Measurement: Execution is insured through measuring the right things, aligning each part to the whole, and establishing controls and reporting systems

What Are Control Systems And Why Does Your Church Need Them?

Control. Now days that is a dirty word. People with control issues seem to abound, yet none of us enjoy being controlled. But, control can have a helpful connotation as well, as in a “control system.” What is a control system? A control system manages, directs, or regulates behaviors, devices, or processes. Control systems can be found in all industries and businesses yet are lacking in many churches. Let’s take a look at how a control system works and how you might use control systems to make your ministry and church more effective and efficient.

The Four Elements Of A Control System

To be classified as a control system it must consist of four interrelated elements: Standards, Measurement System, Measurement, and Adjustment.

Standards – The purpose of any control system is to reach and maintain a specific level of performance, or standards.

Measurement Systems – A measurement system is the instrument, tool, or process that measures actual performance against the standard.

Measurement – This is the comparison between actual performance and the standard. The difference is referred to as a “deviation.”

Adjustment – This is the procedure or process developed to bring actual performance up to the standard.

An Illustration Of A Control System

The heating and air conditioning unit in a home or business is a good illustration of a control system.

  • The Standard is the temperature setting on the thermostat.
  • The Measurement System is the thermometer inside the thermostat.
  • A Measurement is expressed when the thermostat shows the standard and the thermometer shows the actual temperature, establishing the deviation from the standard.
  • An Adjustment is automatically made when the temperature is greater than the standard and the air conditioning system is turned on, or when the temperature is less than the standard and the heating system is turned on.

Using Control Systems In The Local Church

Most churches fail to have effective control systems because they rarely establish agreed upon Standards. So, staff and church members bring their own various standards to the church, resulting in confusion and disagreement. An example of this is found in the Matthew 25 accounting of the Parable of the Talents. The master fails to provide clear standards (instructions or expectations). Though not stated explicitly, two of the servants seemed to have understood they were to double their money, but the third did not and chose to apply his own standard (preservation of capital). Without clear standards people have no choice but to apply their own standards, for better or for worse.

And, most churches don’t have the intentionality to establish a Measurement System for the various aspects of the church’s mission, vision, ministries, staff, volunteers, and operations. And, if Measurement Systems are in place, then the Measurement they provide is not always acted on in a way that creates a significant Adjustment.

But, with a little forethought, effort, and ingenuity, a control system can be established for virtually all areas of church life. Some examples include:

Church Budget – Probably the easiest to understand and most widely applied example of a control system in the church is found in the financial software that is used to track the budget. The financial software is the Measurement System that allows you to see the current year’s budget, or the Standard, and provides a Measurement of how much under or over spending for each line item in a given month or year. The Finance Committee and staff then can Adjust their spending accordingly.

Spiritual Growth – In recent years several churches and organizations have designed Spiritual Growth Assessments that measure one’s spiritual beliefs and practices and provide a Spiritual Growth Plan Template for acting on the information. In this example the Spiritual Growth Assessment serves as the Measurement System, the Standard is a frequency scale, a Measurement is taken when an individual completes the Assessment, a tally sheet allows individuals to see where they deviate from the Standard, and the Spiritual Growth Plan Template provides a means for the individual to Adjust their deviations from the standard and progress on their spiritual growth journey.

Staff Periodic Reviews – In this example, a Monthly or Quarterly or Annual Performance Review template provides the Measurement System. Things such as Ministry and Church Goals and Church Mission, Vision, and Values can provide the Standards. A Measurement is taken by both the staff member and their supervisor as they complete the template and their responses are compared to the Standard to identify exactly where the staff member’s performance deviates from the Standard. The staff member and supervisor can then collaborate on the Adjustments needed to bring the staff member’s performance into alignment with the Standards.

Bible Study Teacher Effectiveness – Similar to the Staff Member Reviews, periodic reviews with Bible Study Teachers can serve as a Measurement System. An agreed upon list of expectations of all teachers serves as the Standard. A periodic face to face meeting between a staff member and the teacher where they together evaluate how the teacher is meeting the teacher expectations can serve as the Measurement. When a deviation from the Standard is identified, the teacher and staff member can collaboratively determine an Adjustment program for addressing the deviation.

Leader Vetting – A control system can help insure the proper staff are hired and volunteers are enlisted. For example, a Leader Vetting Team might serve as the Measurement System and identify biblical and job related performance Standards for a given position. As a part of the enlistment process each prospective volunteer is asked to fill out a questionnaire and meet face to face with a Leader Vetting Team member. The questionnaire and face to face meeting allows for a Measurement to be taken and compared to the Standards. Where there is a deviation the Team might suggest to the prospective volunteer an Adjustment program of training to bring them into alignment with the Standard.

Curriculum – A control system for determining what curriculum is allowable might have an oversight committee that serves as a Measurement System. The committee establishes a set of criteria for determining suitable curriculum that serves as the Standard. The committee takes a Measurement when they review new curriculum and measure it against the Standard. Curriculum that meets the Standard is approved and those that deviate from the Standard are rejected.

Sermons – A control system can be designed to evaluate sermons if there is a Preaching Team that can serve as a Measurement System. The group might list several expectations or best practices that reflect what an effective sermon should include that serves as the Standard. Together watching videos of each sermon and collectively comparing each sermon to the Standard can serve as the Measurement. Where there is a deviation from the Standard, the group can suggest Adjustments to bring future sermons into alignment with the Standard.

Worship Services – A control system for Worship Services can be established in a similar manner. A Worship Team can serve as a Control System. The group might list several criteria for every element of the service such as music, offering, prayer time, lights, sound, video, time limits, etc., that serve as the Standard. Together watching a video of each service and comparing the service to the Standard serves as the Measurement. Adjustments can then be made to insure those deviations don’t occur in future services.

Program Success/Excellence – A control system can be established to determine and improve the effectiveness and quality of any ministry program, mission trip, or special event or project. For example, selected ministry staff and key volunteers can serve as the Measurement System and establish criteria for both success and excellence that can serve as the Standard. Meeting as a group after an event or program the committee can then take a Measurement by comparing the outcomes against the Standard. They can then determine the Adjustments required to bring the program or event into alignment next time it is offered.

Processes and Systems – A control system can help insure the effectiveness and efficiency of any process or system in the church. For example, a First Impressions Team might serve as the Measurement System for guest services. The Team establishes Standards by listing expectations and criteria for the effectiveness and efficiency for each aspect of the First Impressions Ministry, from the Parking Lot to the follow-up with first time guests. A weekly or monthly email survey of all first time guests can take a Measurement of how effective and efficient each aspect of the First Impressions Ministry was for a given individual. Where there were deviations the Team can determine where and why the ball was dropped and what Adjustments have to be made to insure it doesn’t happen again.

Policies – Various church policies can provide an effective control system. For example, Personnel Policies serve as a Standard when they provide staff behavioral expectations and guidelines for time away and other benefits. The Personnel Committee might serve as the Measurement System and they take a Measurement when they compare a staff member’s performance or request against the Standard. If there is a deviation they can deny, modify, or approve a request or design an Adjustment program to bring the staff member’s behavior into alignment with the Standard.

Benefits Of Control Systems

Church leaders who learn how to design and implement effective control systems see the following benefits.

  • They don’t have to be “controlling” as their control systems allow them to draw upon organizational rather than personal power to influence others.
  • They serve as an effective “vetting” tool for decision making.
  • They help identify problems before they become a deterrent.
  • They reduce the time required for supervision.
  • They insure fair and consistent enforcement of policies and processes.
  • They identify where improvement in effectiveness and efficiency is needed.


Posted on March 12, 2019

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5