I’m in trouble.
I just read the title of this post, and I know I’m asking for trouble. I might have offended some people already.
Hear me clearly. I am not diminishing the worth of church secretaries. I am simply noting a trend that few people are articulating. The position of church secretary is disappearing. Here are seven reasons why:
- Many of the responsibilities are being replaced with technology. The Latin origin of the word “secretary” means, “someone entrusted with a secret.” For the traditional church secretary, it means dealing with telephone calls, letters, dictation, and filing in an appropriate and confidential manner. But look at those items I just listed. They have been, or they are being, replaced with technology. There are not many letters these days, but there are a lot of emails.
- Assistants are replacing the role of a secretary. The typical nomenclature for such positions is ministry assistant, executive assistant, or assistant.
- Church leaders desire assistants who can navigate the world of blogs and social media strategically. These responsibilities did not exist just a few years ago. Some church secretaries can make the transition; many cannot.
- Most of the responsibilities of a church secretary were reactive. Pastors and other church leaders seek strategic help. The church secretary’s position has been historically fixed and clearly defined. Assistants must adapt to a world where the responsibilities can change every week.
- Preparing the bulletin and/or the newsletter is no longer all time consuming. I can remember the days when the church secretary used clip art and physically cut and pasted articles. Those time-consuming tasks are no longer necessary.
- Church leaders desire assistants with time flexibility. The 30 to 40 hour workweek with the same schedule every day is ending. This fast-paced world demands workers with flexibility.
- Virtual assistants are becoming more common in church life. There are so many reasons virtual assistants are increasingly in demand. Leaders can determine the number of hours they want each week from a VA. One pastor of a smaller church uses a VA 10 hours a week and loves the arrangement. They are also easy to change or let go without the drama of an assistant who is physically present.
Church secretaries have been important and needed employees of churches for decades. I am grateful for them. But the times are changing, and so is the need for church secretaries.
If I opened a can of worms, please forgive me. But this trend is a trend that cannot be ignored.
Let me hear from you,
Posted on June 29, 2016
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
More from Thom
It’s been 6 years since this article was posted on multiple sites, but since it’s still showing up on Google searches, here goes. I sense some assumptions here about the size, ministry, and worship style of a church. As a part-time receptionist at a mid-sized urban Anglican church (weekly attendance of about 500), I can safely say that we would be absolutely lost without our full-time secretary. Bulletins are typically 24-28 page affairs, since navigating the Book of Common Prayer is a serious obstacle to newcomers, and we (like many other churches) print the liturgy in its entirety each week; we also print song lyrics and music as well as the full text of all (3 or 4) Scripture readings. The secretary is the central coordinator of everyone involved in Sunday worship (priests, music team, tech team, acolytes, lay readers, chalice bearers, sacristy team, ushers, greeters, childcare, Sunday school teachers, building security) along with managing sacramental records, directories, weddings, and funerals. We receptionists (manning the door and phone 60+ hours each week) handle social media, mailings, administrative overflow, building security, assistance to groups using the facility, and we screen calls and visitors for clergy and staff. I realize not every church has to manage this kind of liturgical complexity or interact with the community in the same way, but doesn’t it help to employ a staff member to give consistency and oversight to volunteers and make sure volunteers aren’t being overloaded? Can a VA handle confidential matters so that the pastor doesn’t get overwhelmed and gets an actual sabbath day each week (barring serious emergencies)? If growing numbers of churches no longer provide their clergy with such administrative support, it’s no surprise so many of them burn out and leave the ministry!
I have never appreciated having to go to a secretary in order to schedule time with a pastor. I always found it intimidating to tell another person I needed to talk to the Pastor. It is personal business between me, God and y Pastor. I see no reason Why anyone besides my pastor should be able to track how often I have need to speak with him. Also I think it is wrong for a church secretary to ask “Why do you want an appointment?” It shouldnt be any of their business what my spiritual issues are. Again this lack of Privacy concerning spiritual matters Is completely inappropriate.
In order to remove this issue have a light above the door of the pastors’s office letting people know the Pastor is in and available. Let members of the church speak to him about scheduling an appointment either after services, during coffee hour, before services begin or on voicemail.
It sounds like your secretary exists for the same reason doctors have receptionists, and he or she should be expected to maintain the same level of confidentiality you’d find in a medical setting. Being required to approach a pastor in a public setting such as after a service or during coffee hour is far less private. Hopefully it’s enough to tell the secretary that it’s a personal or spiritual matter without having to offer further details, and this will give you priority over an outsider who wants to ask your pastor to fund a mission trip or someone complaining about the worship music.
Our church Secretary takes the offerings home with her and counts it there. Then deposits it on the following day. (Mon.)
This upsets a lot of members, but the Pastor won’t do anything about it. She acts like she is in control of the money and refuses to give refunds if you spent too much.
Ms. Robinson, I am a little confused–where are the trustees and/or deacons in the facility to count the funds. Not to be rude, the individual needs to stay in their “lane”. Is the Pastor afraid of this individual? If a stand us taken to remove this individual from the task they are doing–you are going to have problems.
That is scary, where did they get the idea the churches funds were her responsibility?!? Inform the ushers to leave the collection baskets on a table near the altar. Under this table let there be stored a lock box with handle that the pastor and an usher( or elder or deacon) have control over. After every service have the pastor and at least the trusted individual place the collection from the baskets into this box and bring it into the church office until they can bring it together to the bank deposit box. At no point should these funds be handled by a solitary individual.
