4 Tactics For Improving Low Performance In Your Ministry

4 Tactics For Improving Low Performance In Your Ministry

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Last week, we shared six strategies for keeping your best people.

Here’s the thing: What about those employees who are, well...not your best? We’re talking about low performance here.

Chances are, if you have some people on your team who are crushing it, you also have some people who...aren’t.

How do we help these people? They are co-workers, friends, sometimes even family!

I have a few ideas.

1. Clarity

Imagine a football game in which no one knew the score.

All the players are just doing their thing, running, blocking, tackling, but no one from the coaches to the fans knows what the score is. Doesn’t this image just make you cringe? It just stresses me out thinking about it.

Maybe you aren’t into sports. Imagine school without grades! Ugh.

Imagine American Idol where everyone just sings and the judges just smile and say nothing. Come on!

As crazy as all this sounds, this is exactly what often happens to employees in churches, especially the low performers.

If I had to guess, I would say that most low performing employees in churches don’t know that they are performing below the standard. Why? Because no one has told them.

It’s church. We’re supposed to be loving right? Except that not telling people the truth is not loving...not remotely.

If you’re interested in helping low performers grow, the first step is clarity. They have to know the score. A football team wants to know the score, even if that score is 40-0.

Something else on clarity. If we are interested in helping people grow, we need to provide clarity more than twice a year during performance reviews.

I’ve been through a review in which I was given low marks, but learned about my low scores for the first time during the review. My response, right after I envisioned slashing some tires was:


If you have a low performing employee, they need clarity and they need it right now. Then they need it again and again and again.

What happens when the conversation is on repeat is that the employee will either say,

Ok. They are serious about this. I need to improve.


Ok. They are serious about this. I need to leave.

Managing people through low performance is not for the faint of heart. And yet, one of the greatest gifts of a good leader is telling the truth. You can’t lead without truth.

So, if you want to get serious about improving low performance, it will require you to give clear and honest feedback and to do it regularly.

2. A Critical Conversation

So what do you do if you are providing clear and honest feedback on repeat and it’s been months and there has been no improvement? Well, it’s time for a critical conversation.

Here’s something I’ve learned, when it comes to critical conversations about job performance, there is huge potential for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

There have been times when I thought I was clear and either I wasn’t or the person I was communicating with just didn’t hear me.

What I’ve realized is that in conversations like this, it’s important to be incredibly direct.

Something like this:

I need you to understand that this area of your work needs to improve. If it doesn’t over the next three months, it could affect your employment here. Is this something that you believe you can improve?

A few key components here:

  • Timelines
  • A clear connection between improvement and employment
  • End with a question
  • Asking a question at the end requires the person to respond.

    In other words, “Did you understand me?”

    Also, I’ve found it wise to follow up the conversation with an email summary of the conversation that ends with an invitation for a clarifying conversation. Something like,

    Just wanted to follow up on our conversation today in which we discussed the importance of improving “X” by June. If you have any questions about our conversation, please let me know.

    This email will protect you from this person ever coming back later and saying, “That’s not how I remember the conversation going!”

    3. A Plan

    Here’s the thing: When a low performing employee knows that an area of their responsibility is low performing and isn’t self-correcting, there are really only two options:

      1.They don’t know how to improve
      2. They are incapable of improvement

    A good leader must assume the first option before jumping to the second option. We owe it to our people to create a roadmap to acceptable performance. In other words, low performing employees need very clear directions on what acceptable performance looks like.

    Something like,

  • Over the next month you need to recruit 3 new volunteers
  • Your next 4 sermons must include 3 application points each
  • Over the next 2 weeks, you must write 10 "thank you" letters to volunteers and parents
  • The idea is: If this person simply followed the plan, there would be no way they could remain “low performing.” Sometimes, a person just needs to see what success looks like.

    If this is the case, congratulations, you just helped an employee see what success looks like!

    4. Redirection

    Of course, there is a good chance that a low performing employee either won’t or is incapable of following the plan. Sometimes this has to do with motivation or attitude.

    If this is the case, there really isn’t a way to lead this person to satisfactory performance. In my experience, this person should be released from employment. With the hopes that the hard lesson will wake them up and cause them to grow in responsibility.

    More often, the person who continues to perform poorly is stuck because the role is the wrong fit for them. With a person like this, you have an opportunity to have an incredibly life-giving conversation that goes something like this:

    Have you ever considered that this might not be an area of gifting for you? From my perspective, I don’t think it is. This isn’t working but I want you to know that I am for you and I want to help you find a place that fits your gifting.

    This is a hard conversation, but it can be such a gift...if the person possesses the humility to accept it.

    We’ve all experienced some form of this.

    Early in my ministry career, I wanted to be a worship pastor. I’m so grateful for a few people in my life who made it clear to me that I wasn’t created to be a worship pastor. I would have surely hit a brick wall, because I’ll be honest with you...I’m not a good musician! But, I didn’t know that until someone told me.

    Sometimes, a low performing employee could be a high performing employee in a different role. Churches and organizations are at their best when they help their people thrive in the right areas. But, this can’t happen without tough conversations.

    Having walked through a few of them, both as the giver and receiver, I can honestly say that it is such a privilege to help someone discover their primary area of gifting.

    Wrap Up

    So, how do you help a low performing employee grow? Well, it starts with clarity.

    It involves a few critical conversations, a plan and sometimes even redirection.

    Hopefully this has been helpful. It’s definitely a sensitive subject.

    If you have any questions or ideas, feel free to leave a comment.

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