How To Make Fun A Team Value

by Ryan Reed

Ever drive a boat? How about a big boat? Say, a ferry boat? Full of people? In the San Francisco Bay? Without a license?

I did.

All because my supervisor thought it would be fun!

“What?!”

Now, that would be an appropriate reaction to learning that a youth pastor piloted a commuter ferry with over 300 people traveling home from San Francisco. And I am sure that if those people knew, then they would have said a few more words than just “What!?”

It happened after a day of staff retreating and play in the city. My supervisor—also our lead pastor, and also a guy who obeys the law (just to clarify)—recognized the ferry captain as one of our church members. Instead of keeping this to himself, he leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Let’s head upstairs. I want to introduce you to someone.” The next thing I knew, I am sitting in the cockpit, one hand on the steering wheel and the other taking a selfie (of course), traveling at more than 40 knots!

Truly, I am baffled that I am not writing this article behind bars. We probably broke about 10 laws that night, but my supervisor and I had more fun together in that moment than in a hundred staff meetings. From that moment on, I decided that I would do anything to fight for that relationship because I knew that he valued me.

All simply because he knew the value of fun when building a team and growing healthy relationships.

The words fun and church staff often seem more like oxymorons than necessary partners. In fact, as I write this, I just finished a staff meeting. Fun is not the word I would use to describe it. And perhaps rightly so. Church staffers need structured, time-bounded meetings to discuss and critically engage with the necessary issues pertinent to ministry. These meetings cannot always involve driving ferry boats illegally (should I keep admitting to that?). Various seasons in the year call for team members to discuss hard conversations, make tough decisions, disagree with one another, and maintain deadlines. Not fun things to do, but very necessary things to do. The health and growth of every ministry organization depends on these kinds of meetings.

The secret ingredient, however, to maintaining a healthy team culture during these seasons of hard work is a value that commonly receives little mention: FUN! In every area of ministry—whether it be in children’s ministry where fun happens more naturally or adult ministry—leaders who value fun as a major component of team development and relational formation frequently experience greater productivity, higher commitment, and more favorable outcomes.

On a surface level, this may seem counter-intuitive. How does a team value fun? By playing laser tag in the hallway? Maybe in student ministry. But not in the real world. Not in a fast-paced church making major decisions about the spiritual lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. What does this value add to a team’s culture, and could it be the linchpin value that brings all of the others into greater focus?

Every time a leader intentionally seeks after what I call ferry boat moments, the team culture radically shifts from a negative value to a positive one. While fun seems like an easy, even elementary, value to implement, these moments must be sought out and nurtured. Very rarely do they simply happen. In my own church, fun alone brought down ministry silos that created barriers and bottlenecks to accomplishing our staff goals and objectives. It united a splintered staff. And quite honestly, as our staff team learned how to appreciate fun together as a regular rhythm of our team life, we each grew closer to one another, as well as to the heart of the gospel—the very reason for why we do what we do! All because we valued fun!

Fun works! Not because it’s magical. Rather, embracing fun as a core value of your team culture shifts four unique dynamics of a team:

Fun shifts suspicion to trust.

Suspicion may very well be the most destructive dynamic for a team. It stays hidden in the shadows of our hearts, and it can spawn gossip, resentment, and eventually, total dismay for those we suspect. A fun event with your team, however, can become the simple antidote to this deadly virus. Fun creates vulnerability, which is the antonym to suspicion. Fun brings down walls, incites clarity, and unites strangers together under common shared experiences. Fun sees the humanity in others, thereby forming trust.

Fun shifts employees to owners.

As suspicion wanes and trust grows amongst a staff team, so too does the ownership of the organization by its employees. Fun shifts an employee from considering her or his role as a means of survival to an environment where she or he may discover a means toward fulfillment, call, and purpose. Fun set within a sphere of trust allows for expression and creativity. These characteristics let people make their mark; thus, contributing to an organization, rather than caretaking a responsibility.

Fun shifts isolation to connection.

As Fun breeds trust, which leads to ownership, fun inevitably connects people to one another. Healthy, intentional connection can single handedly eliminate nearly every toxic relational issue within a staff team. Healthy connection leads to healthy communication, healthy conflict, healthy relationships, and healthy partnerships. Connections call for humility and dissipate power struggles. It values the person over the objective. Fun creates the environment in which legitimate connections can be formed and sustained.

Fun shifts waffles to spaghetti!

Yes, fun leads to a spaghetti team culture. Waffle cultures stay compartmentalized in every way possible. In this kind of staff team, members tend to disengage from others ministry areas, from one another, from their emotions in the workplace, and from the long-term health of the ministry. If a person thinks, “I can move on if this position does not work out,” then what stake does that person make in fighting for the health of a ministry? Fun shifts waffle cultures into spaghetti cultures. Spaghetti assumes that every role on the team influences every other role in the ministry, along with the entire overall health of the organization.

Fun matters. It matters a great deal! It matters so much that the entire long-term vision of your ministry organization and church depend on it.

QUESTION: What can you do today to make fun a real and essential value of your ministry team?

Ryan is the Pastor to Students and Families at Hillside Church in Corte Madera, CA, and has been serving in his current position since August 2011. Ryan married the love of his life, Stacy, and they welcomed their daughter, Hannah, January 2014. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter or Facebook.

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