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Staffing Wisdom for Church Leaders (Part 1)

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We help teams solve complicated staffing challenges with wisdom and grace all the time. We’ve helped more than 650 churches do it. So, we’re going to share some of that wisdom related to structure, leadership, getting the right people in the right roles, and handling “misfits” in this new series we’re calling “Staffing Wisdom for Church Leaders.”

FLIPPING THE FUNNEL OF STAFFING AND STRUCTURE

In the first episode, Amy and I unpack the core tension pastors feel when it becomes evident an organizational restructure is needed, and some of the most critical factors to take into account before you start making any decisions about specific people.

  • Core tensions related to organizational structure
  • How to solve staffing and structure challenges
  • Practical next steps to take with your staff
The stakes feel high because you want to solve these problems in a way that honors God, the members of your team, and still allows you to accomplish the mission God's called you to. [episode 351] #unstuckchurch Share on X You have to start with strategy first, then structure, then people. [episode 351] #unstuckchurch Share on X Senior leadership team – you need to understand that you are the ones to drive the goals, and you are the ones to determine core ministry strategy. [episode 351] #unstuckchurch Share on X When you get clarity on where you're heading in the future, how you're gonna get there, and what the win looks like at the end of the day, then you start to think about these key structure shifts that might be necessary. [episode 351] #unstuckchurch Share on X

This Episode is Sponsored The Church Lawyers:

The Church Lawyers’ Client Member program was created for organizations just like yours. Their team of Christian legal professionals are personally called to empower and protect churches, ministries, and their leaders to fulfill their mission by providing biblically informed and ministry-focused legal solutions. Whether governance, employment, litigation, or other matters, let The Church Lawyers walk alongside you as you navigate legal issues facing your ministry. 

Sign up for the The Church Lawyers’ Client Member program today at thechurchlaywers.com


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Transcript

Sean

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. People problems can become unique challenges when we’re doing ministry together, but when pastors take the right steps to address them, these organizational tensions can be handled with clarity and grace. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy begin a new series on staffing wisdom for church leaders. If you’re new to the Unstuck Church podcast before this week’s episode, head to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the episode show notes. When you do each week, you’re gonna get resources to support that week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony

The Church Lawyers Client Member Program was created for organizations just like yours. Their team of Christian legal professionals are personally called to empower and protect churches, ministries, and their leaders to fulfill their mission by providing biblically informed and ministry-focused legal solutions. Whether governance, employment, litigation, or other matters, let the church lawyers walk alongside you as you navigate legal issues facing your ministry. Sign up for the Church Lawyers Client Member Program today at thechurchlawyers.com.

Amy

Well, Tony, I’m excited to kick off a new series on one of my favorite topics. We’re gonna do four episodes about staffing and structure wisdom for church leaders. It sounds like some fun, don’t you think?

Tony

I agree. This is always fun.

Amy

And where have your travels brought you lately?

Tony

Long trip out to Boise, Idaho, one of the suburbs outside of Boise, which I don’t know if you’ve been following the news. It feels like everybody is leaving California and moving to Boise, Idaho right now. So it’s just crazy. Which means there’s a great opportunity for churches in that area, and we’ve had an opportunity to work with a few different churches. Just back from a trip out there to begin to help another church work on their multi-site strategy. Love being in that part of the country, and I love the people in that part of the country as well.

Amy

It’s beautiful. I’ve only been there once. I think I’m actually following you to Idaho. So we’ll have to compare notes on all the changes since the last time we were out there. I got to work remotely with a Canadian church today, and I love working with Canadian churches because now people say I have an accent, but theirs is even cooler. Anytime they can say, “oh,” or “about” or “yes” makes me smile anyways.

Tony

That’s right.

Amy

They probably wanna hear about staffing and structure, not our travels. Hey, the reason I love this series, Tony, is that I think people problems are so uniquely challenging on a ministry team. Even the church I talked with today, we were talking about some structure changes and it’s just so hard because people are involved and therefore leading your staff through them is hard and you wanna do it right.

