Systems also make feedback less emotional. Rather than saying, “I don’t like the way you’re doing this,” you can create pre-written guidelines and expectations that are clear and easy to follow. This makes it easier to hold your staff members and volunteers to a consistent standard without being accused of playing favorites. 

A church cannot function at its highest level or scale effectively without systems.

A Person is Not a System

It’s important to note, however, that a single person cannot be a system. A person can run a system, but a person cannot be a system. 

Even if one person has fulfilled an important function in your church for years, there’s always the possibility they could get sick, step down, take a sabbatical, get too busy in another role, or leave the church altogether. 

Alternately, as your church scales, you may need multiple people to help fulfill one role. 

When you take the time to document a system, you can easily plug new people into an existing role and know that the job will still get done correctly without needing to spend hours training.

Systems Every Church Needs

Often, the best way to determine which systems your church needs is to pay attention to the areas of your church management that feel the most stressful or that cause you anxiety on a regular basis.

You can start with the church functions you consider the most important, or you might start with any tasks that have to be done repeatedly. 

For example, here are a few systems your church probably needs.

1. Guest Management System

What happens when new guests visit your church? Do you have a systematic, efficient, and secure way of collecting and storing their information and then following up later to invite them to return?

2. Volunteer Management System

Similarly, you’ll want an organized way to keep track of each of your volunteers, their service schedules, and any paperwork you may need for them, such as their contact information or their background checks. This system should include training and onboarding information as well. 

3. Financial Management System

Do you have a systematic, efficient, and secure way of collecting tithes and offerings, keeping track of your income and expenses, and running your annual financial reports? You do not want to run the risk of money going unaccounted for or being used in a way it wasn’t intended. 

4. Safety and Security Systems

Do you have a secure process for checking children in and out of the nursery and Sunday school? Do you store families’ contact and medical information securely? 

Do you have procedures for tornadoes, hurricanes, power outages, medical emergencies, or active shooter situations? You will want to have these systems in place before you need them.

How to Create Systems and Processes

The good news is: Your church probably has many systems and processes already in place. They simply may not be as robust or well-documented as they should be. 

Here’s how to create (or update) your church’s systems and processes.

1. Start with the End Goal in Mind

What are you ultimately trying to accomplish with your system? Does this system need to keep kids safe, empower your volunteers, or welcome new people as soon as they walk through the doors? You’ll want to keep this goal in mind as you create your system.

2. Document Your Current Process

Chances are, you already have some sort of system you’re using, even if it isn’t well-documented. Start by thinking through what you’re already doing (even if imperfectly), and make a list. Who is already helping with this system? What are they doing?

3. Determine Which Steps Your Current Process is Missing

Once you see what you’re already doing, look for gaps in your current process. Where are balls being dropped? What parts of the process are stressful or inefficient? 

What are you and your team not doing that you’d like to start? (Alternatively, what are you doing that you’d like to stop?) This is your chance to fill in the obvious gaps.

4. Consider Which People You Need 

Is this system one you’ll implement yourself, or will someone else fill the role? If someone else will be in charge of this system, consider how many people you will need, what positions they will fulfill, and who might be most qualified to fill those positions.

You might consider writing out a job listing highlighting the exact skills someone would need in this role. For example, you might want someone confident and assertive on your security team but someone warm and welcoming on your children’s ministry team.

If you already have a team, consider if you have the right people in the right roles. You may need to hire new people, let existing team members go, or shift people around. Having a documented system won’t help you if you don’t have the right people to run it. 

5. Consider Which Resources You Need

Next, you’ll want to consider if you need any additional resources (books, software, office equipment, etc.) to run your system. 

Don’t fall into the trap of purchasing every shiny new object. Instead, prayerfully consider your needs, current budget, and expected church growth in choosing the right resources for you.

6. Train Your Team on the System

It won’t do you any good to document your system if you don’t put it into practice. Once you have a solid start, start training your staff members and volunteers on the new system, being sure to answer any questions they have along the way. 

This is also a good time to see what concerns your staff members or volunteers may have, if you haven’t already. They might have a great idea you hadn’t considered, or they might notice a flaw in your proposed system you’ll want to fix right away.

Keep in mind, however, that training is rarely a one-time process. Once you see how well your staff members and volunteers are (or aren’t) following your instructions, you can add additional training or clear up areas of confusion as needed. 

7. Tweak Your System as Needed

At this point, you’re ready to put your system into action! Keep in mind, however, that it likely won’t be perfect right out of the gate. Try out your system for a few weeks or months, and then be sure to come back and re-evaluate.

What’s working or not working? What parts are still stressful? What tasks aren’t getting done (or aren’t being done well)? Once you can see how your current system is working, you can go back and make changes as needed.

8. Hold Your Team Accountable

Finally, once you have a strong system that works for your church, it’s important to hold your staff members and volunteers accountable to your new expectations. You created the system for a reason. It’s not unreasonable to expect your team to follow it.

Yes, creating these systems and processes takes time, and you’re likely overwhelmed enough as it is. However, you want to create these systems before you need them. 

You can always tweak your systems as your church’s needs evolve or as you run into new issues and concerns. The most important thing is simply to get started. 

Your church will not grow and reach its potential if you don’t have these core systems and processes in place. If you take the time to create them, however, your church is almost guaranteed to grow.

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