Firming Up Your Financial Foundation<br>Part I: Rightsizing Your Staff

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In the previous CT-Blog I shared 10 signs that your congregation might be financially fragile and promised to share several missionally healthy ways to firm up your financial foundation. In this post, we will look at rightsizing your staff. With each strategies, the goal is to keep the congregation focused joining Jesus in ministry and not just financial survival. 

If your congregation has been in slow decline for years, the chances are great that you are staffed for the past when your congregation was larger. You might glance in the mirror one month discover that your staff seems like this young man’s clothes.

Lyle Schaller and other congregational consultants suggest the following rule of thumb: one full-time program staff position for each 100 persons in average worship attendance. This means a congregation of about 100 persons in worship would usually have one full-time pastor only.  A congregation with 180 in worship might have one full-time pastor and at most another full-time person or perhaps one or two part-time program staff persons. Congregations that have been losing average worship attendance for years may have a constellation of staff from when they were twice their current size.

I consulted with one congregation several years ago that had been in a slow decline for over twenty years. A little over a hundred people worshiped there weekly in the summer, though in the winter their number grew to maybe 130. There were paid persons in the choir – in fact, half the choir was paid. The choir director/organist was full time.   There was a full-time youth director who worked with about a dozen youth. There was a full-time children’s director who had less than 20 children on roll.  And there was a part-time minister of visitation.  Clearly the congregation was over staffed and only able to do so because of memorial funds that were being used up at an alarming rate.  Leaders faced some difficult choices. 
Right sizing staff can be painful for a congregation. Long-term staff can come to feel like an indispensible part of the church family. It is difficult for congregational leaders to recognize, for example, that the congregation simply cannot afford to maintain the staff they “always had.” Or that beloved staff have been less than effective for years. (A financial crunch may give you the political leverage you need to address underperforming but well entrenched staff members.) Right sizing staff also forces congregational leaders to grapple with the role of staff. Is the role of staff to equip and coordinate members in their ministries, as suggested in Ephesians 4? Or is the role of staff to take care of the members and to do their ministry for them? These are not easy issues on which to gain agreement.
Here are 5 more considerations for right sizing your staff. I recognize that none of these are easy or comfortable to consider, much less act upon. The reality is, however, that firming up your financial foundation will be neither easy nor comfortable. It will require clarifying your purpose, making tough value choices to set missional priorities, and learning to do church more efficiently and effectively than in the past. And it may be the best thing that has happened in your congregation in a long time, too!
  • What staff do you really need to assist your congregation in fulfilling the ministry to which Christ is now calling them?   In other words, think missionally. Affordability is not the first question. The first set of questions should be about the leadership the congregation needs to equip and coordinate members to carry out their own ministry.
  • Are there full-time positions that really need to be part-time? Not every staff position needs to be full-time. And, as a friend of mine once put it, “You often get more bang for your buck with part-time staff.”   Part-time staff are usually quite passionate about their ministry, work more than the hours than they are paid and often don’t need benefits.
  • Are there ways that you can share staff with a nearby congregation? I know of two churches that share a book keeper. Another two share a secretary who works three days for one congregation and two days for the other; calls are forwarded to whichever congregation the secretary is working that day.   Another two congregations share a youth director; the youth alternate worshiping and meeting in both congregations.  
  • Do all your staff need to be paid? Leadership is essential, but not all staff need to be paid. I know of one congregation that has a volunteer business manager who was quite successful in business, retired and wants give back to the church that has blessed him. Sometimes the opportunity to serve and the regular expression of appreciation mean more than money to some persons. Unpaid staff play a significant role in the ministry of many congregations.
  • Can congregational members be challenged to take part in ministry that was once done by a staff? When one congregation I served lost a beloved part-time minister of visitation due to declining health, we choose to invite people to adopt a home-bound or nursing home resident. People agreed to take them communion every first Sunday, to visit one other time during the month and to call once a week in between. This became a ministry that was appreciated by everyone involved and replaced part of the responsibilities the retired minister had been paid to do for them.
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence

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