Tony

That’s right. And when you know something is off with the staff, the stakes feel high because you want to solve these problems in a way that honors God, the members of your team, and still allows you to accomplish the mission God’s called you to.

Amy

Absolutely. Well, we help teams solve complicated staffing challenges, I think, with wisdom and grace all the time. We’ve helped what, 650 churches do that. And so in this series, we’re gonna share some of that wisdom that’s related to structure, to leadership, getting the right people in the right roles and handling, if I can call it the misfits. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, but sometimes there are just some people that you can’t quite figure out how to leverage their strengths on the team. So kick us off, Tony. What do you think are some of the core tensions that church leaders face related to organizational structure?

Tony

Yeah, so here’s the biggest thing I hear from pastors, senior pastors, executive pastors, they kinda look at their team and they say, “We have these people who fit into this structure, and because of that, they’re doing these functions.” And so it’s kind of, we’ve talked about this in the past, Amy, it’s almost as if they’re approaching this whole conversation backwards and they feel stuck. They feel like, “You know, there’s only so much that we can do because we’re married to the structure and we have these people that are in that structure.” So the question comes up then, if that’s not the way we should be approaching ministry, how should we organize and what, if we do shift how we’re organized, what can the people we have do? And even that is a bit of a misfit because sometimes the people that you have are a fit with specific roles that you need within your ministry organization and sometimes they’re not.

I’ve likened this to, if you were a football coach and you were told, “You know, I’m, you have four quarterbacks, six defensive linemen and a punter, now go, now go win football games.” A football team would never approach it that way. They would figure out, “We’re trying to win a game. What’s our strategy? What roles do we need on the team in order to make that strategy work? Now let’s go find the players to fit those roles.” And I think the same thing holds true within churches. Only because it’s church, sometimes we’re afraid to make those decisions. But Amy, that seems to be the biggest tension I hear from pastors on this topic of staffing and structure.

Amy

Tony, that’s such a sticky example because you’re right, no football coach would ever do that. They would take a step back first and focus on what they’re trying to do. But I agree with you. I think it’s really normal for pastors to look at who they have. Then they really can’t imagine how they could even restructure because they have perspectives in their head. Like, “Well, he can’t report to her, or she can’t report to him. That’ll never fly.” Whether it’s because of the tenure or the relationship. And I think when you start with people, you miss so much opportunity to think strategically about the roles and then who should actually be in them for this next season of ministry. And I’ll even say this, and I think it’s because we bring an outside perspective. I think there is this fear, even if they brought us in, like, we’re gonna tell ’em to fire everyone.

I think some of the church staffs are fearful of that. “Am I gonna lose my job?” It’s just getting a little bit more strategic and not so connected to the people to free up your mind to think through really what are the roles we need. And if I can just add a couple other things that I’ve observed in, how could I say it? People don’t know what they don’t know. Seminary still doesn’t help pastors learn about leading organizations. And it’s the one thing I love about my seat. I work probably with 35 churches a year. And a lot of that is on the structure side of ministry. And I’ve seen what works and I’ve seen what doesn’t. But most pastors don’t really have a view outside of their own team because they’re very busy. It’s always Sunday.

And then the other tension that I see is related to multi-site. In this past month, I’ve worked with two different multi-site churches with two different tensions. The first church, they’re getting ready for expansion through multi-site. And their headline tension was, “I just don’t know how to prepare our staff, our structure, our what, what roles are gonna support a new campus.” Again, they don’t know what they don’t know. But then the other church I worked with, they’ve been multi-site for years and they’ve made it through a couple of launches, but now they’re feeling significant stuckness, which is going back to our multi-site madness. It really is multi-site madness if we don’t have that structure side figured out.

