Why You Might Not Want to Replace Your Departing Church Staff Member

July 31, 2019

The scenario is common.

A church staff member submits his or her resignation. Perhaps the person senses God’s call to another church. All is well, except now you need to replace the staff person.

Or do you?

Too many churches hire staff by routine and tradition. The process is predictable. We have a vacancy. Start the search process. Make tweaks to the job description. Find someone to do the same job as the previous person. Hire them. Done.

There could be a better way. Look at some of these considerations before your church gets in the rut and the routine of “we’ve always done it that way.” Here are seven key questions you might ask.

  1. Can our finances truly afford to replace this person with little change in responsibilities? Perhaps the answer is a resounding “no.” Or perhaps the new person can take on additional responsibilities. Doing things the way we’ve always done them does not allow for financial and stewardship questions.
  2. Have the needs of the church and the community changed significantly? For example, I am surprised how few churches consider bringing someone on the team to lead in evangelism and community outreach. Yet, it is an incredible need in many churches.
  3. Can the position be replaced with part-timers, a virtual worker, or volunteers? This movement is growing. Don’t ignore it. Our friends at Belay are leading a revolution when it comes to virtual workers.
  4. Does the open position complement the pastor’s gifts and abilities? If the church had an administrative pastor depart, while the current pastor is a gifted administrator, it might be best to consider doing something else with those funds.
  5. Do we still want to put these funds in personnel costs? The church might be able to afford to replace the person, but there could be a wiser use of the funds. For example, if the church has not been setting aside funds for ongoing maintenance, it might be wise, if not imperative, to allocate the money in that direction. See my friends at CoolSolutionsGroup.com for great facility ideas.
  6. Is the position a legitimate full-time position? For example, the number of ministers of recreation in churches has declined precipitously. The need is not as apparent as it once was.
  7. Have we really thought outside the box? When a staff member departs on good terms, the church does not have a problem, it has an opportunity. Don’t do business as usual. See what God might have planned for the next ten years.

We get a lot of questions at Church Answers about staffing. Many of them focus on the amount of funds in a church budget that should be allocated for personnel costs. I am not sure those are the right questions. The better question is: How can we best use our funds for God’s glory in our present context?

When you answer that question, you may respond by not replacing your departing staff member.

Let me hear your thoughts.

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18 Comments

  • Kyle Dickerson says on

    I’ve been given student ministry and small group responsibilities. There is much out there on the internet to cover my job and make life easier to the point of, probably when I leave it will become a PT position

  • 1. A size 10 foot cannot wear a size 7 shoe. The potential of local churches everywhere is their size 10 foot–but capturing that future with God usually cannot be done via those congregations’ current organizational structure, routine operations, level of trusting and obeying the Lord, etc. The times when staff members are departing offer churches opportunities to refine how they function so that greater biblical growth can occur as it is possible.

    2. 70+% percent of all SBC congregations–and an even larger percentage of all US churches–is plateaued/declining in terms of numerical growth? Whatever the actual numbers, 100% of those local congregations are led on a daily basis by senior pastors–not by associate pastors or volunteers. A consideration to add to the mix, it would seem?…

    3. Churches should be staffed with the qualified candidates to which God leads them, in order to achieve their biblical mission (i.e., their reason for existing). Add the hands needed as soon as they can be afforded, and adjust the organizational structure and means of operating daily for that purpose also, as you go. These are the third and fourth steps of five (taken in consecutive order) that history shows have been blessed very well by the Lord during the past 100 years in the US as He has worked through obedient Christians to reach communities for Himself and to grow local congregations. When churches grow as a result of the Lord’s blessing and ministers’/volunteers’ efforts, hard/awkward decisions to downsize the staff will have to be reversed (which does not seem as good as simply making decisions that can stay made).

    4. Include the congregation in ways it has said it wants to be involved (e.g., via its elders, or all together in large-group voting sessions), and then call on members consistently to support in active ways the decisions made (i.e., tithing regularly, willingly volunteering to serve alongside pastors/leaders in keeping with their giftedness, sharing “Atta boys,” etc.).

    Not easy, but simple.

  • For our ministry, we have hired a virtual assistant in the Philippines. She works 10 hours a week for us. We pay her approx. $2 an hour. We are getting ready to give her a pay raise and to increase her hours to 20-30 a week. A few dollars buys a lot of Philippine pesos, so it is not bad pay over there. We want to raise her to $3 ASAP.

