Mental health care providers know that a second pandemic concurrently exists with mental health issues facing individuals coming out of COVID-19 with increased frequency. A third pandemic has likewise surfaced, often referred to as the “Great Resignation,” with hundreds of thousands of workers in our country and globally either retiring or resigning from previously held jobs to retool with further education or shift to alternative careers. With other looming economic signs pointing toward a potential economic recession, the unemployment rate remains at an all-time low as “help wanted” signs are posted at every small business, along with school, government, and other corporate enterprises.
The poverty of workers is also striking local communities of faith. What are some options to consider when church staffing needs exist but, as scripture states, “the laborers are few?”
Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina, where I formerly served as senior pastor for 35 of the 38 years on staff, experienced two significant staff changes within a 10-month time frame. Our minister of media and arts died unexpectedly in September 2019. Amid coping with my own personal grief and the collective grief of this minister’s extended family, in addition to a church staff, congregation, and community in mourning, we were faced with an immediate, practical concern: how will the weekly ministry responsibilities formerly provided by this minister continue? This minister possessed the unique gifts to serve our communication needs through graphic design for our weekly worship bulletin, newsletter, and website, along with worship, drama, and technical ministry skills. How do you find someone with similar eclectic abilities to replace this minister?
Immediately we were faced with filling the gaps for the communications responsibilities. Thanks to a current support staff person who had previously designed and printed our weekly worship bulletin and newsletter, we were able to meet those needs for the next year. After 12 months of this temporary arrangement, we eventually contracted with an independent communications and graphic designer living in another state, who worked with our staff by email, phone, and an occasional Zoom call to create a weekly e-edition of our worship bulletin and newsletter, along with contract work to redesign our website.
A second, long-term staff member – our business administrator – retired in February 2020. After some attempts to employ individuals for this position, our church eventually hired a CPA firm that now handles the church’s bookkeeping and accounting work. The firm is a local business, allowing the primary staff person from the CPA staff to visit the church office twice weekly to retrieve or return key documents, with availability to staff and church members by phone throughout the week.
What are some of the benefits of outsourcing church staffing needs? What cautions or creative thinking needs to be part of the mix if a church moves in this direction? Seven lessons learned from our church’s experience include:
1. Outsourcing staff allows contract workers to utilize their professional expertise.
Churches often employ full-time staff to perform multiple job expectations. Few people possess all the strengths needed to perform various ministry duties with the same degree of expertise and high performance. Inevitably, one or more areas of ministry suffer. Contract workers, however, typically offer specific skills to meet the tasks they provide at a high level of functioning and expertise.
2. Outsourcing staff offers better stewardship of facility and financial resources.
Educational and community space is often at a premium in church buildings. When outsourced employees work from home, the physical space of an office is saved for a ministry meeting location within the church facility. Desks, chairs, filing cabinets, computers, and printers, just to name a few, are key investments when a full or part-time staff person occupies an office. Those items are now not necessary when contract workers fill ministry roles.
In addition, typically, contract workers are part-time in nature. The position does not entail providing employee benefits such as health, life, and disability insurance, in addition to retirement contributions, continuing education, or mileage reimbursement. Our church saved approximately 60 percent on both staff “total package” amounts by outsourcing the communications and graphic design responsibilities along with the bookkeeping and accounting duties. It’s a win/win for the church’s budget while simultaneously keeping the ministry responsibilities intact.
3. Outsourcing staff offers a greater impact on part-time employees.
My wife, a retired community college vice president who began her work in career services on the college level, has always said that businesses and organizations often get more out of their part-time employees than their full-time employees. Many part-time employees, with limited work hours, are intensely focused on getting the job done. They typically focus on one or more areas of responsibility found in their job descriptions, resulting in a greater impact in the organization.
4. Outsourcing staff requires intentional communication between in-office staff and outsourced workers.
Most part-time or outsourced contract workers do not work in the church office, relating daily with the rest of the church staff. That daily and weekly interaction on both the personal and professional level is missing. Outsourced workers also are not experiencing in “real-time” the ministry rhythms that occur daily and seasonal. More intentional communication, whether by email, phone, or periodic Zoom calls, is a necessity if outsourcing becomes a part of your congregational DNA.
5. Outsourcing staff requires building staff relationships in a more intentional fashion.
Church staff members often think of themselves as a team. But how do we build a team when team members live in various states or seldom have a reason to be present in person for ministry responsibilities? Or do we need to give ourselves permission – both in-office team members and those outsourced staff working remotely – to acknowledge that the dynamics of our relationships will be different given a new arrangement of church staff locations? Naming “what is” and living as transparently and realistically as a church staff will be a key requirement of a ministry team embracing outsourcing of staff as a new norm. Encouraging periodic phone or Zoom conversations between in-office and outsourced staff can bridge the relationship gap on a deeper level.
6. Outsourcing staff allows church members to leverage their gifts of time and expertise.
Like most organizations and businesses, churches are learning to do more with less. Sometimes the financial resources do not permit the hiring of full-time staff or perhaps even outsourcing a particular area of ministry. Yet, many congregational participants have gifts and talents they use daily in their professional lives. Rather than invite a person to teach a class, participate in the music ministry, or serve in a community ministry, are there areas of ministry where churches can better leverage the talents of their members that they use in their professional work each day? Outsourcing of key areas of ministry, especially administrative tasks relating to property management and maintenance, finances, communications, and graphic design, represents possibilities that talented and dedicated lay leaders may wish to embrace as a part of their ministry to the life of the church.
7. Outsourcing staff invites new and creative ways to think “out of the box” with church staffing.
While I live in a city with approximately 100,000 people amid a major university, community college, medical center, and other large businesses and industries, most of eastern North Carolina is characterized by its rural nature. Both current statistics and future estimates suggest that the population in eastern North Carolina is and will decline dramatically over the next several decades. Young people are leaving these rural communities either for jobs or higher education opportunities, never to return to live in that community again as adults.
That reality impacts local congregations seeking to call full-time senior pastors and other ministerial or support staff in music and worship, spiritual formation, student and children’s ministry, senior adult ministry, and other administrative needs. While some rural churches have found ordained clergy willing to serve them bi-vocationally, that option is far and few between. Many smaller churches do not have the financial resources to fund a full-time pastor with a reasonable salary and benefits package reflective of a minister’s professional training and experience.
Why not think about outsourcing or contracting with one person to serve multiple, smaller congregations as senior pastors or the educational and student pastor? Historically, United Methodist churches have appointed pastors to serve multiple churches on a “two-point” or “three-point” charge. What would it look like in your setting to consider those options for your church struggling with finding needed ministerial or support staff? In what ways could your congregation partner with another church in sharing a ministerial or support staff person to provide ministry leadership for both congregations?
What new shifts in your thinking or imagining of your church staffing could happen now? How might some form of outsourcing those staffing needs be the right answer for your congregation?