By Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Area Directors: the Key to Effective Ministry

This week InterVarsity is launching a new set of meetings in Chicago.  Titled “Cultivate,” this gathering focuses on equipping our 145 Area Directors (ADs). There are three main reasons why we are moving in this direction.

1.    Vital Role

In a fascinating book, First Break All the Rules, author Marcus Buckingham surveyed 105,000 employees, interviewed 80,000 supervisors and compiled five million pages of transcript. 

What he found is that front line supervisors (our ADs) either make or break organizations: “It is better to work for a great supervisor in a mediocre organization than for a terrible supervisor in an enlightened organization. People leave supervisors, not organizations.”

Buckingham’s team considered multiple factors in employee satisfaction - pay, perks, a humming learning organization, latest HR innovations, and charismatic presidents. None of these came close to topping the list. Standing alone at the apex is the AD level leader, clearly the single most critical human factor in moving organizational mission forward.  

Why are ADs so important? Because the really good ones are able to unlock the special talent latent in each campus staff member (CSM). Multiplied by 145, they effectuate one-by-one organic changes in the Fellowship’s culture. Strong teams are developed. Staff stay longer. Sabbath culture is honored. Prospective staff see this health and want to join our community. In other words, the ministry becomes stronger one CSM at a time.

2.    Hybrid Leadership is Difficult

At one level, ADs cast vision, set goals, recruit staff, and oversee the growth of their areas. At another, they manage risk, navigate the matrix, implement the Strategic Plan, ensure policy compliance, and conduct performance reviews.

The high-low hybrid of these two levels - soaring at 20,000 feet one moment and then diving to 200 feet the next - is challenging to say the least. No other job in the Fellowship is so subject to altitude sickness.

In addition, there are few moments when every staff position is filled, when every CSM is sufficiently funded, when everything is as it ought to be. Living with such perpetual disequilibrium requires the flexibility of a ballerina, on the one hand, and the stamina of a long-distance runner, on the other.

Strong ADs are coaches and managers, initiators and implementers. They possess both line and spiritual authority. They are responsible for supervision as well as faithfully partnering with others to make the matrix work. In times of crisis, they walk closely with campus staff, providing pastoral care through seasons of personal development.   

3.    Building a Strong Foundation

Over the past seven years, our number of staff has grown from 1100 to 1700. For this we give thanks to the Lord. But, to be honest, this growth spurt caught many of us by surprise. No longer a mom-and-pop operation, we cannot rely on spontaneous – and sometimes haphazard – leadership development practices.

Hence, we are entering a season of increasing intentionality. Using a metaphor from the apostle Paul, our foundations must be strengthened if the building is to stand tall and strong. And the key component to a solid foundation is a well-equipped AD.   

I am so looking forward to Cultivate – spending four days with ADs in Chicago. May the Lord be honored. And may he guide our time together.