To be perfectly honest, in the early days of my ministry, I had no staffing process to follow, and consequently the churches I served gained very little kingdom traction. I had no clue what I was doing.
But once I developed an intentional strategy for who I would hire next, and understood why, and became diligent about adhering to it, things began to align organizationally.
Remember, the key to making good hiring decisions is to learn from your bad hiring decisions. We all make them, especially early on. To borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, when it came to hiring staff, I was “the chief of sinners.” Fortunately for the church I serve, I’ve repented of my haphazardness, and so can you.
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Below are a few suggestions you might find helpful:
How To Staff Churches Under 100
If you serve a church under 100, you’re broke and have no money, but you can use this season to your advantage to chart your future course.
Where many Senior Pastors in your situation get hung up is they don’t take the time to create a clear mental image about the staff structure they are trying to create.
Staffing Five Key Areas
Here’s the one I want to encourage you to adopt. I tell the Senior Pastors I coach to focus on staffing five key areas: Children, Students, Adults, Worship, Operations/Finance. I believe every church between 10 and 1,000 should use this simple organizational structure. Five areas. That’s it.
That means by the time you reach 1,000 you will want to have five full-time staff covering each of these five areas, with some of them overseeing part-time staff themselves.
Each of these five staff members will lead five distinct “departments.” For example, if you are hiring a part-time video editing person, into what department does that part-time person go and who oversees that person? That’s simple. Your video person will be overseen by your Worship Pastor within the Worship Department.
Think leaders of departments. Five total. That’s it.
Staffing Five Key Areas Without Funding
Your job then as a leader of a small church is to “hire” your five best volunteer leaders with a “title” only. That’s their pay. Why just a title?
Because that’s all you’ve got.
You vet your best leaders, give the five that are most closely aligned with gifting and passion the title “Director of _______ Ministry,” ask them for a 6-month commitment, and you’re off.
Do they need theological training? Of course not. Do they need to be mature disciples? Indeed. This is your “staff.” You will meet with them as an entire group once a month (either Sunday afternoons or a week night).
Your governing board will oversee you as you lead THROUGH these five people to make ministry happen throughout the church. You will “hire” a children’s ministry staff member who will oversee ALL of the children’s ministry volunteers at your church. You will treat that person the way you would if they were paid.
Creating Organizational Structure At 100
Every single activity in your church must be brought under the leadership of these five people. Do not allow any “rogue” ministries to operate. Bring them in or terminate them. You must force organizational alignment.
Each of these “paid” volunteer leaders must have three things IN WRITING to be successful: responsibility, authority, and coaching.
Responsibility – for what am I responsible for as a volunteer staff member?
Authority – what decisions am I able to make on my own as a volunteer staff member?
Coaching – to whom do I report and go to for help as a volunteer staff member?
In fact, every volunteer, not just staff, must know what they’re responsible for, have the authority to make decisions, and be in a coaching relationship with someone to help them focus and get better.
In churches under 100, if you are to gain traction and grow to 200, you’ll need to have five volunteer leaders who can give you fifteen hours a week for six months. If they perform well, you “renew” their “contract” and have them serve another six months. Don’t “hire” them for an open-ended timeframe. Expect 50% turnover every six months.
How To Staff Churches Under 200
Soon you’ll start to grow, and if you follow my advice on how to lead your people regarding generosity, you’ll have the money needed to hire a part-time staff member.
How To Begin Paying Your Staff
Who do you hire first?
The order in which I encourage Senior Pastors to pay their staff is as follows:
Why? To grow you need to focus on your Sunday Morning Bucket first. The first and most strategic person to help make that happen will be your Worship staff position. The second will be your Children’s staff position. And since I consider Student Ministries to be a part of the “Sunday Bucket” (because they should meet on a Sunday night at this size), I would hire Youth next. Then Adults, and then Operations/Finance last.
If the person currently overseeing your Worship department is sharp, then that’s the logical person to pay first.
How much? $50 a week.
I tell Senior Pastors to “Never underestimate the power of $50 a week to help a person deliver consistent, superior performance.”
Why not more? Because you’re broke, that’s why. It’s all you have.
Your strategy is to pay your Worship person $50 a week, then when you grow and have more money you pay your Children’s person $50 a week, then Youth, Adults, and Operations/Finance.
Staffing Your Five Key Areas As Funding Grows
Once you have those five positions being paid $50 a week, and you have more money, then who do you give the increase to first?
Again, that’s easy: you circle back and give Worship a raise.
Raises are handled in the same order as hiring:
That means you go and give your Worship person $100 a week instead of $50, and then you increase Children’s, and along down the line.
