Long before we had ever heard of COVID-19, a paradigm shift was underway in the church. Although the pandemic did not trigger the paradigm shift, it certainly seems to be expediting the process.
This paradigm shift will impact almost every facet of ministry, including the way we communicate, the way we plan worship, the way we budget, the way utilize space, and the way we configure our staff teams. In this lingering pandemic, we do not yet know for sure all of the ways the church will be impacted.
Certainly, we should expect that some church staffs will undergo a process of downsizing due to a decrease in giving. In an ideal world, such downsizing could be accomplished through retirements and relocations. However, if downsizing leads to displacement of a staff minister, a church should offer as much financial and networking support as possible to the minister being involuntarily displaced due to economic factors.
The more important question for churches is not, “how many staff can we afford?”, although that is a vital question. The most crucial question is, “What kind of staff do we need to equip us to accomplish our mission?”
In recent years, some church staff members have become so specialized, they have tended to function in compartmentalized silos of isolation. In my experience, the healthiest church staffs I have been blessed to serve alongside have functioned as a team with each staff member fulfilling individual assignments and sharing team responsibilities. Perhaps staff organizational charts should look less like a pyramid and more like concentric circles, indicative of team-oriented relationships.
In a season of uncertainly, what are the primary factors a church should consider when preparing to upgrade their staffing model? I suggest the following considerations for re-aligning and re-assigning staff for a post-pandemic church:
- Staff assignments should be contextual to your specific congregation and strategically aligned to empower your mission and vision. Staff titles and job descriptions should correlate with your unique mission objectives and opportunities. This means that your staff model will likely look different than other churches.
- Future staff ministers will be both generalists and specialists. It will be more important than ever that staff function as a team, with each team member having one or two specialized responsibilities and many general responsibilities. Just as a university student may have a major and a minor area of study, a staff minister may have a major area of specialization such as music, and a couple of minor or general areas such as technology and pastoral care.
- Re-alignment is an ongoing process, not an event. Set re-alignment goals and implement them through re-assignment, staff transition, and attrition. Unless your staff culture is toxic and needs an extreme makeover, a gradual re-alignment process may provide more time for upgrading your staff culture and adequate time to acclimate your congregation to the new staff assignments.
- Build your team with a strategic mix of full-time and part-time ministers. Churches that once had numerous full-time staff members will likely build a staff team composed of full-time ministers, bi-professional ministers, residents, interns, and volunteers. This shift will be partially driven by economic factors. But it is also propelled by the rich talent pool of ministry candidates who prefer to serve in ministry part-time while remaining engaged in a meaningful full-time career.
- Re-orient your ministers to be coaches who encourage and equip the congregation for their ministry. This aligns the role of staff with the biblical commission found in Ephesians 4:11-12: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
- Transition to a smaller pool of administrative assistants, and utilize interns or residents as ministry associates, following a model that resembles a medical residency. Many of our churches hired secretaries and administrative assistants at a time when ministers were highly dependent on the clerical skills of their assistant. This model has not been re-aligned since the dawning of the computer age. A resident or intern may assist with a few clerical tasks but will gain valuable experience as they are mentored for future leadership roles in ministry.
- Create a healthy succession plan that provides continuity and prevents long-term interruption. We are beginning to realize that in most cases a 6-24 month interim period between every staff transition is not healthy. A strategic plan of succession enables the church to identify and call a new minister, and it enables the departing or retiring minister to “pass the torch” so that ministry continues without disruption.
Many respected leaders, including Carey Nieuwhof and Bill Wilson, have suggested that the current health pandemic will do more to change the way we do church than anything in our lifetime. A leader in our church asked me recently, “Will the pandemic change the church for the better or for the worse?” I responded, “That depends on how we navigate the changes.”
When it comes to church staff, we can emerge from the pandemic better prepared to engage our communities if we realign our staff model with our mission and vision.