Whether we are talking about congregations with one staff person or very large congregations with dozens, volunteer and employed staff—people—are the primary resource used to accomplish the mission of the congregation. Commonly 65 percent or more of a congregation’s annual budget is used to support the staff needed for ministry. As with any important resource, it is critical that the resource be used wisely.

Congregations, however, are complex organizations in which one easily gets diverted from important work and drawn into conversations and projects that seem urgent but may not be important to the congregation’s mission. Similarly, the larger the congregation the harder it is for staff to be aware of (and not surprised by) the work of others. This includes the senior clergy as much as others on staff. A primary way to set and maintain the direction and the priorities of staff is through supervision. There are a number of ways to provide adequate supervision. For example:

  • daily face-to-face encounters with co-workers
  • weekly check-in with individual staff
  • staff meeting

I want to suggest that we think about the performance planning meeting as a tool of supervision. The performance planning meeting is a regular meeting between supervisor and supervisee that is held once every three months or so. The meeting may last only 45 minutes to an hour, but it is an opportunity to review not only what is done but what is learned as well.

The form of the performance planning meeting found below comes from First Break All the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, which is a report based on in-depth interviews by the Gallup Organization of more than 80,000 managers in over 400 companies. Prior to the performance planning meeting, the person being supervised is encouraged to respond to the following questions in writing and use the written responses as the basis of the conversation:

The Agenda:

A review of the past 3 months:

  • What actions have you taken? These should be the details of performance over the past three months. The staff person should briefly include appropriate details and specifics.
  • What discoveries have you made? This should be an account of formal and informal learning done in the past three months. What are the new insights, and where did they come from?
  • What partnerships have you built? What new relationships have been built or old relationships strengthened? It is important that the staff person take responsibility for building his or her network of relationships.

A forecast of the next 3 months:

  • What is your main focus? What are the primary goals that will get your priority attention over the next three months?
  • What are you planning to learn over the next three months?
  • What new partnerships (new relationships or strengthening of old relationships) are you hoping to build over the next three months?

The performance planning meeting is a form of supervision that initiates in-depth conversation about a staff person’s work. I like it because it accomplishes several important goals. First, it takes the staff person’s work seriously by analyzing what that person is doing. Second, it acknowledges that much of the work of ministry happens through learning and relationships. Third, it does not overly focus on the past in an effort to evaluate what happened. Indeed, it is important to use at least two-thirds of the performance planning meeting to talk about the near future (i.e., the next three months) so that the staff person has a good sense of what to work on next.

An ending note: Whether the pastor is the only staff person at the congregation or the most senior member of a larger team, the performance planning meeting also provides an excellent instrument for the pastor to use in reporting to the congregation’s personnel committee. Regular sharing of this information both informs the personnel committee of the pastor’s work and provides an excellent opportunity for the feedback from others that is often so difficult to get.