Tony

Yeah. That’s for sure. Let me just add another point of tension here that we hear about. And it’s funny, in this case, it doesn’t come across as a staffing and structure issue. The tension presents itself as a financial problem. So I’ll hear from senior pastors or executive pastors, “We financially can’t hire the people we need to accomplish our mission.” And I would just argue that’s really not what the core issue is. The solution isn’t just to add staff. It’s better to prioritize our staffing dollars. And if we do that right, for any new positions we need to add, we can create the financial margin that’s required to add those new roles.

Emily, my wife, every once in a while I’ll complain, “You know, I have so much to do, I don’t have enough time to do it.” And she will always correct me and say, “Tony, you have plenty of time to do the right things that you need to be focused on today.” She’s so wise. And the same principle holds for ministry too. I believe God’s given you the financial resources that you need to accomplish his mission. It may just mean we need to reprioritize some of our staffing dollars to make sure we’re hiring the right people for the right roles to accomplish the mission he’s given us.

Amy

And Tony, would you agree? Sometimes I look back at my experience in ministry, and it were the times when those tensions arose, especially financial tensions that actually made us pause, take a step back and ask the right questions. Otherwise, we just kept doing our thing, running our plans, maybe not even that effectively, but when financial tension comes in, it makes us pause, take a step back and ask the right questions.

Tony

So Amy, if that’s the problem that gets presented, let’s get on the solution side of this. How would we begin to solve this challenge that churches face when it comes to staffing and structure?

Amy

Yeah. Well, it starts with something we talk about a lot when we talk about structure, is you have to start with strategy first and then structure, and then people. So if you find our listeners, if you find yourself caught in that, “Who do we have? What can they do? How should we organize?” We need to flip that funnel. We have to find clarity around what is it that we wanna do, or what is it that we really feel God calling us to do? Then we ask, what’s the right structure to do that? And then who are the people to fill the roles?

And the biggest struggle here is, it’s so hard to keep names out of your mind if you do this on your own. But when starting with people, here’s what I think happens. I think our brains, when we’re thinking about who we have on the team, our brains immediately filter ideas around this person’s strengths, not what our organizational needs are.

So when you flip it and start with structure, you ask, what is God calling us to accomplish? Or I’ll put it another way, what are the core ministry lanes that we need to get that done? You can appreciate this, as we slowly grow over time, we add people, we add roles, but we often don’t think, how do they need to be organized? What are the ministry lanes? Where do we need ownership? What’s the scope and focus of that lane? And then ask who can fill that role?

Some other sides of this too, that I think on the solution side is we finally have some data related to how churches associated with Unstuck are spending, in a sense, their staffing allocations. And so I think it’s good to get, not only have this subjective thoughts about structure, but also when you pause and you start with strategy, is to go, what’s the math related to our structure? How many full-time equivalents should we have? Of those full-time equivalents, what would be comparative for a church our size? How would we staff in those different areas? Because again, that just gives you some framework without names or people in there yet to start to untangle the other flip of the funnel.

Tony

Yeah, that’s so true, Amy. And so, beginning with strategy is key, beginning with some of those benchmarks that we’re seeing in other churches to be able to know as we think about our reach strategy, as we think about our discipleship strategy and all the support ministries, what is the appropriate allocation across all those big buckets that we need to staff towards.

But with that, we’re talking about having clarity of strategy, and I don’t want to overstate that or jump too far ahead. I mean, staffing and structure solutions begin with having organizational clarity, don’t they?

Amy

They do. Yeah. And I don’t wanna assume, most churches, we talk about the pyramid a lot, so hopefully that’s in your head when we talk about why do we exist, most of us have that defined, but often that directional level that goes, where are we going and how are we gonna get there? Is a little underdeveloped. And so I just wanna emphasize here, the structure should come after this work.

