Administration,  Church,  Ministry

Towards a Healthy Church – Policies and Procedures

The last set of church documents to be reviewed are the policies and procedures of the church. Technically, these are two different types of documents with policies providing principles for WHAT the church (or any organization) desires and the procedure is the HOW to fulfill the outcome. Therefore, these two types of documents are very closely related and are often combined together in thought and in function.

In last week’s post, I mentioned that in many cases, churches will create bylaws based upon a reaction to something. The example I used was not allowing red kool-aid in a place of worship. The challenge with this idea is that bylaws are meant to be considered from a higher-level (that is, not detailed), and therefore should be proactive in their development and consideration.

Policies, on the other hand, are meant to be lower to the ground. The idea of not allowing a certain type or color of drink into a place of worship may be important to a church and thus a policy might be developed against allowing someone from bringing such a drink into a sanctuary, for instance. So, policies are likely to be more reactive, although they do not have to be. Again, any time a reaction leads to new documentation, it will likely be short-sighted. To reuse the idea from last week, if a spill of red kool-aid causes a church to ban red kool-aid, then what about red fruit punch or orange kool-aid. (Incidentally, I am not just pulling this example out of the air – it really happened!)

But policies are needed, and they will likely be developed in response to a particular occurrence or need. That is, some particular action took place (or did not take place, resulting in the need for a policy to ensure it happens) at a particular church (or another church) and thus, a new policy is put into place to dissuade any future occurrence.

Policies should include the policy name, general purpose, details about certain elements of the policy, compliance and responsibilities for enforcing compliance. Let me provide a very brief and vague example. Many churches use some aspect of social media. Perhaps the church has a Facebook page, or uses email (which is a form of social interaction), or uploads their sermons (essentially, this is a podcast), etc. But what is the policy behind creating these accounts? Who has authorization to create an account and/or to post the information? What information should be posted? What is the result if someone posts something the church does not want posted? Etc. All of these, and potentially, several other aspects should be included in a church’s policy regarding Social Media. Likewise, each ministry and/or activity of the church should be evaluated to determine if a policy is needed, and if so, what the policy should be. (Incidentally, what is the policy on reviewing policies?)

You may be asking, “What types of policies are needed?” As the last paragraph concluded, that is up to the church, but all churches have similar considerations (just at different scales). Thus, whether the church is large or small, the following categories should be considered: Personnel, General Administration, Finances, Facilities, Ministry. Some churches will separate Administration into General Administration and Leadership (and/or Management). I think the distinction can be helpful, particularly with a larger number of policies (such as any church over 200, but even 100 might consider the separation). The separation is not required, however, because administrating the church does include management, if not leadership (recall a previous post where I distinguish leadership as leading people and management as managing people or processes).

One important aspect of any good policy is enforcing it. In fact, consider the word policy. The word policy is only one letter different than the word police. For a policy to be effective, it must be enforced. Therefore, one element in the creation of a good policy will be the inclusion of what occurs if a policy is violated. Many churches will label this inclusion as “Compliance” or something similar. In the Compliance section, a brief statement can be provided as to what will happen if the policy is not followed. (Some may wish to provide details here, but this is the Policy portion. Thus, I would recommend keeping the Compliance section of each policy rather vague with a more specific procedure detailing how to handle any violations.) The following is a template that could be used as an example of a statement regarding compliance:


Any violation of the ______ Policy above will result in _________________ and discussions with ______________ (Team/Committee, Pastor, etc.). Further repercussions, including legal proceedings, if necessary, will be determined following said discussions.

The other part of this set of documents is the procedure. Procedures are the how. No more, no less. What must be done to ensure the policies are being fulfilled. Again, let me provide a simple example using a different ministry context. If the church has a policy that two or more people should count the weekly offering, how is that done? The policy may include a general on the Who (such as two relatives should not be the counters), the Where (such as in a certain room at the church) and the When (during the service, before leaving after the service, the next day, etc.). But the Procedures will include specifics as to How? Do multiple people count the money together or should they count it separately and compare the totals (best practice)? Must all cash bills be tallied on a sheet (best practice) or is cash simply counted and stuffed into a bag with no account of how many of each bill is included? Many such items might be included, but again the Policy points to the What (counting the offering) and the Procedure provides details as to How it is to be done.

The most practical idea for the development of a set of Procedures is to have those responsible for currently doing the work to record what they do (and why). The Why might be a helpful clarifier. The procedures need to be evaluated by others, and additions or corrections might be needed, but the people who know the job best are best positioned to share what needs to be done. A simple prompt may be needed to help people start. What is the first thing you do? What are the steps needed to complete this task? How many people are necessary? Why? What is the result if a certain step is missed? Etc.

Two further matters regarding the Policies and Procedures relate to the importance of their consistency and availability. In the previous paragraph, I mentioned the prospect of having those currently involved in performing the tasks provide the steps for the Procedures. Although this idea will provide the information, ensuring the documentation is in a consistent format will be up to the team/committee responsible for compiling the overall set of documentation. Once the Policies and Procedures have been compiled, and the documents have been produced in a readable and consistent format, the matter of storage is important. Having the documents in a folder or set of folders on a computer is good as the documents can be emailed and/or printed for those who may need to have access to them. However, placing the documents in a binder (or a set of binders) is necessary as well. One binder (or set) should be kept in a centralized location; however, placing a copy of the documents where they are most needed is highly recommended as well.

Finally, this pair of documents must be maintained. That is, the development of a set of Policies and Procedures is important, but updates will be necessary. A policy and the accompanying procedures should be put into effect to ensure that the documents are regularly reviewed and updated whenever necessary.

This part of this series on administrating the church has reached its conclusion. Church documentation is important, and more can (and should) be said, but the last several posts have provided an overview of documents each church needs. And with the end of this overview on documentation, this series on administering the church is also coming to a conclusion on this blog. Again, more can (and should) be said, but the intention of this blog site (fotonni) is about living in, not of, the world, rather than to focus on church administration. Living in the world certain includes ensuring the church is being effective, and while the mission of the church does not relate to administration, without effective administration, the church will not be able to fulfill her mission for long.

So, this series on Church Administration will continue, but it will be at a later date. And it will not be on this site. I wish I could say more for now, but a couple of important details must still be considered and finalized. Therefore, the series is taking a break for now. Please look for an announcement on August 30 (set a reminder on your calendar now). In the meantime, I will continue to write with reflections on what it means to live in, but not of, the world.

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