Team Work Works!

March 9th, 2012

Among the interviews we have conducted with vital congregations for our Toward Vitality Research Project there is a thread in the way that the pastor(s), staff, and lay leaders work together that I recognize as true team work. During the actual interview there is an obvious joy in the way these folks come together. There is teasing, and laughing; encouragement of one another; and an openness to sharing the hard work that led to the changes within their congregation.

The difference that I discerned during these interviews has to do with how the folks function together. The leadership (both staff and lay) work as teams, not groups. Groups can come together to accomplish goals and tasks, but they tend to do this only by sharing information and perspective.  People in groups tend to focus mainly on their own goals and agendas, and they will only be concerned with their individual outcomes. The work of groups is usually designated by a manager and will reflect a “top down” mentality.

Teams, on the other hand, function in a more cooperative way.  Deciding on the purpose, goals and tasks is part of the work of the team; each person understands their part, but they are accountable to the whole team.  They come together for discussion, planning, and decision making; and are able to be concerned with the outcomes and challenges that everyone faces. 

For example, at a typical United Methodist Church’s leadership meeting, there are representatives from several groups or committees—UMW, UMM, Trustees, Finance, etc.  A meeting with a group mentality will function in such a way that reports are heard, some decisions may be made, but each person goes away without having much effect on the overall function of the congregation. When a team mentality is present, the individual members will come together to discuss and plan how their work fits the overall purpose of the congregation.  For example, the United Methodist Women will want to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” because that is the purpose of the congregation. And the work of the UMW will have some effect on the children’s ministry and youth ministry because they understand and support the goals in those ministry areas.  The trustees and finance people will come with an open attitude about how facilities and funds support the outreach ministry because of the stated purpose of the congregation. 

Vital congregations function as teams, having worked on discerning a God-vision that motivates and moves them forward into action.  Team work, for most of the congregations we interviewed, reflects a conscious decision to act in a new, cooperative way.  And from what I can see, team work works!

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