staffing and structure healthy vs stuck

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Does your church feel stuck?

You are clear on mission, clear on vision, and clear on how you believe God has called you to operate, and yet…

Something is broken.

We encounter this a lot as we serve churches of many different sizes and denominations across the country: Sometimes churches simply get stuck because of how they are doing team

Your church staff is key to achieving the mission of the church. Get your staffing right and your team will propel your church forward, achieving great results for the Kingdom. Get it wrong and your church becomes stuck and ineffective.  

Staffing is a challenge for many church leaders. Often, they can feel that something isn’t quite right with their current team, but they can’t put their finger on what to do next. We have helped countless churches before you effectively staff to fulfill their mission and vision and we can help you, too. 

In this guide, we will unpack how to evaluate your current church staffing structure and identify the steps needed to build a healthy and high performing team to fulfill the mission of your church. 

The Importance of a Healthy and High Performing Team

For almost all churches, staffing is the biggest financial investment that they will make. Not only is it a huge economic investment, getting staffing and structure right is critical to helping a church maximize its Kingdom impact.

Why is it such a struggle for churches to have teams that are both healthy and high performing? We usually find it is because of one of these three reasons:

  1. Personal wiring: some leaders are naturally more nurturing toward teammates while others are more driven.
  2. Busyness: The ministry whirlwind rules the day.
  3. Lack of intentionality: No team becomes a high-impact team by chance.

It’s easy to make these mistakes as a leader, but the stakes are high and the cost is enormous. Team dysfunction can distract  us from our mission, and lead to squandering God-given opportunities, time, resources, and talent.

There is a common misconception that if leaders hyper-focus on team health, everyone will be happy. But the truth is, not giving appropriate focus to performance as well can lead to low morale and create a toxic culture. Health is a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the only goal. The last thing we need in church teams are “gym rats” with strong but unproductive muscles—strong relationally but not making any kingdom impact.

On the flip side, if a church puts all the emphasis on performance at the expense of team health, the culture will feel transactional and utilitarian. This creates a low sense of community and personal care when the leadership communicates that the team exists only for goals, strategies, and metrics. Leaders unintentionally create a culture of fear.

As you evaluate your team, remember that a healthy and high-performing team has:

  1. An authentic care for one another.
  2. Spiritual vibrancy.
  3. Alignment around the mission: Clear vision. Clear priorities. Clear about the win.
  4. Accountability around performance: Real-time coaching, rather than leaving it all to annual review.

Best Practices for Church Staffing and Structure

We learned a long time ago that there are many ways to build a healthy, thriving ministry that helps churches accomplish the Gospel mission. In other words, there’s no one right way to build a healthy church. Because of that, here at Unstuck, we facilitate a conversation. We don’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all solution.

However, when it comes to staffing and structure, we take a different approach: We become much more prescriptive. We share what we see working and not working in other church ministries. We provide clear recommendations for getting the right people in the right roles to move the church’s mission forward. We provide a customized staffing plan, because we know that getting staffing and structure right is critical to helping a church maximize its Kingdom impact.

The pandemic, financial constraints, job hopping, and many other factors are creating an opportunity for almost every church to reevaluate their staffing structure. This is your chance to make sure you have the right people in the right roles to pursue the right path moving forward.

There’s no doubt about it—healthy, growing churches approach staffing and structure with a distinctively different philosophy than churches that are stuck and in decline.

The key differences are highlighted in this table:

Healthy ChurchesStuck Churches
Structure around their strategy – They think strategy, then structure, and then people.Structure around their people – They think people, then structure, and then strategy.
Right-size their staff team –  They shoot for one full-time equivalent staff person for every 75 to 80 people in attendance.Overstaff for ministry –  They have 50% more staff than growing, healthy churches.
Right-size their staff budget – They try to maintain a staffing budget between 45% and 55% of their overall budget so that they can continue to fund their mission. If anything, a lower percentage is better.Over-budget for staff – Especially after the pandemic, they have let their staffing budget consume more of their overall budget and now they are eating into cash reserves or having to cut ministry budgets to meet payroll.
Hire fewer staff and pay them well – They are adjusting compensation to keep up with the cost of living. That also helps them retain high-capacity staff leaders.Hire more staff with lower compensation – Because of that, staff are often considering new roles inside and outside of ministry so that they can support their families. 
Hire leaders rather than doers – They hire staff leaders who know how to identify and empower volunteer leaders and build volunteer teams.Hire doers rather than leaders – They hire staff to do the ministry and that fuels the assumption within the congregation that staff are paid to do ministry so volunteers aren’t needed.
Elevate high-capacity leaders – They recognize that just because someone can lead a team doesn’t necessarily mean they can lead a ministry department or a campus.Elevate positional leaders – In other words, they promote from within to fill vacant leadership roles without considering the leadership capacity needed to succeed.
Structure for both their “reach” strategy and their “discipleship” strategy – They know that it’s important to structure around ministry strategies to reach people who are outside the church and outside the faith.Structure solely for their “discipleship” strategy –  They focus all their staffing dollars on spiritual formation while ignoring the strategies that will reach new people.
Change their structure when they change their strategy – They recognize that if vision or strategy changes, the structure must change; otherwise, the legacy structure will always revert back to previous vision and strategy.Try to fit fresh vision and strategy into existing structures – Leaders and teams will always gravitate back to what they were hired or built to do. They will work hard to preserve what they know and avoid change.
Build diverse teams –  They prioritize having a staff team that includes a mix of strengths, experiences, ethnicities, genders, and  ages that reflects who the church is trying to reach in their mission field.Build homogenous teams – They hire people who are a similar age and ethnicity while possessing similar strengths and experiences, and, commonly, women are under-represented in leadership.
Evaluate structure every 18 to 24 months – They recognize that the ministry is constantly evolving as strategies to reach and disciple people also change. Because the strategy is changing, the structure must also regularly change.Retain legacy structures…even after legacy staff leave or retire – Because they think people, structure, and then strategy, stuck churches rarely change their structure. They, instead, just promote or rehire people to fill vacant positions.
Build a senior leadership team – By doing so, healthy churches model team-based leadership from the top, they streamline strategic decision-making, and they align the team to eliminate ministry silos.Build a flat leadership structure – Every pastor and every leader who is added to the team reports directly to the senior pastor. Over time, this leads to an unmanageable span of care for the senior pastor and fosters competition rather than alignment among ministries.
Maintain appropriate span of care – They make sure every leader is managing the right number of staff and volunteers to accomplish their part of the mission  while also caring for the people on the team. Let span of care outpace the capacity of the leaders – They add too many direct reporting relationships which either compromises the mission or the care and development of the team.
Ensure staff are led by staff – That means every paid staff person, other than the senior pastor, is hired, led, directed, managed, coached, and, if needed, fired by a staff leader under the ultimate direction of the senior pastor.Ensure staff, other than the senior pastor, are accountable to a board or committee – When this happens, the senior pastor and staff leadership lose the ability to lead, direct and provide accountability for follow through on the mission and ministry priorities.
Link every ministry to the senior leadership team – In other words, there are no silo ministries that aren’t connected and aligned to the rest of the ministry.Allow ministries to operate independently of the senior leadership team – This leads to silo ministries that eventually compete with the rest of the church for resources, people’s time and attention.
Decide how they will decide –  They clarify decision rights by deciding who will have a voice and who will have a vote before every decision is processed. Assume every leader has a voice and a vote on every decision – This slows down decision-making, makes it challenging to get consensus around necessary change, and fosters an “us against them” culture that creates distrust on the team.