Why not just pay your Worship person $250 a week so they can dedicate more of their time to the job and make the services better? Because even if you paid that person $250 a week (the total amount you’d pay all five Department Leaders combined), that person would still be part-time and deliver a part-time performance.
Why Prioritize These Five Key Areas?
Your goal at the 100-200 size is to instill in everyone’s minds the centrality of this five department system, not necessarily the leaders themselves for the long haul. Once it is fully in place in the zeitgeist of the congregation, you will begin to gain traction.
The biggest mistake I see churches make in this range is they hire one person, usually a Youth Pastor, upon whom they “dump” Children, Youth, and even Worship. This is a terrible idea usually made by board members who aren’t leaders themselves. Otherwise, they would have known the key to productivity is the ability to focus, not generalize.
I’d much rather have 15 hours a week from a stay-at-home mom leading my Children’s area, a fun young business person pressed for time over Youth, and the hipster college kid who wants to be Chris Tomlin someday over Worship. I prefer that scenario over having just one 23-year-old recent Christian College graduate who has never proved themselves in a church before. Trust me, my five 15 hours a week part-time staff getting paid $50, $150, or $350 a week will get 30x’s more done in a fraction of the cost than your recent college grad.
There’s a time for those types of hires, but not under 200.
How To Staff Churches Under 400
When you move past 250 and start creeping up on 300 and 400 in attendance, you’ll need to begin to transition your staff so that you have three to four of those key staff positions working full-time.
By the time you’re at 400, you should have full-time staff overseeing Worship, Children, and Youth.
That’s a “100 attenders to one full-time staff” ratio. That’s you and three other full-time staff.
Things will be incredibly tight, but you need to fight to maintain that ratio in these crucial years for growth to happen.
Staffing Is Critical At 400
The 400 barrier is a slippery slope. No-one stays at 400 very long. They either move back to the 330’s, or they move on to 450-475.
The key issue is ALWAYS staff. Trust me. You’re not stuck under 400 because of your facility; it’s because you don’t have the gifted thoroughbreds you need by your side to run a long, hard race.
From the time you were in the 50’s, to now at 345ish, you’ve been continually hiring and replacing those five key leader positions. You’ll go through six to a dozen of them at least. A few will stick. Many will move (if they’re leaders). A few will realize they just don’t want to go to the next stage with you. Chances are one or two of them will betray you.
A Secret To Hiring At Every Level
At each threshold, always hire UP. Never hire down. Always hire someone more gifted than the person who got you to your current attendance level. That previous person gave themselves tirelessly to get you there, so honor their effort and kingdom sacrifice by hiring someone better than them to take their place.
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Show me a church that has been led by the same Senior Pastor for more than five years, and that is stuck at the 400 barrier, and I’ll show you someone who keeps hiring sideways.
Sometimes, that’s caused by a Senior Pastor’s unwillingness to hire people better than themselves. Occasionally it’s because they’ve taken their eye off the ball because of the sheer number of relational knife fights they’ve been in with lay leaders to get the church to 400. Usually, however, the inability to hire great talent stems from a mixture of a jacked up governing board culture and limited finances.
Remember, the lead person has two concurrent leadership tracks going on at the same time: staff AND board members. Unless BOTH grow and mature at more or less the same rate, one will always hold back the other.
How To Staff Churches Under 600
By the time you reach 600, you should have the resources to have five full-time staff covering the five key areas: Children, Students, Youth, Worship and Operations/Finance.
The sticky one will always be Operations/Finance. Usually what happens in churches this size is they end up hiring a paid part-time bookkeeper, and then begin having conversations about an Executive Pastor to oversee staff and manage Operations.
Be aware that that Executive Pastor hire won’t happen (or shouldn’t happen) until the church is around 800. Executive Pastors hired at this size range don’t cause church growth but keep church growth from killing the Senior Pastor. There’s a significant difference between the two. If you’re healthy enough, delay hiring that Executive Pastor position long enough so you can afford a quality person.
You’ll notice that I have a clear bias: I believe churches under 600 should hire from within in the smaller stages. But as you progress toward 600 and beyond, you’ll begin to realize that you simply don’t have enough quality candidates to provide the expertise needed to take to you 1,000 and beyond. Keep hiring from within and you’ll start to look like the British Royal family, and Groupthink and a serious lack of divergent experiences/perspectives will end up stalling your growth.
So my advice is: don’t stall your growth by waiting to hire “professionally trained” staff in the smaller years (100 to 500), and don’t stall your future growth by hiring from within too frequently for top level positions in the larger years (600+).
As I mentioned, you are going to make mistakes with this, but if you create a clear conceptual roadmap and stick to it, you’ll get your staff to where the Holy Spirit is leading it.
Hire well friends.