Q&A: Should Policies and Procedures Be Separate Documents?

A church business manager shares best practices learned through the process.

I’m working on a policies and procedures manual for my church. It has grown to 28 pages, and I expect it will get longer. Would it be better to have separate documents—one for policies and one for procedures—or should everything be kept in a single document? Also, what else should we consider when developing policies and procedures for our church?

We went through this process a number of years ago and settled on the following best practices that may prove helpful to you.

Policies and procedures are separate documents

We decided to create two separate documents, but one references the other.
There were three reasons for doing this:
  1. Church boards should be focused on policies and not on writing and monitoring procedures for policies. This helps board members stay focused on the broader area of church governance without burdening them with step-by-step procedural matters.
  2. Procedures typically change much more often than policies, and they should. System, organizational, and other changes may trigger the need to rework procedures within a church. Procedures are best kept up to date by staff using some formal review and approval methodology to ensure they stay true to policy and operational standards.
  3. Staff and volunteers will be able to reference specific procedures related to their job easier. Sometimes a policy requires multiple procedures. Yet employees or volunteers with specific jobs often only need to refer to a procedure or procedures related to their areas of responsibility. Having policies and procedures all lumped into one document can make it hard for your staff and volunteers to parse out what they need to do.
  4. Procedures are based on what works best operationally

    Some thought needs to go into the proper content or steps for each procedure. Sometimes it can get confusing for someone doing role A to be handed a procedure that covers roles A, B, C, D, and E. On the other hand, it can be helpful to see how one role works together with others. Similarly, sometimes a procedure will apply to more than one policy. Again, procedures need to be carefully thought through and also clearly communicated or an employee may become confused and frustrated.
    At our church, we have a group made up of operational management staff that helps employees set up and implement procedures. This group also acts as a review/approver body to make sure the procedures put in place perform to all the policy requirements and don’t leave anything out.
    At the end of the day, you want procedures that are clear, unambiguous, and easy to digest by those who use them.

    Employee handbook—the big exception

    An employee handbook typically contains the policies and practices that pertain to all church staff. While this handbook is mostly a policy document, it also tends to include a fair amount of procedure—at least at a high level.
    For example: After explaining the workers’ compensation benefit, the handbook will typically instruct employees on the first steps of what to do if they are injured on the job. Undoubtedly, there are other procedures needed for a workers’ compensation policy, but those would be directed to, for instance, the claims administrator. The handbook would only include procedural steps that the employee needs to take.
    Timecard reporting and vacation requests are two other areas, among others, that typically include some high-level procedures.

    How to decide when a policy should be in an employee handbook and when it should be a separate church policy

    If a policy only applies to church staff, we put it in the employee handbook.
    If a policy applies to church staff and others (e.g., volunteers or congregants), we create a church policy and then reference it and repeat some or all of the policy in the employee handbook.
    If a policy primarily deals with church governance, the congregation, or organization as a whole, it is a church policy.
    Note: Calling something a “church policy” does not necessarily mean that staff members are not affected. For example, most or all staff are typically congregants. Another example is a policy on the church budget might have elements that the finance manager must abide by.

    Department procedures are generally determined within a department

    There is a need for procedures to accomplish specific tasks within a given department or area of ministry. When tasks apply only to employees within a department or ministry area (and aren’t tied to church policy), we generally let the department or ministry area establish and maintain those procedures.
    Mark Simmons is the business manager Christ Community Church Milpitas, California.

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