Multiplication Center

Performance Incentives Fuel Church Staff to Stronger Results

March 10, 2015

By Warren Bird


Pastor Will Rambo could only imagine all the negatives that would come from implementing a performance bonus structure for the staff of The Orchard in Tupelo, MS, where Bryan Collier is the lead and founding pastor.“My first reaction was this is far too secular, too corporate and too businesslike,” Will says of the performance incentive plan. “I went into this pushing back hard.”

If the new goal-setting process and accompanying financial incentives weren’t handled well, Will could picture a church staff splintering and competing against each other, with a drive to get things done all for the sake of landing a bonus.

“I feared responses like people saying, ‘So will I get paid $5 per baptism?’ Will says, “or someone saying, ‘I need you to hurry up and do this so that I’ll get a bonus at year’s end.’ ”

Better Than Expected

Now, two years into the process, Will can gladly say his worst fears have not been realized. The 16-year old congregation has a church staff that is more engaged than ever, and is reaping the rewards of accomplishing even more together than any of them could have imagined.

“For years we’ve set goals, but they lacked follow-through,” says Will, also a senior pastor at one of the church’s five locations. “In this new approach, we moved to grander goals and dreams, those that require cross-departmental cooperation. We’re doing fewer things, but larger—a philosophy of less is more.

“Our staff is at the healthiest place they’ve been in our 16 years as a church.”

Building Responsibility and Consistency

One of The Orchard’s elders, the vice president of a community development organization in Tupelo, first presented the model of rewarding the church’s staff for their performance while also promoting their longevity. The group talked about the idea in 2011 and 2012, implemented goals in 2013 and distributed its first round of incentives at the end of that year.

To help sell the idea, the staff used the fictional example of someone’s salary increasing every year, just because they stayed with the job, but with no increase in effectiveness or impact to God’s kingdom.

Will also cited the example of a pastor friend with a secretary making $75,000 because she has received incremental salary increases for 38 years–but she was only doing about $40,000 of Kingdom work.

“We didn’t want to decrease anyone’s morale or salary,” Will says. “But we did desire to have the consistency and camaraderie of long-term staffing, and yet be fiscally responsible and financially consistent.”

Lessons Learned

It wasn’t all smooth sailing out of the gate. One of the goals in year one was “zero gaps in volunteer ministry.” But that goal turned out to be a moving target, and the more a ministry grew, the more gaps resulted. “We let the staff down,” Will says. “So we apologized, we gave them their incentive and we worked with them to set better goals for the next year.”

The Orchard’s staff has also learned to set goals that are more measurable, and can better articulate its goals. In the first year, there was a general goal to “improve youth ministry” with no clear way to measure results.

“Now we’ve become more specific, such as ‘We want to double the amount of home group leaders for our high school ministry,’ ” Will says. “That’s a more quantifiable goal, and it gets us to our bigger goal.”














A Lenten Reader was just one of many “prayer cheetsheets” The Orchard staff created as an innovative way to present at-home resources.

All Rowing Together

The way it works at The Orchard now is that 30-40 big ideas are generated for the year ahead at a staff brainstorming session. The final list of goals is submitted to the church’s elders and leadership team, and moved to a 6-person lead team for accountability through the year.

The group also compiles a list of up to five “family goals”—bigger-picture items the staff will work to accomplish together that are also incentivized. “Many of the staff post the goals in their office,” Will says. “And everyone knows that if they hit them, they will be rewarded. We want to incentivize them for working on the right things that we have agreed collectively will advance the Kingdom the most.

One goal that ran through the new process in 2014 was the church’s desire to “reinvent how we do marriage ministry.” Accomplishing the goal would involve multiple departments, so the informal team sets its own standards and milestone dates.

Another goal in 2014 was to create nine at-home resources (examples: Lenten Reader, Christmas Reader, devotional ideas for while you’re on vacation, etc.), complete with branding for each resource and a plan for innovative ways to offer the resources.

“We want to reward our staff with what they can control, so we don’t set goals for what they can’t control,” Will says. “If you hire great people, you don’t have to spend a lot of time micromanaging them.”

Happy Staff, Kingdom Results

The new goal-setting process and bonus structure has led The Orchard through a three-year wave of greater cohesion on its staff team.



 The Orchard employees take time out to have fun together at the Staff Olympics. Will Rambo is fourth from the right and Bryan Collier is second from the right.

“Previously, our staff had created a lot of silos,” Will says. “No one knew what anyone else was doing. There was a lot of resentment about who’s producing more and who is not.”

Rather than asking everyone to work harder in their silos to produce more, the new process creates joint tasks on which the teams can collaborate. “We put a lot of people in the same room, and all of a sudden you realize the majority of the staff is working hard,” Will explains. “Instead of one person writing a memo saying we need to get something done, now lots of staff people work together to plan and own it.”

The ultimate end for The Orchard is more significant Kingdom work getting rewarded—and a happier staff at the end of the day.

“We want to do a great job of pastoring a great people,” Will says. “All we’re doing with this new approach is to thank and encourage our staff for the work they’re doing on Kingdom initiatives.

“This gives us a chance both to appreciate our staff and also to accomplish Kingdom initiatives together.”


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