The staffing structures of many Southern Baptist Churches has been influenced by the philosophy of W.A. Criswell, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas (1944-1991). Dr. Criswell was known to employee numerous Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary students and graduates to oversee very narrow and specific age demographics. Criswell was said to have set recruitment goals for church staff based upon the per capita giving of a First Baptist Dallas member and the salary of the employee. In other words, a staff member was held accountable for reaching enough new members in their assigned demographic to pay their salary.
Though many factors contributed to First Baptist Church of Dallas becoming the largest church in the United States during Criswell’s tenure, his strategy of hiring specialized church staff to be responsible for narrow demographic segments was considered a major contributing factor. The success of this strategy caused other churches to adopt this approach to “staffing for growth” and resulted in a rapid expansion in the number of staff serving in a variety of specialized positions.
Today there is mounting evidence that many churches are “over staffed” and there is an increasing number of advocates for leaner staffing structures. Let’s take a closer look at the case for more or less staff.
The Case For Less Church Staff
The well documented bell curve of growth shows that once companies, organizations, and churches are in plateau or decline they are invariably over staffed. And, in many cases it can be argued the over staffing began prior to the slow down and decline. The pattern is clear, organizations “staff up” for growth when resources are increasing, but are less inclined to decrease staffing levels when growth in resources slows, stalls, or declines.
So, what are some of the arguments for a leaner church staffing structure?
- More resources can be put into reaching and equipping people, expanding ministries, and giving to missions instead of into salaries.
- Paying fewer people higher salaries and benefits allows you to attract and keep higher performing employees.
- Less time spent in recruiting, developing, and supervising staff allows for more time to recruit and develop volunteers.
- Less ministry and administration being done by staff creates more opportunities for volunteers to serve.
- Churches with fewer staff are less program driven.
The Case For More Church Staff
Thirty years ago the generally accepted staff to member ratio was around 150 members for every employee. Today the average is around half of that, or 75 to 1. There are many obvious reasons for this change, such as the expansion in food services, technology, communications, facility size, and ethnic ministries as well as the increase in legal and liability issues.
Clearly, church staffs are on average larger than ever before but, as noted above, there are advantages to a leaner church staff. When then should you consider adding more staff?
- To facilitate strategic growth, such as a new initiative like going multi-site, that flows from the church’s vision and strategic plan.
- To accommodate numerical growth in a specific demographic such as preschool or children.
- When more trained equippers, team builders, and mentors, rather than doers, are needed.
- When leaders for niche ministries or demographics that require unique experience and training are not found in the congregation, such as Deaf, Special Needs, Church Planting, and Cross Cultural ministries.
- When specialized skills are required that the church membership doesn’t possess, such as music, technology, communications, media, maintenance, finance, food service, and construction.
- When staff span of control becomes too broad, such as when a staff member has too many responsibilities or more direct reports and volunteers than they can effectively oversee.
- Where there are Liability, Security, Legal, Compliance, and Safety concerns.
- Residency and Intern Programs designed to equip the next generation of church leaders.
- When consistency and availability are perceived as essential for a position’s effectiveness and efficiency.
Next week we will look at how to determine the appropriate staffing level for your church.
Posted on February 13, 2018