At the dawn of the new year in 2023, something extraordinary was happening with our friends at Cherry Hills Community Church (“CHCC”) in the Denver area. Amid exciting growth and a dynamic increase in attendance, they were also witnessing a significant strengthening of cohesion, unity, service, and love within their staff team.
However, things were not always this way…
What was going on?
Like many big, sophisticated, fast-growing churches, CHCC has a large staff team serving in many different departments. As churches wrangle simultaneously with demanding growth, distributed ministry activity, leadership changes, and events such as COVID, it is often hard to maintain strong staff relationships and unity across departments. In such situations, staff may question whether they are appreciated and loved and whether their work is genuinely recognized or making a difference.
Such was the case for CHCC. In the Fall of 2022, CHCC leadership recognized that while many great things were happening in the Church, the staff team was not as unified and together as needed. As they began to pray and plan how to address this issue, two words kept rising to the surface of their conversations—unity and empathy.
How did the change begin?
CHCC leadership sensed the answers were not in some unique discipleship program, speaking series, or other “secret sauce.” They became convinced they needed to take a very intentional and different approach to communication and cultivating relationships amongst their staff team. They needed to help foster interactions that were not happening at the time. The primary goal of their efforts, which guided each element of their approach, was to see the tangible development of a more unified and empathetic staff team.
So, unbeknownst to the staff team, leaders organized the staff into new small groups via strategic table placements during their annual Thanksgiving banquet. They designed these groups intentionally to be “cross-ministry.” Therefore, no one in a direct reporting relationship with a teammate could be in a group with that other team member.
Each small group contains staff members with vastly different ministry roles.
Together, they walk and work through a book study and curriculum. There are no staff titles in these groups. The groups have time set aside for prayer, testimonies, and vulnerability. Once a month, staff members from all the groups meet as a whole. Additionally, each individual small group meets separately at least one other time during the month.
As the groups have grown, some are meeting even more often than the bi-weekly scheduled meetings. In five short months after beginning this intentional staff short devotional time, many members who may not have been interacting before are group-texting nonstop, going to coffee together, and some even going out to dinners.
A less than cohesive staff is operating in unity in just a few months.
Staff members feel that they are seen and recognized. Everyone realizes they are needed and loved. What started as a Thanksgiving conversation starter has created new little “families.” Each group member is motivated to actively pour into their teammates, no matter their respective roles. CHCC staff members leave each day better than when they came in.
How Is It Affecting the Ministry?
The staff at Cherry Hills Community Church have become increasingly more committed to digging into the Word and intentionally finding the Truth about what it means to love God and love others. This effect took place organically because staff members became more involved with each other. They began to realize how vital their specific role was to the success of the broader CHCC ministry. People started to feel in tangible ways that they were needed and wanted. As they became closer throughout their various group interactions, the staff members became more invested in serving one another.
Two examples stand out in evaluating the success of the staff small groups in helping to reach the primary goals of unity and empathy.
In one case, the only barista of Wild Blue Coffee (the CHCC coffee shop) fell ill. Instead of shutting down the entire coffee shop, leadership posted a volunteer form. The staff, most of whom had no connection with the coffee shop, stepped up and filled out every slot. Their hearts were moved as they filled the vital need of a person behind the counter to greet and serve people. Their eyes were opened to the ministry happening daily at Wild Blue Coffee. While serving in a different ministry department, staff members saw how busy it was and how many people came together for small groups. The CHCC staff realized, “This is not just a coffee shop; this is a ministry.” The Team began experiencing what it meant to love, serve, and care in a different context.
Another example of how the groups have fostered unity of action and empathy is what has occurred in a local food pantry. CHCC co-labors with a local Food Pantry to serve those who are hungry and in need. The Food Pantry has a weekly, two-day event that requires many dedicated hours of preparation to feed over 200 families. One week, an uncharacteristically high number of volunteers was out of the office. These volunteers help people shop in the food pantry and are vital to the event’s success. So, one staff member helping with the food pantry reached out to her fellow small group member and asked for their help to guide shoppers through the pantry. To her surprise, the staff filled every position available. The staff members who volunteered to help were able to experience the ministry for the first time by getting their hands on a cart and guiding those in need to shop for their items.
These are just two examples of how the interactions and relationships formed in groups have resulted in staff members getting to experience different CHCC ministries at work. Additionally, the staff is enjoying strong growth in and between the various ministry departments. Most importantly, perhaps, the team has a new appreciation for one another as they see how each other’s service meets people’s physical and spiritual needs in ways different from theirs.
How Might this Work in Your Church?
Intentionally creating a culture of unity and empathy reminds everyone they play a significant role in the greater good of the Church. When everyone begins to understand how vital their parts are and how much they are needed, they start working together and expressing empathy.
CHCC staff have found that the ministry expands when you are unified and empathize with your coworker because you have been in each other’s shoes. The Church begins running and serving more efficiently. Regardless of the ministry role in which someone serves, everyone is better when all hands are on deck, pulling together and pulling for each other.
Cherry Hills is doing a great job of cultivating empathy and unity among its staff. How could their example translate in your Church? What other ways could you employ these concepts in your context?