It is a movement. It is an undeniable movement.
In the midst of all the changes taking place in churches, this one factor is rarely mentioned. For sure, a lot of the focus has been on change in churches since COVID. I get that. The pandemic and quarantine changed much of society including churches. That focus does not need to be ignored.
But, even before the pandemic, there was a massive change taking place in church hiring practices. Because most of us looked at the change itself rather than the cause, we missed the big picture. It is indeed the one big change taking place in church hiring practices.
Don’t leave me when I tell you what the change is. Stay with me as I explain the causes of the change. That’s where the movement is taking place.
First, here is the change. There is a massive movement from full-time church staff to part-time. Don’t yawn. You probably know that reality already. But second, here is the overall reason for the change. Church leaders view staff positions dramatically differently than they did just ten years ago.
More church staff are indeed becoming part time. That’s the “what.” But let’s uncover the “why” to explain this movement.
- The very nature of what church staff do has changed dramatically. I can remember not too long ago when I was asked to rank the order of hiring church staff: worship, education, students, children, and others. Church leaders no longer have cookie cutter ideas of what the next staff person should be. They know that the context of their community and of their church is not like any others. They often thus hire part time as a test because they have never hired a person with the new and specific ministry responsibilities.
- Churches are no longer seminary or college dependent for staff. If someone has a residential theological degree, he or she is likely expecting to be hired full time. The time and expense of their training demands full-time compensation. But churches are now more likely to hire someone locally or internally without seminary training. These persons are typically part-time.
- There are many specialized ministry positions that are best filled by part-time staff. I remember when I was a pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida. I hired my first staff person who was able to lead both education and youth. I was fortunate. I was even more fortunate to find someone for my next staff person who led both worship and evangelism. That was a rarity. Today, if you bring on someone to your staff to lead evangelism, that person is more likely to be part time. I know of a church that created ten part-time positions at the same personnel cost of two full-time staff. They are thus able to have staff persons with highly focused responsibilities. It has proven especially advantageous for them to hire some younger staff who are tech-savvy.
- The co-vocational movement is growing rapidly. We make a subtle distinction between “bi-vocational” and “co-vocational.” The former describes persons who get part-time compensation because the church cannot afford otherwise. The latter refers to staff who desire to keep their job in the marketplace, but to work on a church staff part time. I am familiar with churches that have physicians, professors, plumbers, building contractors, and others on their staff. These co-vocational staff love having one foot in the marketplace of secular jobs while working with a church as a part-time side gig.
- Technology allows part time for what used to be full time. We no longer need assistants who work in the church building. Though we still have much to learn about artificial intelligence, it is taking on more tasks historically assigned to real people. We are now more mobile than ever. We can now hire a part-time assistant in Idaho when we live in Tennessee (I did just that with Belay).
For certain, the traditional motivation of hiring part-time staff for pure economic reasons is still present and active. But the big change is the strategic decision to move to part-time staff for one or more of the reasons listed above. The “why” is indeed more important than the “what.” That is the incredible movement taking place
I would love to hear from you about your staff hiring practices at your church.
Posted on November 13, 2023
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.
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