Communication Leadership Team Building Vision

Office Detox: 9 Signs Your Church is Operating in a Toxic Staff Culture

September 1, 2016

You can’t build a healthy church without a healthy staff culture. And it starts in the office. Unfortunately, this is one of the most overlooked aspects of parish life, and, as a result, a lot of church staffs pick up toxic habits that can lead the church down very unhealthy paths. Here are nine signs to look out for.


Gossip actively undermines the foundation of a healthy staff culture, which is trust. Everybody has a weakness for it. Know thyself. What/who do you love dishing or hearing dirt about? Why not try to fix that situation instead? Also, consider this: If someone is sharing gossip with you, chances are they’re also sharing gossip about you.


People gravitate toward some people more than others. That’s just human nature and not necessarily a bad sign. But ask yourself: Do you always eat lunch with the same people, or routinely leave certain people out of conversations?

Lack of vision/lack of unity

Proverbs 19:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” A staff will perish as well without a shared vision. They can disagree on strategy, but a team must be unified in the vision.

Leadership is never around

This is one of the most abused workplace habits in many parishes. Sure, a lot of church ministry, especially pastoral care, happens outside the office environment, but not all of it.

I knew a pastor who took lots of random time off, and guess what? Employees caught on. When he was out the front door, staff was out the back. Are there clear, consistent expectations when people should be present in the office? It doesn’t have to be the same for everyone, but it should be clear for everyone. And unless an emergency or small children are a factor, the “work from home” mentality is usually a bad idea.

Too little or too much time off

Sometimes, just encouraging staff to spend healthy time away from work can alleviate a lot of frustration. Encouraging staff to get away and come back refreshed and renewed will benefit your parish. On the other hand, if people can’t wait to leave each day, if they’re not even showing up, something’s off.

No Collaboration

Ask yourself: Do I have a pretty good idea what projects or events people around me are preparing for? When staff members lose sight of what’s happening in someone else’s ministry, it’s usually a sign of what we call, borrowing a phrase from Patrick Lencioni, ministry “silos.” One bad sign is never attending other team member’s events. Simple things you can do: Stop and ask for someone’s opinion or advice on something. Ask them what they’re working on. That kind of thing is contagious.

Staff never interacts outside of work hours

Here’s an interesting question: Do staff members ever get together when they aren’t being paid to be together?

High staff turnover

Life circumstances change and so do careers, but let’s be frank: If you’ve hired three music directors or youth ministers in the past two years, either something’s driving them away or your hiring the wrong people.

Doors are closed and chairs are taken

Physical space is a great way to take the temperature of your office. What’s the message someone’s work space communicates? Drop in, or go away. Whether in your office or at the lunch table, look and see if there’s an extra chair just in case someone comes by. Be aware of little signs that indicate openness, inclusivity, and invitation.

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