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The Church Staffing Landscape Has Changed—Five Ways to Get Ahead of the Curve

The Church Staffing Landscape Has Changed—Five Ways to Get Ahead of the Curve
  • Name
    James Lawrence
Unlike some industries that rely heavily upon automation, economies of scale and low-cost labor, organizations engaged in full-time ministry efforts have always been built around one central element, their people. As ambassadors of the Gospel, we have the greatest product ever conceived to sell. So why has it become so difficult to build and maintain an impactful, healthy church staff? To begin with, the talent landscape has undergone a massive change in the past 10 years, both in the church and in secular business. Many for profit companies have realized that the key to innovation and a strong bottom line lies in their ability to find and retain talented people. From an employer’s perspective, you might say that we’ve moved from a product-centric economy to a people-centric economy. As businesses place a higher value on their people, benefits and overall work lifestyle, the talent landscape has become very competitive. The result is that the church has struggled to find and grow its leadership, even while many churches have experienced tremendous growth. However, strong growth coupled with weak management can be a recipe for failure. If you think hiring at a successful high-tech company is tough, try staffing top talent at a regional church. In addition to the required job skill set, church staffing also must factor in a strong faith, a clear calling, doctoral alignment and potentially lower compensation rates. Staffing a church is now a highly challenging task. If you’re in church leadership or management, or you’re thinking about a new church staff position, here are five realities to consider as you try to stay ahead of the competitive curve. Focus on vocation, not location. The contemporary church has typically been about one location and one congregation. With the growth of various multisite models, many churches now provide smaller campuses that look and feel like a typical local church. As such, executive pastors and church administrators are moving from centralized roles over one specific campus to multi-campus management or direct oversight of a smaller campus in a nearby area.  While the multisite model is supposed to maximize the ability to grow with less staff, that often comes at the expense of higher caliber leadership and managers who can leverage volunteers. As an example, when I was Chief of Staff at the Rock Church San Diego, we opened a new multisite campus that saw 3,000 visitors on the first Sunday. We launched with eight full-time staff, but only because the team we hired could manage people, volunteers and projects. Multisite ministry requires a new host of skills and staff that were not likely required in the years prior. Finding talent to manage remote campuses is more difficult because there’s now more to oversee. Those who can manage operationally, leverage volunteers and problem solve at the enterprise level will be an asset to the growing church. Your technology skills matter. Let’s face it, anyone born after 1990 is not going to engage with a ministry that doesn’t embrace technology. Finding talent that knows their way around social media, web, apps and Sunday production is more important than ever. While many of the largest churches in America have been using tech for years, the small to mid-sized churches have the most to gain by using social media, email, livestreaming and even mobile giving. Churches that understand the language of tech have a greater chance of engaging our tech-minded culture. Candidates with a tech background will bring a ton of value. Real-world business leadership experience is needed. When it comes to finding solid leadership and managers, it’s hard not to look within the walls of successful general market companies. Many companies place a huge emphasis on hiring and training great managers. As a rule, most churches don’t place a strong emphasis on leadership and developing management skills. I’ve seen many churches hire staff members that are unequipped to deal with the realities that come with trying to run a church and manage people. Those who have been developed within a strong management culture can provide a wealth of structure and accountability. Leveraging volunteers is a must. The church has always been about leveraging volunteers, and we need to hire people who love to build and manage volunteer teams. The largest pool of free resources available shows up every Sunday. However, volunteers need to be valued, poured into and given something that aligns with their gifts. If they are not cared for, they simply find something else to do. When you’re considering a new role, make sure you think about caring for and building volunteer teams. It’s not forever. As someone who has experienced a lot of church staff coming and going, it’s clear that many church staff roles don’t last forever. As difficult as it is to recruit and pour into someone only to have them run off to another ministry, it’s part of the church cycle. If you’re looking for a new role within the church or hiring one, keep in mind that culture has changed and many candidates don’t view positions as long term. Likewise, the church may not either. These are important conversations to have during the hiring process. If they are embraced with transparency, it can be a positive approach to a mutually beneficial ministry experience.