5 Dangers of Leading Your Church Staff Like a Family

“A staff led like a family will eventually stall the growth of the church.”

Each Thanksgiving and Christmas my extended family gets together.

We love reconnecting, eating too much food, telling stories around the table and watching my Uncle Herbert frighten the younger kids by sticking his false teeth out at them. It is an interesting bunch!

Gatherings with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws (and a few out-laws) has always been a highlight of life.

Another group of people I view with the same amount of love is our church staff. Over the past year or so I have been working to get our team prepared for a new season of growth. Having bumped up against a growth barrier for a few years, I had to look to some larger churches for help.

One of the qualities I discovered was challenging:

Large churches operate their staff like an organization while most smaller church staffs function like a family.

Don’t misconstrue what I am saying. We should always treat people well and love them, but larger ministries understand there comes a point where “family” cannot be reflected in your structure. A leader’s job is to position his or her team to be effective and then take care of their team. Often I see church leaders care for their team by structuring them in a way that blocks effectiveness.

Here are some dangers in operating your church staff like a family.

The best ideas can’t rise to the top.

In a family, there’s a natural hierarchy. No one talks about it because no on can explain it. Even in the healthiest of families there is typically a dominant voice. Others submit by default.

On a church staff I call this the “Big Brother Syndrome.” When the family model is how staff is led, the best ideas are often subject to the feelings of a specific person or group. The “big brother” is often whoever on the team has the longest tenure, strongest opinions or biggest talent. Many churches bottleneck because the freshest ideas are stopped short of being executed.

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Artificial harmony creeps in.

Ever been in situations where people get along just enough to keep moving along? Some families exist in that space: having harmony on the exterior while tension exists just under the surface. Families love each other so much they do not want to jeopardize that love by potentially hurting someone with their honesty.

Church staff led like a family allows artificial harmony to ooze in. Every single time. Why? A lack of honesty exists. Perhaps it exists due to fear of hurting someone, low emotional intelligence on the part of some team members or having never been in situations that were difficult. Artificial harmony beneath the surface will eventually lead to disunity at the surface.