Have you ever been driving down the road when suddenly the check engine light comes on? That's obviously an indication you need to have your vehicle's system checked out.

While we don't receive warning lights within our churches, there are ways to tell when it's time to check on the systems in place that are "how we do what we do."

Examples of systems check indicators include:

  • The line at children's check-in isn't moving as quickly as it used to
  • People who signed up to volunteer aren't attending the volunteer training session
  • You're losing volunteers faster than you can add new ones
  • It's taking longer each month to close the accounting books
  • You're not consistently paying vendors on time (and it's not due to a lack of funds)
  • Two different ministry leaders somehow managed to schedule events on the same day (using the same rooms)
  • There's an increase in last-minute "fire drills" to get everything ready for Sunday morning
  • You're seeing a steady decrease in the number of first-time guests
  • Church staff are working longer hours more often

When you see these or related indicators, what's the church version of taking your car into the shop? Performing a systems check, and here are the six steps involved.

1. Investigate the issue

Before you can fix the problem, you need to identify the root cause(s).

In the case of a longer children's check-in line, talk with the staff and volunteers who handle that responsibility each week. They may be seeing more families attend the church, the computer and/or network might be slowing down, volunteers are getting used to a new system, or maybe the software/tool you've been using is outdated or not capable of handling a larger data load.

The key here is to talk with the individuals directly involved in the problematic system and get their input.

  • What's working?
  • What's not working?
  • Are they clear on what you want them to do?
  • Do they need a training refresher?
  • Is the process no longer effective and needs to be reworked?

2. Review documentation

If you have training materials or other documentation related to the system in question, comb through those to see if you notice any issues. The process likely worked well when the documentation was developed, but maybe your church has changed or grown to the point where that process is no longer effective.

Talk with individuals who use that process and ask for their recommendations on how to make it better. On the other hand, the issue could be that they weren't aware of or aren't following the process. In that case, if the process still works, conduct a training session to get the team back on the right path.

3. Develop options

If a process update or training refresher isn't the solution, it's time to develop a few options. These may include purchasing new hardware/software, upgrading the church's wireless network, completely revamping the process, etc.

If you don't have the authority to make that call on your own, it's best to identify 2-3 options for fixing the issue before requesting approval to make any changes.

Review your options with the appropriate decision-maker. Make sure you have any cost information ready and know whether those funds are already in the budget. Be prepared to discuss the pros and cons of each option plus your recommendation.

4. Implement the approved changes

Once you have approval to proceed, start the process of purchasing new hardware/software, etc. Make sure you talk with staff and volunteers who will be impacted by this change as soon as possible. Update or create training and process documentation.

5. Monitor the results

Determine what metrics to monitor that indicate the new system is successful. Examples may include trends regarding the number of first-time guests, number of new volunteers, number of volunteers who quit each month, percentage of volunteers who have completed training, etc.

6. Adjust as needed (and celebrate wins)

As you monitor the results, continue checking in with staff and volunteers involved in the process. Find out what's working or not working with the new process straight from the source. Make adjustments as needed and keep monitoring as you dial in to the best method.

Also, make sure you celebrate as you start seeing positive results. Thank and give credit to those who provided their input and who helped implement the new process.

It's easy to simply keep moving forward with the same processes week after week. However, when you see something's not quite working, it's worth the effort to investigate and make the necessary changes. Systems may not feel like ministry, but they support ministry efforts each week.