6 Agile Principles to Strengthen Your Church Teams

| Cristy Bird | ,

What is Agile?

In 2001 the world of software changed dramatically with the launch of a published document called The Agile Manifesto which lays out twelve agile principles (specific to software development and project management but has been used successfully by many industries now decades later). The practices and changes this document brought about weren’t inherently new, they had been tested and tried, but the group of developers put it all together to help further efficiency and planning practices for all. 

What does this have to do with Churches? Quite a lot, actually. Agile principles have a few key ideas that most businesses and industries are taking in and adapting to their processes and company missions and/or cultures. Here are the twelve principles they bolded in the manifesto below where many organizations, and some churches, have begun picking up ideas to implement.

The Manifesto for Software Development is Based on Twelve Agile Principles:

  1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
  3. Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
  4. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers (church leaders and volunteer teams working toward the same goals)
  5. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location and virtual meetings included)
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  11. Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly
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    Some of these terms and ideas don’t directly translate to the goals of churches but the core concepts that matter, the core ideas do translate quite well.

    Agile Principle #2 — Or Welcome Changing Requirements.

    In church speak, this is welcoming changes to existing plans, adjusting plans to fit needs on the fly or in shorter periods of time. Essentially it is FLEXIBILITY! This is where the “Agile” term comes from. As we look back on 2020, is the value of flexibility obvious? Did your church change drastically to be able to meet the needs of online services? I think we can all agree that if 2020 taught us anything it’s that churches need more flexibility. The churches that adapted early and often in a very flexible way kept more attendees tuning in. Churches that failed to find ways to stay “open” to their congregation virtually or otherwise lost some people, and maybe even failed completely and no longer exist. One in five churches reported needing to close permanently. That’s staggering. Flexibility and a sense of community are essential. 

    Agile Principle #4 — Or Close, Daily Cooperation 

    This is perhaps the most overlooked principle by churches today. I get it, we are all busy, and many church leadership teams are made up of volunteers who have kids, full time jobs, and activities. Is that enough to forgo church leadership teams regularly meeting to stay on the same page and check in with each other on their areas of leadership? Tight-knit teams are going to be more successful, not just for accountability but to keep cohesive strategy moving forward. You have to keep up with what’s going on regularly! Let’s learn something from that. Doesn’t have to be daily, or weekly but regularly keeping up with the team of people helping to keep programs running smoothly will help the entire church.

    Agile Principle #5 — Or Projects Are Built Around Motivated Individuals, Who Should Be Trusted

    This principle ties into #4 but who should be trusted in Agile is key. People who love what they are doing and want to further the mission of the church will come up with good ideas to further it. Trust them to try out some of those ideas with the buy-in from the whole team. Teamwork makes the dreamwork as they say and this is one way in which churches are already a bit agile but the idea of trust often comes with time. Church leaders can help teams cultivate a sense of trust and expand ideas by having those regular check-ins and challenging team members to come up with new ideas on how to implement those ideas. Let those team members passionate about good ideas step up and run the ideas through to the end! 

    Here’s an example a church could use today: Say a team member has a new idea for a community group,like an unmarried singles group. Maybe a team member wants to step up and create the group, help run it, and create events to keep the group running smoothly  with the purpose of offering church-agreed-upon activities to foster Christ-centered relationships. Maybe the pastor doesn’t need to be fully involved but an elder and a group of volunteers can run it. Maybe there’s buy-in from the whole team and anyone who wants to help execute the idea can pitch in. This example can be used for any idea, whether it’s a new kid activity for nursery or children ministry, or an activity to get teenagers engaged in the church – whatever the idea, the most passionate and engaged idea bearer will help create a level of success that may not be as vast without that idea person. 

    Agile Principle #6 — Or Face-to-Face Conversation is the Best Form of Communication

    2020, enough said, right? Virtual can work, of course we know that now, but face-to-face is better for non-verbal communication. It also helps to stop accidental interruptions, and many other issues that arise from video communication. A mix of emergency video communication is great in a pinch and should be on the table always for convenience, but in-person meetings will add value that simply can’t be obtained online. Either way, communication is KEY to any great relationship and that includes team communication. The more, the better. 

    Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams help to keep conversations on-going and tools like Google Meet, Skype, Go To Meeting, etc. help when those meetings can’t happen in person. Having a way to keep communication open to teams is very important and something to keep in mind when thinking through how your church can be more flexible. 

    Agile Principle #10 — Or Simplicity: The Art of Maximizing the Amount of Work Not Done

    There’s not much more to agile than flexibility and simplicity. Flexibility is ever more possible when simplicity is taken seriously. Churches who take time to simplify processes, and get back to basics on the purpose of programs, tasks, teams, etc., will benefit greatly. There’s the old adage “keep it simple stupid”-  as crass as that may seem on the surface there’s some obvious truth to looking at your plans, projects, teams, and processes from the view of “is this 100% necessary? What goal does it further? Does it help enforce or further a mission? If it’s overly complicated, why? What can be removed or rethought to keep what you’re doing simple?”

    Here’s an example relevant to churches, say you have a team of kid ministry volunteers and you have to have them all do background checks before getting started, then you want them to be trained up and have trouble keeping up with all the steps to keep new volunteers coming in or getting the volunteers to complete their training. Well, maybe you have a mentor program that allows one long-time volunteer to walk the newbie through the process, or maybe you simplify it even more and create a video walkthrough and an email that has all the steps in one place for them. 

    There’s always a way to simplify multi-step processes and projects. You just have to look wider and deeper at times to find the ways to simplify. It’s well worth everyone’s time to think through the processes periodically in order to all agree simplicity is a key principle you all want and then watch your work decrease, or what your efficiency increases. 

    Agile Principle #12 — Or Regularly, the Team Reflects On How to Become More Effective, and Adjusts Accordingly

    The idea of reflecting on adjusting procedures and processes based on successes or failures is not new. We do this all the time in our life in mini experiments. A church may hold a new event, see if people enjoy it and it achieves the goals set and reevaluates where that event can improve. This principle is something some do automatically as they think about what to plan next. By looking back on the evidence of things that happened in the past, this is called a retrospective. It’s the idea that what has happened can be improved, tweaked, or expanded to create a better outcome. Every leadership team can implement this principle today. It costs nothing to have a discussion and planning opportunity by reviewing the previous outcomes of plans. It takes very little time to get everyone together and have these meaningful discussions.

    You will never regret the process of looking at each element of your church and evaluating whether or not there are places or elements that can be improved through the lens of your goals and abilities. Our tip is to quarterly hold retrospective conversations with your teams, and as the team members gets the hang of sharing open and honest feedback on what didn’t work or what can be improved upon the ideas and improvements can begin happening on a more regular basis where team members aren’t waiting for quarterly or yearly meetings to chat about these things. The value of team building and idea building and discussions on what did and didn’t work is limitless. 

    The Core of Flexibility

    Churches have learned a lot in 2020, and the landscape of religious organizations is shifting and changing. It’s undeniable that flexibility and agile principles will be useful if not entirely necessary in any changing environment. This is not to say it’s necessary to push flexibility in church beliefs, values, or biblical teachings—not at all. Flexibility in team leadership, in administration, in processes and procedures are completely different areas of the business element of church that some find difficult to navigate. These principles can help churches as an organization, and the business element of churches survive and thrive. 

    One Eighty Digital has some experience in balancing church leadership and business success and we’ve found these principles interesting and helpful to plan for the future. We think they’re worth sharing, discussing, and evaluating which could help your organization grow too. If you have any questions about the principles, how we have used some of them and how you could plan for future church changes let us know. We’re here to help you.

    Resources

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development#The_Agile_Manifesto
    1-in-5-churches-face-closure-within-18-months-due-to-covid-19-shutdowns
    Is Your Church Fragile or Agile
    7 Steps to Agile Leadership

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