Church policies often become dated over time, having been developed at a moment when a staff grew to a size where one was needed, an issue arose that demanded clearer boundaries between employees and staff or there was a large enough cultural shift that the church policies needed changing or creating. The challenge is that these documents often become stagnant relics that are marched out and negotiated with when the need arises but aren’t revisited and updated at consistent intervals for changes in best practice. To further complicate things, these documents are often adapted versions of corporate policies that don’t fit the culture or demands of church ministry. 

Instead, in my work as a congregational consultant, I try to get churches to understand their policies as living documents that reflect the theological values and organizational movement of the church. Living documents because they can and should be revisited, tweaked and adjusted to reflect best practices as they evolve. A church’s policies reflect how they understand people, parenthood, illness, boundaries and grace. I can’t tell you how many churches I have worked with that were desperate to attract young families but did not have maternity leave for young clergy. Our policies are also a vehicle for communicating to staff who the church is and where the church is moving. If you want a dynamic, mission oriented, community based ministry but policy requires all clergy meet the requirements of 35 office hours a week, you will not have the ministry you dream of as an organization. If your church understands Jesus’s commandment to care for those at the bottom of the power structures but doesn’t protect your own hourly staff from on the job injury, your policy and your theology don’t add up. 

 A world wide global pandemic may not seem like the best time to tackle policy, but this is an important time to model dignity for workers and clarity of policy and practice. The church is all too often inclined to replicate corporate policies, despite the fact our organizations are oriented towards a different understanding of power and justice. While following your state employment laws are essential, the policies and practices of our churches should reflect the best ethical practices for employees. In fact the church can model an employer/employee relationship that models boundaries, clarity and dignity to our latity who often set the policies in their own work place. Clarity is also something that employees deserve right now, when participating in the work environment could potentially expose them to a life-ending illness. It is important for organizational morale and transparency to have policies in place that help employees feel safe and valued all of the time, but especially now. Below are three policies that your organization to should have in place now to help address the global Covid 19 pandemic:

Ministry Continuity Plan

A Ministry Continuity Plan is an outline of how the essential functions of the church will continue if key members of staff are incapacitate either short or long term and unable to do their work. This is a plan that all churches should have regardless of Covid 19, but now is the time to get one in place. It is a policy that aims to answer the questions: If something catastrophic were to happen or key members of the ministry staff were unable to work, who is in place to continue the ministry of the church? What recommended plan do you have so that payroll continues? Worship and pastoral care? Who has access to who’s emails and log in credentials in an emergency situation? The last thing you want is to have to track down the church management software credentials for a hospitalized staff person. 

Emergency Work from Home Policy and Covenant 

In an emergency how does your organization plan to accommodate working from home? What plan is there to provide the technology and equipment staff need to do their work well? How does the church covenant with staff, particularly ministry staff, to support effective work that is accountable to vision while at the same time prevent burnout from overworking? What hours at home are staff expected to be available, particularly support staff such as administrative assistants, financial staff and operations staff? What are the expectations for staff to be trained in and adapt new technology? The goal of a Work from Home Policy is to establish boundaries and expectations, while also communicating support and flexibility. While these questions are not exhaustive, they should get your policy setting body thinking about how to support employees through unexpected circumstances. 

Return to Work Plan 

The goal of this policy is not to have all the answers but to communicate a sense of care for employees, how your church will maintain a safe work environment and how your church will make decisions when issues arise that prioritize the safety of employees in the work environment. Under what circumstances will employees return to onsite work? What cleaning accommodations will be made to keep employees safe? If an employee is exposed to Covid-19 what is the chain of communication? Are they required to quarantine at home until they can produce a negative test? Is quarantine work from home time or sick leave? If an employee chooses to expose themselves to high risk activities and needs to be quarantined on whose time will that quarantine happen? When an employee has contracted Covid-19 under what terms are they allowed to return to work? Does an employee need a doctor’s release to return to work after Covid-19? What about members of their household that are still contagious? What are the newly developed laws at the state level that provide insight to what is permissible to ask? 

When policies are unclear, it breaks trust and disrupts workplace productivity. The church more than other institutions needs to inspire trust in its community and model what employee dignity and safety looks like for the wider community. Whether your employees are members of your church or not, they are community evangelists for your organization as they share with friends and family what their work experience is as part of your organization. 

While denominational structure varies in terms of who sets and implements policy, your policy making body should develop these tools for ministry. Each policy should be run through the proper decision making channels. Pastors should never develop and implement policy alone without the knowledge, input and support of a larger governing body of the church. It is also important to note that your policy needs to follow all the state and federal employment laws that apply to faith based non-profits. 

If you need help thinking through best practices for these or other policies or would like someone to help draft your policies, Cara Gilger Ministries works with congregations to create structures, practices and policies that align with the vision and values of your church. Schedule a virtual consultation via our contact form HERE. 

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