The ONE Big Change Taking Place in Church Hiring Practices (and It’s Under the Radar)


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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  • Stephen Whaley says on

    several years ago you podcast had a sponsor that helped match clergy and congregation. what was the name of that sponsor? are they still operating?

  • Jill Huffman says on

    Hi Mr. Rainer,

    Church staff working part and full time secular jobs is an important topic of discussion which I think could ultimately help eliminate many systemic issues present in the institutional church. Being an outlier, the opportunity to discuss this important issue I would welcome!

    One very concerned Christian who has left the institutional church

  • Matthew Shumpert says on

    What is the best way to advertise that that we are looking for a new pastor? We’re a traditional Southern Baptist Church. Thanks

  • John Little says on

    As a co-vocational pastor, I can attest that this is definitely the trend. I feel very much the FULL pastor of this church without FULL TIME pay. It’s ok. To pay me more to do the same job while not freeing me up to make money elsewhere for my family would not be in mine or the churches best interest. Is it a balancing act? Sure…you have to make your your other vocation has ways to remove yourself if you are needed for ministry “duties”. But honestly, at this point in my life, I would have it no other way. I love being a pastor AND having a pulse on the working world. It helps me be a better pastor

    • I am in my first year as a LP and I’m very much in the same boat, leading a church of approximately 800-900 worshippers, young and old. Of the 27 staff members, 11 are full-time. Our ratio of salaries to total budget is approx. 54%. I would like to greatly reduce this, preferably down to 48%, for this first year, by hiring part-timers and to reduce my FTE to 6. Any assistance you could render by way of brainstorming ideas to restructure team would be greatly appreciated. God bless.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    So bi-vocational pastors have a full time, secular job and pastor a church part time? My bi-vocational friends would tell you it is full time as well.
    Co-vocational pastors have a full time, secular job and choose to work part-time in a church? Are they paid as well or no?
    These terms are becoming more common but they need to be better defined please.

  • Re: changes in church hiring… I was very surprised when a church near me had their minister retire and their associate interview/candidate competitively and take over the reins. He had been a youth pastor with other responsibilities. At first they tried to hire the same, but there was no interest at all in the youth portion of the job. In fact it was seen as quite a negative. Isn’t that where many of us started? How different a concept to me. They ended up hiring a full time associate, but also a very part-time youth ministry position as well, the latter from within the organization, who was working also as a full-time public teacher.

  • Thom,

    You don’t need me to affirm what you are observing and analyzing. Good stuff. I’m seeing that as well.

    One of the big challenges that I have heard and perceive is with smaller churches that really should transition from a full-time pastor to a part-time pastor but cannot make that change. Moving a FT pastor to PT would be very difficult unless the pastor took that initiative himself or if they were looking to dismiss the pastor – a time-worn and less-than-honest way of moving an ineffective employee on. I’m referring primarily to smaller congregations that are currently looking for a pastor and they have structured it (in their mind) as FT with perhaps a parsonage and a $25K salary. (I’ve heard from denominational execs who have voiced that frustration.) The church believes that if they just get the right guy, the church will turn around. The “silver bullet” theory. But what effective pastor would take that position?

    Church leaders can very blind when they are desperate. I would love to see these same smaller churches grasp the benefits of having a PT pastor: 1) he would be functioning outside “the Christian bubble,” making him more likely motivated and effective in evangelism, 2) he would be financially secure enough to say what needs to be said, 3) more resources are available to fund ministries or other positions, and 4) more ministry would have to be done by the laity, as it should. There are downsides, as well, to be sure.

    But if a church is trying to call a pastor, why not consider helping him find a complementary PT job in the community.? I live in the Midwest where driving a truck, especially during harvest season, could fill that financial void. School bus driving could be good. Of course, if the pastor had a trade, he might do very well as an electrician or a plumber or whatever. Chaplaincy could be a good complementary fit, though the role of congregational pastor and chaplain are very different. But I would love to see churches think creatively and in such a way to help a bivo or covo pastor and his family thrive.

    There’s an opportunity here in this paradigm shift that could really benefit churches. I sense the shift will either be forced on churches or they can get ahead of it and make something good from it.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.