Review this table with your staff and board. Use it to assess how you’ve approached staffing and structure in the past and then ask the following questions:

  1. Where does our staffing approach lead to health?
  2. What about our staffing approach may be causing our ministry to get stuck?
  3. Do we need to restructure our church staff?

As you ask and answer these questions, they can feel overwhelming—not to mention the personal and emotional nature of hiring and firing in the church context. If you are still unclear on whether or not you need to restructure, let’s take a deeper look into the following four signs that indicate the time has come.

Four Signs You Need to Restructure

There are some staffing strategies that tend to produce health and growth for churches. There are also some staffing strategies that, often, are part of the reason why churches get stuck. 

We want to share a few early warning signs that will tell you that it’s time to address staffing issues and restructure your ministry team.

Sign #1: Overstaffing

You haven’t right sized your team to reflect the current size of your church. We recommend a ratio of 1 FTE (Full-time Equivalent) to every 75-100 people in attendance.

Healthy churches hire fewer staff and pay those staff well. By doing so, they are better positioned to retain key leaders and prevent them from pursuing other opportunities in organizations that are also looking for high-capacity leaders.

Sign #2: Legacy Structure

You’re perfectly structured to get the results you’re getting today—so if you want different results, it will likely require you to change both your strategy AND your structure. It’s time to consider a structure change if:

  1. You are structured around your people, rather than your ministry strategy.
  2. You structure solely for your “discipleship” strategy, and not your “reach” strategy.
  3. You try to bring fresh vision, direction, and strategy into an existing structure and it doesn’t work.
  4. You are married to a legacy structure… even after the legacy staff leave or retire.

Is it time to restructure?

One of the most common lids to growth in a church is staff structure.

You’re perfectly structured to get the results you’re getting today. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, it might be time for a change.

church staffing and structure icon

Sign #3: Leadership Capacity and Diversity

Sometimes churches put people in leadership positions when they don’t have the leadership gift or capacity required for the role. 

Healthy churches hire leaders rather than doers. Then, when they hire those staff leaders, they make sure they are very clear that one of the wins for each person’s job is to identify and empower volunteer leaders and build volunteer teams.

Healthy churches also prioritize having a staff team and, more specifically, a leadership team that includes a mix of strengths, ethnicities, genders, and ages that reflects who the church is trying to reach in their mission field.

Sign #4: Lack of Alignment and Span of Care

Three final warning signs that your church may need to be restructured is related to span of care issues and lack of team/ministry alignment.

  1. Your leadership structure is designed to foster division rather than alignment.
  2. You have people trying to lead and care for too many people.
  3. You have people and ministries operating in silos and disconnected to the team. In other words, you have staff or volunteers who are either individually or as a ministry team living on their own islands.

To take a deeper dive into re-structuring your church staff, download our free e-book on How to Restructure Your Church Staff for Growth.

How is Your Team Doing Today?

After reading through the characteristics of a healthy church staffing structure, ask yourself: how is your team doing today? No church staff drifts into team health and high performance. Leaders must be intentional about creating a great team.

Our Staffing & Structure Review can help you position your ministry team to execute at its highest potential.

Our experienced ministry consultants help you ask and answer key questions like:

  • Do we have the right people? Are they in the right seats?
  • Are we overstaffed, or are we missing key positions?
  • Do we have the right performance management system to lead a team that follows through?

Through the Staffing & Structure Review, your consultant will help you build a new, customized organizational staffing structure that’s aligned to your ministry strategy. Start a conversation today to learn more.

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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