So first, the senior leadership team, you need to understand that you are the ones to drive the goals, and you are the ones to determine core ministry strategy. In other words, wins need to come from the top, not the other way around. I say that because it still makes me chuckle when we get to the budgeting season, ministry planning, the first thing that teams, leadership, excuse me, have teams do, is “You tell us what you think your results are gonna be next year. You tell us what ministry programs you’re gonna run. You tell us what budget we need.” And again, that’s another funnel in the staffing and structure area that needs to be flipped.

It needs to start with senior leadership team defining, “Here’s what success looks like for our ministry over the next 12 months in some key areas.” And we talk about it around the vital signs, but there’s some reach metrics. We need to set targets for how many people will say yes to Jesus? How many people are gonna be attending our church in person this next year? How many people are gonna be baptized? Just indications that we have a healthy front door. And then of course, key metrics on the discipleship side that those are things around group, engagement, typically volunteers, volunteer leaders, typically a financial per capita giving type of one. But senior leadership needs to start with determining those goals. And then they need to confirm what the ministry strategies are.

Beyond that, they also need to then take those goals and say, “Alright, but how does that look for each of our ministry areas?” So let me just use baptisms. If we’re gonna baptize 200 people, how many of those are adults? How many are students? How many are kids? When we look at volunteer leaders, how many will each ministry area have? And then of course, you take it one step further – now that people know what their goals are, how do they understand what their wins are? So I say all that because those organizational goal pieces and the confirmation of ministry strategies is really the starting point then for the structure conversations. And again, if you leave goals and priorities up to each ministry, you’ll not get organizational alignment.

Tony

Yeah. Because I think what you’re trying to do here is really establish what are the priorities for the mission that God’s called us to? And when you get clarity on where we’re heading in the future, how we’re gonna get there, and what the win looks like at the end of the day, then you do start to think about these key structure shifts that might be necessary. Because if you’re gonna accomplish something of any significance you need somebody to own it.

Amy

That’s right.

Tony

And then you need somebody that’s gonna build a team around that. And then it kind of does get back to the football analogy. If we’re gonna win games, we better get a coach and we better find the right players in the right roles in order to actually see the win every time we have these football analogies. I go back to why do the Cleveland Browns not hire the Unstuck Group? But that’s a story for another day, Amy.

Amy

Oh, well, let’s just get practical with some next steps. I’m gonna assume that our listeners have that muscle developed where we are setting organizational goals. We have confirmed our ministry strategies, so now we are ready to start thinking about structure. And here’s a step that I like to challenge churches with that are working through this restructure on their own. I often say, “If your church was twice your size, what would your structure need to look like?” I think a stretch assignment like that, it forces you to consolidate leadership roles and build out teams with more reasonable spans of care. And you realize, think if we double, actually, if God brings growth like this, we’re already missing a lot of leaders that we’re gonna need to actually build out the organization.

In other words, I think when we think about structure through incremental growth, we’re just working, we’re doing ministry, we’re adding a person here, adding a person there. We typically just add positions and attach them to existing leaders. But when you do a big leap, when you stand back and you’re more thoughtful about what the organization might look like if we truly double, you think about it a little bit more. I mean, what if your staff went from 10 people to 20? What if it went from 30 to 60? And so an exercise like this, I think helps you flip that funnel and actually ask the right questions.

Tony

Yeah. And it’s interesting, Amy, when you start to think out ahead to the next phase of growth and health of your church and the structure that’s needed, then the leaders that are required within that structure, I actually think it does two things today. It helps you think about “Do we have the right leaders on our team today to begin to build towards where we think God’s calling us in these next years?” And/or “How do we continue to develop the leaders on our team currently so that they are prepared to lead a church twice our size in the future?” And so I love how that exercise really does help kind of help pastors and executive pastors especially think about their leadership team and how that team needs to be developed. And it just asks the question, “Do we have the right leaders on the team, or is now the time that we need to consider bringing on some folks that can help us grow as a ministry going forward?”

