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Employment Engagement By Debra Kellar

Shouldn’t employee engagement come naturally in Christian Organizations?

As Christian organizations, we often assume that our mission is so clear and compelling that employee engagement will be high. We do indeed often have an advantage in attracting employees because they genuinely feel called and resonate deeply with our missions. However, many of us have seen that initial spark of excitement and anticipation darken and wane over time until we find that an employee is no longer performing with passion or excellence…or worse, that a once passionate employee has moved on to more compelling pastures.

This loss of engagement is costly and can deeply affect the morale and culture of our organizations.

A report “Engaging Nonprofit Employees” published by Quantum Workplace had this surprising finding:

“In 2015, only 58 percent of nonprofit employees were engaged, as compared to 65 percent average across all industries. Subpar engagement means employees are less likely to put forth extra effort, preach organization love, or (here’s the real grabber) stay employed in their current roles.”

What is an engaged employee?

The concept of employee engagement is hardly a new, its’ genesis can be traced back to the work of William Kahn in 1990. Kahn theorized that that each worker would be more productive if they could “bring” a part of themselves to their work roles. That is, if their work was reflective of their passion, interest and giftedness, it would be more satisfying. However the definition has  changed and morphed over the years from the simple concept proposed by Kahn, focused on the individual, to one encompassing the how the employee relates to the organization.

One more recent definition of an engaged employee from Wikipedia is: an employee who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action or goes above and beyond to further the organization’s reputation and interests. 

What will help employees engage at higher levels?

Research has shown that employees are compelled to new levels of engagement by initiatives that emphasize alignment, belonging and growth. They desire to feel that the organizations values and goals align with theirs and that they can genuinely contribute. They perform better if they feel secure, that they belong and that they can trust those they work with and work for. Additionally, they want support from the organization to grow and develop.

In pursuing initiatives to address these employee needs, we do have the advantage of some insights that have been gained by almost thirty years of fits and starts in employee engagement efforts. Some key success factors have emerged.

To see a genuine, sustained increase in employee engagement, we must:

(1) Make employee engagement a strategic priority – not an HR “program of the month”

(2) Keep the mission, the kingdom work of your organization, fresh and real to every employee

(3) Help Employees see how their job matters and how it connects to the mission

(4) Build Trust

(5) Create a great place to work…considering employee needs

I sincerely believe that as Christian organizations we are uniquely equipped by the Lord to build employee engagement in powerful and sustainable ways. We are like-minded communities of faith. This fosters genuine relationships. We appreciate the biblical imperative of community and service. We understand true mission and what it means to be called to use the varied gifts that God has given in his grace to work toward common goals.

Every employee deserves to truly feel joy and worth in their work and every ministry’s mission impact will increase if they do!


Debra Kellar is Vice President of Finance and Campus Operations at Denver Seminary overseeing the areas of human resources, finance, facilities, IT and risk management.  This post is an excerpt of article from the 2018 Spring edition of Outcomes Magazine.


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