Theology & Religion

The Church Must Embrace Shared Services

22 Jan , 2016  

Over the last several years the business world has begun to leverage shared services in dynamic ways. It has allowed businesses to cut costs, and allowed new players to emerge enabled by the scalability of shared services platforms. The private and public sector are constantly looking for ways to move core services to “the cloud” and free up valuable employee time. However, for churches and nonprofits these moves have been slow and sometimes arduous.

There is a great deal of contradiction in this slow embrace of shared services on the part of the church. Protestant denominations in America were early masters of building ministries or “services” to be consumed by the faithful. Mid Councils (dioceses, presbyteries, associations) facilitated work that churches could not do on their own. Even Southern Baptists, with their highly congregational model developed the Cooperative Program has a channel for giving similar to per capita in other mainline bodies. Though in recent years churches and individuals have been less inclined to support greater per capita giving. Stan Ott suggests that congregations encourage members to pay their per capita directly as part of the annual stewardship pledge drive. Ott correctly suggests that if members are more familiar with what their presbytery or the General Assembly does they might be more inclined to support it.

While Ott’s assumption is generally correct, there is an equally good chance that members may be frustrated by how our mid councils spend their money. If dioceses and mid councils want to maintain relevance they have to identify the areas where can offer services that churches struggle to do on their own. Many mid council leaders may fire back and say they have been in “conversation” about shared services–which is of course true, but unfortunately it’s just not enough.

Moving Towards Services…

  1. Enough ConversationAt this point it’s safe to say that everyone in the mainline gets that mid councils are in trouble. Let’s stop talking and start doing.
  2. Pick a service already: What needs to happen will vary, but you will not develop shared services by sitting on your hands. Technology and social media support are always low hanging fruit.
  3. Shared Services isn’t training and coaching: Training is training, coaching is coaching… offering a shared service means someone actually has to do work. People pay Amazon and Rackspace, because they don’t want to buy actual machines, power them, and make sure the OS is running. Amazon is doing the hard work of making that machine work…that’s what you’re paying for. However, the church isn’t even ready to buy from Google, Amazon, or Rackspace. This is where mid councils come into play.
  4. Shared Services will require a new staffing model: Mid Councils that do this right will be able to grow their budgets and their staff because churches will clamour to use their services. Those that don’t will shrink or close. A mid council that is comfortable hiring someone with a bachelor’s degree to do nothing but technology services and pay them same amount as their presbytery executive with a DMin may be the next success story. We have to be okay with the fact that churches need more help migrating their email to Google than they do developing Sunday School curriculum.

Churches were the early pioneers in shared services (they just didn’t call it that). If denominational structures have any hope of survival in the 21st century they must identify the new services (or ministries) that need to rise up in their place. The future is exciting for mid-councils that are willing to take risks and grow a new array of shared services.

Stay tuned for more on the potential for shared services in churches.

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