Stores have a return policy, the government has a public and foreign policy, and Dr. Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory has an often quoted policy known as the “Roommate Agreement”. Today I want to unpack the most dreaded and spiritedly debated policy of them all…the ministry “attendance” policy.
No other policy has caused so much grief, anxiety, and turmoil in music ministry, except perhaps the dress code policy, in all of music ministry circles worldwide.
Let’s look at three aspects of the attendance policy…
- Worship, Eucharist, and God’s Word
- Life Events
- The team
I was raised in an Italian, Catholic household. Here’s what that means…you go to mass every weekend, and every holy day. If you don’t go to mass, something is dreadfully wrong. By dreadfully wrong, I mean serious illness (near hospitalization), car accident (only if the car isn’t driveable, otherwise expected to still get to mass), war, or large scale natural disaster. I went every weekend and holy day because I was supposed to. It wasn’t an attendance policy, it was just the way it was.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I went every weekend and holy day because I wanted to. I had fallen in love with God, and recognized the love, grace and favor He had been pouring into my heart throughout my entire life. I had a conversion of heart. I wanted to be there with Him and with my community. I was hungry for the Bread of Life, and God’s Word was starting to come alive to me.
Without that conversion, an attendance policy would have pushed me away from the church and the Lord. Because of that conversion, no attendance policy was necessary. See where this is going?
The best way to grow a consistent team may be to offer them opportunities for a deeper conversion to the Lord and His church.
Kids get sick, and adults do too. People take vacations (so I hear). Seasons change in the weather, and in peoples lives. Right now in my music ministry teams, I have adults growing their families, going back to school, starting new carers, and doing all sorts of wonderful things. As ministry leaders, we need to not only be sensitive to what is happening in our people’s lives, but be encouraging them in their growth and happiness. Sometimes, these great events may mean that those people aren’t available consistently for a few weeks or months. I have several team members that work on weekends as well, making it difficult for them to be at their regular mass time.
Have an honest conversation and let people know they can take a season off, and you’ll be so excited to welcome them back when they’re ready…
When you have a team where frequent absences occur, there are a few things you need to be aware of as a leader. A disparity of commitment can lead to resentment in the team. Meaning, your more consistent people could start to feel taken advantage of. Be aware of the team’s disposition through dialogue and communication. Here’s an example of the culture and responsiveness we work towards on our teams…
- Communicate – I ask that people communicate whether or not they will be there on a given weekend. This is very easy to do using our Planning Center Tool.
- Timeliness – Encourage your group to give you as much notice as possible if they are going to be absent. If a bass player tells me on Tuesday that they will be traveling with the family, then I have 5 days to find a replacement. Texting me an hour before mass doesn’t leave me many options. One exception to this…I know that sometimes an illness can come on quickly, or an emergency situation can develop at the last minute. We need to be sensitive to these types of things.
- Relationships – Provide opportunities for the team to get to know one another. Understanding one another goes a long way to accepting, loving, and encouraging one another.
- Lead – If your observation as a leader is that your folks aren’t committed, ask yourself if you are leading them in such a way that they feel their contribution matters.
Pro Tips for Policies…
- Mandating a metric attendance policy is a lose/lose situation. You will knock yourself out trying to keep up with it, and your team will quickly grow discouraged as life events come up and keep them from attending. Set reasonable expectations instead. You’ll be glad you did.
- Start people in a smaller commitment role, and allow them to grow into more responsibility. I am revising how we do this at my parish, and will share more in my next blog post.
- You might be a full time music director or a worship leader. Remember that of all the people on your teams, you are likely the only one with that “full time” allowance of hours to dedicate to music ministry.
- Handling an attendance policy poorly can lead to much heartache for you, and for your people. I know this from experience. Proceed with caution, and love.
- If you just set a policy, make sure you are looking at that policy through a lens of love and charity. Many of the people on my ministry teams tell me that the time they serve at mass and rehearsals are the highlights of their week. I believe them, because it is true for me also.
What has, and hasn’t worked for your parish? Share…