    We train pastors to equip their churches to do Evangelism by Multiplication worldwide. My assistant’s task is to contact pastors, introduce them to our private Facebook Group, build the Philippine National Directory of Churches (which is one of our target fields), and maintain contact with pastors through an autoresponder. We are training her to optimize and upload videos on our YouTube channel and do SEO for our websites.

    We hired her online and interviewed her with Skype. We have never met her, but I will be conducting an Evangelism by Multiplication conference in her area later this year, so we will meet her then.

    On our budget, we would never have been able to accomplish any of these things without her. She is a committed Christian, and she is thrilled to be able to be helping Great Commission work with her online job.

  • There is a big difference between hours on the job and productive hours.

    I have found that part time people usually produce as many productive hours as some full time people I have had.

    Plus, part time people don’t get benefits, severance pay, and not as much time off.

    They are easier to hire and fire. They usually see the pastor as the “boss”, whereas full time persons might build enough “turf” to think they are in charge.

    One of my secretaries overheard a full time staff member tell his professor dad that “as soon as I get rid of this pastor, I will be in the driver’s seat of this church.” Needless to say, he did not stay long enough to “take over.” But, he did a lot of damage on the way out.

    Made me realize how valuable part time people are. They are usually harder workers and more loyal to the pastor and church.

    • At the risk of sounding snarky, I have to ask… by this logic can’t we also get by with a part time pastor? This whole thing looks very, very bad to outsiders. Pastors cutting benefits and outsourcing tasks to improve their own financial position. How is this not a corporate business model?

      • Christopher says on

        If I were to ever pastor again it would only be part time, or bivocational as the phrase goes.

    • Christopher says on

      While I don’t necessarily agree with your whole comment, you’re absolutely right about full time staff staking out their turf, building their support, and then undermining the pastor.

      I would also say that a part time pastor can function and lead without fear of losing his only income. The ability to just walk away tends to diffuse the power players in the church since they can’t hold a pastor’s salary over his head.

  • Jerry Watts says on

    Thom,
    As always you have offered some truly outstanding suggestions for consideration when a staff person departs. The evaluation of need should be ongoing.
    The only one I would push back on is #3. Part-timers and Volunteers are certainly an option, but I would personally push back on “Virtual” staff because of this: Even though we may meet the requirement of response, It seems to me (this is simply a personal opinion) that we may lose something of the ‘personal touch’ in the process. I love technology for all the good things it brings us, but I’m not convinced about replacing a ‘minister (volunteer, part-time, or vocational)’ with AI.
    Thanks again for your work.

  • Jerry Watts says on

    Thom,
    As always, you have offered some truly outstanding suggestions for consideration when a staff person departs. The evaluation of need should be ongoing.
    The only one I would push back on is #3. Part-timers and Volunteers are certainly an option, but I would personally push back on “Virtual” staff because of this: Even though we may meet the requirement of response, It seems to me (this is simply a personal opinion) that we may lose something of the ‘personal touch’ in the process. I love technology for all the good things it brings us, but I’m not convinced about replacing a ‘minister (volunteer, part-time, or vocational)’ with AI.
    Thanks again for your work.

  • Thom, Thanks for putting this out there. A staff vacancy is the perfect time for a church to ask if it needs leadership in other areas that are more likely to energize the church and position it better to fulfill its mission.

  • Kevin Baker says on

    We recently replaced a full time person with two part timers. We are getting more hours for the same money.

  • What a timely article today, Thom, as today is my last day on staff at our church! And I’m not being replaced… at least not in the near future. I was a little disheartened at first, thinking I had given plenty of notice to train the next person. But the leadership of the church have asked a lot of the questions you’ve posed. You’re right – it’s the best time to look at the future from several different angles. The truth is, I’m not upset about it anymore. I’m just looking forward to a permanent maternity leave, staying at home with my kids.

    I’m also grateful for all you’ve shared these last few years. Your blog really helped equip me for my position on staff. Thank you!

  • AreJaye says on

    Based on my experience with churches, the funds need to be redirected to the pastor’s (and other staff member’s) 403b accounts.

    • So true. Many church staff are not well funded for retirement.

      • Seth L. Smallwood says on

        The first church I have ever pastored was a small Southern Baptist Church in Hardin County. The church never had the pastor or any of the staff sign any state or federal tax documents until I got there. I am not kidding. I had read the reply that many church staff in churches are not well funded for retirement. I was barely making it by with the weekly pastor salary to even think of retirement! Yet, I am glad that there are some churches that now shift the focus onto retirement for the pastor and staff. I also appreciate Dr. Rainer’s articles as well.