Additionally, if you’re looking for a practical next step, you do need to do the math. And this quarter’s Unstuck Church Report is really focused on staffing and structure. And there is a lot of benchmarks within that report that will help you think about where you are as a church and how you kind of compare to other churches your size. But some specific places that you can look – staff to attendance ratio. This is a common way that churches are looking at “Do we have the right number of staff for the size church we are?” And so, at The Unstuck Group, we’re encouraging churches to make sure they have one full-time equivalent employee for every 75 people in attendance at the church. That’s total attendance, both adults and kids, students too. And on the staffing side, full-time equivalent, it’s factoring not only full-time staff, but calculating for all of our part-time staff as well.

A second benchmark, and this is another area where you have to do the math, is just to look at our general ministry budget. So take out building funds, but just looking at your operating expenses as a church, what percentage of your budget is allocated for staffing? And again, the benchmark we encourage through The Unstuck Group is to look at anywhere between 45 and 55% of your overall budget being spent on staffing. And that would include wages, benefits, payroll taxes, any specific staff training that you’re doing. All of those staffing related expenses would be included in that percentage. And if anything, if you can push lower than that, great. I mean, we see some churches, as we mentioned in our last podcast episode, that do push a little bit leaner in either the numbers of staff that they have compared to attendance or the percentage of budget that they’re allocating towards their staffing.

But the red flag should start to go up if you start to creep above that 55%. And Amy, I mean, I’ve seen some churches that have gone above 60 and close to 70% of their budget allocated towards staffing. And that just does not create any margin for any ministry that needs to happen within the church.

And then lastly, a third area that you can look at, just to compare where your team is to other churches, is to look at that allocation of staff across each core ministry area. And again, the recent Unstuck Church Report has some great benchmarks for you to look at around staffing allocation by ministry area for four different size churches.

Lastly, Amy’s on the call today. We have a team of ministry consultants that do this all the time. This is what we do – we help senior pastors, executive pastors take a look at their staffing and structure and help them kind of walk through some of these next steps that we’ve described to you. So if you’re interested in our help, we would love to do that. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help as well.

Amy

Great points, Tony. And really, for those of you listening, if you’re feeling some structure tension, do that exercise – double your church, figure the math on how long it’s gonna take you to get there, but let that exercise kind of help you start to think through what roles would we put in place if we had a little bit of a blank slate. And don’t be held back by what is today and just dream a little bit.

Tony, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony

Yeah. You’ve probably heard this phrase before. I think it’s attributed to Albert Einstein, but he said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.” And maybe the same thing holds true for ministry, that if we’re doing the same thing over and over again and expecting and praying for different ministry results, it’s not gonna happen. I mean, we need God to show up, there’s no doubt about it. And we should be praying for God to do a unique work through each of our churches, but he’s called us to steward the mission that we’re a part of. And with that, that may mean from time to time, we need to rethink how we’re engaging the mission that he has called us to. But likewise, Amy, I just think embracing the same structure that we’ve always had and expecting and praying for different results, again, it’s just not gonna work – you’re not going to see the results that you are hoping and praying that you’re going to see. If you want different results, in many instances, it’s not just a strategy change. You have to change the structure as well.

Lastly, I know many of you are facing some staffing and structure challenges at your church, and again, I would love to invite you to join us for our How to Restructure Wisely Webinar coming up on June 20th at 1:00 PM Eastern Time. We’ll go deeper on the topics from this podcast series, share some visuals, some of the things that we’re talking about even in today’s conversation, just to give you a picture of where you could be going next with your staffing and structure. And then answer some questions during the live Q&A portion of the webinar. Nobody gives their life to ministry for the money. There’s no doubt about that. It’s more than a job. Your team is more than a staff. So in this webinar, we’re going to help you learn how to solve staffing challenges with wisdom and grace based on our decades of experience. So register for that webinar at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar, and Amy and I hope to see you there.

Sean

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision, strategy, team, and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way we can serve you and your church today, reach out to us at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week we’re back with a brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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