Manpower: People are selected and placed in positions that fit their gifts, passions and callings and that align with the church’s objectives and culture

The “Stay Conversation” – The One Conversation Church Leaders Should Now Be Having With Their Staff

Stories abound in the news about the “great resignation” and how challenging employee retention is for many organizations. This is true in the church as well. There has been an exodus of clergy who have left the ministry over the past two years because of a combination of pandemic and political related stress. Amid debates on whether to support or criticize Trump and differences of opinion over masks and mandates, to whether Zoom stifles or enhances community, to whether we should meet or not meet for in person worship, pastoral burnout has been high. In fact, a recent Barna survey of Protestant pastors found 38 percent said they had considered quitting full-time ministry in the past year. My guess is that the percentage is equally high for those who serve the church in other ministerial and non-ministerial roles.

The fact is that retention has become a complicated and challenging issue, even in the church. Beyond the political and pandemic stress issues there are other factors at play in the great resignation we are seeing. Now more than ever it is time to take a hard look at what people want out of their job.

What Do They Want?

Gallup surveys, as well as anecdotal evidence, shows that young millennials want employers to invest in them in coaching and personal development. Older millennials, often with young children, value more work flexibility. And forty-six percent of female employees say flextime is the most important benefit an organization can offer them. Increasingly, workers won’t tolerate an organization that won’t provide them with what they want.

A common reason for exiting a job, found in all demographics, is the feeling that job expectations don’t match job realities. For example, a young man or woman called to be a preschool minister because they love small children and their families, end up unfulfilled in the position as they find much of their work is administrative and worker recruitment. The thing they signed up for, loving on small children, is not what they get to do most days.

The Overlooked Stay Conversation

Many organizations and churches have discovered the value in conducting exit interviews. But there is one kind of interview that most organizations, and especially churches, fail to do – have a “stay conversation. Stay conversations are one-on-one conversations designed to learn more about the employee, including their passions, preferences, and career goals, what they value in life and work, and what they need to be more successful in their role. Effective stay conversations are two-way exchanges that get to the heart of the individual’s needs and motivations. The premise is pretty simple: Identify your top performers who you hope will stay with you and ask them why they stay. You may hear things like:

  • “I love the team I work with.”
  • “I find it rewarding being a part of a church that is really making a difference.”
  • “I appreciate the flexibility and freedom my job offers.”
  • “I’m grateful to be able to work in the area of my passion and calling every day.”

It’s an important question to ask because the answer is different for each person and because the answers might surprise you. Inevitably, you will discover something you did not know. Of most value is that you learn where, when, how and why they want to work.

The key is to take the output from these conversations and let it shape your church workplace culture, practices, and personnel policies to reflect the feedback of your top performers. In short, you shape your church staff culture around what top performers value most and what enables and empowers their success. Gifted and skilled church staff typically have many opportunities to serve other churches over the course of their career, but work culture is key when it comes to retention by making them hesitant to leave a unique culture that most churches can’t provide.

The Long-Term Benefits Of Stay Conversations

Stay conversations also can reveal challenges and risk factors for turnover and maybe more importantly, show church staff that you truly care. Through stay conversations, pastors, supervisors and church leaders learn more about what motivates staff and how to make their work experience more fulfilling. In turn, leaders can make informed changes that holistically improves employee experience. Invariably this will earn staffs’ loyalty, trust, commitment and willingness to stay. These types of conversations are more important now than ever before and the beginning of a new year is the natural time to schedule them.


Posted on January 18, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5