The world watched the United States this week. It watched us transfer power to a new president. It watched our cities fill with hundreds of thousands of people for the women’s march. It watched former President George W. Bush struggle with a rain poncho. It watched the gift exchange faux pas between our First Ladies. The United States was on stage this week and to post here about the difference between policies and procedures seems trivial. Alas, I move forward in my mission to show the world why the Church needs to pay attention to how it operates on a daily basis.

As a church grows, policies and procedures become the infrastructure needed for continued growth. That’s because well-written policies and procedures direct the steps of each employee in an organization. For example, when a children’s ministry classroom reaches capacity, a volunteer should be trained on what steps to take to alleviate the situation. When a procedure is in place, the volunteer has been given the tools for such a moment of high capacity classrooms.

The terms “policies” and “procedures” can be confusing. So, before establishing a place for them in the church, it would be helpful to define the differences between the two.

Policies differ from procedures in that they are specific in direction. By definition, a policy is, “a command decision from top management to perform in a specified manner.”[1] The decisions from the church leadership regarding performance are various and numerous. These decisions may be made by the highest level of authority for the entire organization or may be made by ministry directors for specific ministry areas. Additionally, the policies not only direct the staff, but also the volunteers. Policies guide the entire organization and its people. An example of a policy might be, “Church ABC will be governed by an elder board.” This decision made by the church leadership dictates how the church will operate in a specific way.

Procedures differ from policies in that they are specific in action. Procedures are “guides to action rather then guides to thinking. They detail the exact manner a certain activity will be carried out—a chronological listing of what must be done and by whom to get the job done.”[2] Procedures provide step-by-step ways by which a task is accomplished. While a church may be governed by an elder board (policy), the board elects new members each year by way of congregational vote (procedure). Another example may be found in the processing of the weekly offering. A team of volunteers counts the offering taken in by the church by following procedures starting at step one until they reach the final step. The procedures for counting the weekly offering guide the volunteers as to exactly how the money is to be accounted for.

While this topic won’t make headlines this week, effective leaders know the importance of policies and procedures for the church. The local church leads more effectively, its ministries are run more efficiently, when staff, volunteers, and others know what they are to be doing and how it’s to be done.

Questions for Thought:
– Think of 3 to 5 policies that you have in place in your organization.
– What are the procedures for those policies? Are the action steps clearly articulated?

[1] Welch, Church Administration, 25.

[2] Ibid.

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