I have been a church secretary for 7 1/2 years and have just been laid off due to my job being eliminated. I have a hand in every ministry in this church. I am hurt since I am very close to retirement and it has placed my family in a very hard situation. I have given my very best and was told two days before Thanksgiving. It is very unfriendly to not have someone answer the phone or greet people as they come in or help in a time of need. Just expect a machine to answer and take care of it later. We are all a part of the church not just the Pastor.
I’m so sorry your church treated you that way. It surely doesn’t reflect the love of Christ. Church administrative assistants/administrators/office managers for the most part are the first “face” of Jesus to guests/visitors. They are “ministers” of compassion, encouragement, and givers of wisdom to congregants & staff (in addition to all the organization, record-keeping, historical knowledge, etc. on top of office duties) – and often feel that the “job” is their calling. You seem to fall in this group and I hope you find another place that appreciates these qualities and sees the need for them so you can work together in expanding God’s kingdom.
Yikes! They never should have given you such short notice , nor should they have done this to you just before the holidays. It is horrible that they lacked such charity (Christlike love) toward you
Given your years of service and proximity to retirement. The better choice would have been, if the church was unable to afford your salary as it was, to cut your pay rate sufficient to allow you to continue employment there.
Funny, I was just asked to be our church’s secretary!! We have a new young pastor. We are a small church but in just the month our new pastor has been here, we are already growing. I have been doing basically the secretarial work for the church, but they want me to take on more. In looking for what was considered the tasks of a church secretary, I ran across your article. Interesting reading.
While late to the discussion, I would argue the term “secretary” is disappearing. In my opinion the term has been on the outs for over 20 years and has been replaced with the term “Administrative Assistant”. I am sure some churches can get by without a secretary or even an admin assistant. But, in order to do so, they would need to rely heavily on volunteers or their pastor to pick up the slack. I think your article, argument – whatever you want to call it – is misleading. There is still a very real need for assistance to have an operational church. What you call it will vary from denomination to denomination or culture to culture, but the need is very much still there. I am one of two full time employees and I can tell you as the Parish Administrator, the need is VERY much still there!
I have been a church “office manager” for 10 years in a church with 290+ members. I do everything from direct deposit payroll, payroll taxes/forms, online giving, monthly and yearly financial statement, keep the church webpage up to date, publish monthly newsletters, answer the phones, keep the peace, comfort everyone who needs it and I still copy and paste clipart each week for the bulletins all in 20 hours/week, so I don’t see any this job going away anytime soon. We have online church software for our directory, giving and communication tool for which I am the administrator of and countless other things going on. Most people call me the secretary and that’s fine with me. I was hoping your article would go more into detail as to how churches now publish a weekly bulletin without the copy, paste & type method. I actually found this article by typing in “how does a church secretary keep her sanity”. I’m having an exhausting week. Any insights or comments are welcome.
I am a first time church secretary/admin asst Since May. Previous experience did not include church secretary only in banking for several years. Any informative responses from current or previous church secretaries would be appreciated.
At our church (attendance hovers just under 400 on average) we have a secretary at the front and a Ministry assistant (me) in the back office. Our secretary answers the phone and greets guests. She has volunteers who file, fold bulletins, and do data entry (these are their ministries. it’s what they CAN do) so she spends much of her time doing other tasks like graphic design for printed publications which I often quickly steal for slides, emails, social media, and our website. She’s “nailed to the desk” so to speak and is limited to what she can do away from her desk, so she processes visitor cards, emails, snail mail and bills among other things. While I co-keep our pastor’s calendar (with him and his wife) on my smart-phone so if someone wants an appointment with him they can approach me on a Sunday or in the grocery store for that matter and I can pull his calendar up right then and there. This has saved many an overbooking nightmare and keeps our pastor sane as he is also a police chaplain and is involved with outside community and SBC events. I also spend time helping to organize and coordinate funerals, weddings, and ministry events as well as counseling with women when needed.
Of the 5 generations vying for a voice in our churches today, I’m right in the middle. Gen X and after 10 years on staff, I see a definite shift. A web presence like social media shouldn’t be our only point of contact but it’s an effective one and one that SOMEONE on staff needs to know how to navigate. Because that’s how 1/2 the people my age and younger do things… we can’t stop the trend. That’s why small groups are so important. We can’t care physically for people we only know over the web. But we can’t communicate needs effectively to people who don’t answer their phones either. So we have to find the balance.
We can’t shoot the messenger, facts are facts.
I am a former church organist (now back to working as a full-time electrical engineer – with pipe organ jobs disappearing, my music degree is now obsolete, but it was wonderful while it lasted). At my little church which is a healthy and vibrant congregation, we very much depend on our church secretary – including the putting together of the weekly bulletin and scheduling facilities. It is a church with lots of active volunteers (including myself – I’m ahead of adult RE, and I’m going to lead a covenant group). The position is the same, and yes, there is a lot of typing. Also, the human touch is ever so important. Our minister and her husband live 125 miles away – she rents housing up here – and he spends time up here as well. It is one busy place! (…and no, we don’t have a pipe organ, but we have a grand piano and a very skilled jazz pianist – and besides, Unitarian Universalists are not big pipe organ fans.)