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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Church Staffing

As part of my church planting training I just finished reading Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh first published in 2000. The book tackles questions like: When is it the right time to hire additional staff or pastors? And: How should a church begin to look for support staff? Gary L. McIntosh is a professor of Christian Ministry and Leadership at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and has over 22 years of experience in this field. 

There doesn't seem to be loads of material out there on the subject of church staffing, and nothing was personally recommended to me, so this book choice was an unavoidable gamble. I don't agree with everything in the book and found some language to be unfamiliar, but I'll share 2 main areas that I found particularly helpful.

Staffing a Church for Growth
I found this aspect of the book most applicable to church planting as it deals with the issues of who to hire first and how to keep making the best staffing choices to encourage growth. 

McIntosh points to C. Peter Wager who writes: "Most churches are understaffed for growth. They are staffed for maintenance and survival, but not for growth. If your church is to sustain growth momentum, staffing must become a very high priority." McIntosh writes: "[the] observation of churches that have recently called a new staff member has revealed that many are hard-pressed to define a clear, reasonable rationale for doing so." This means that church staffing decisions are largely not very smart--and at best a shot in the dark. 

The fastest growing churches are new churches. This is because the first priority of the new church is evangelism. If the core group do not win new people to Christ, the new church will not get off the ground. The early priorities of a new church are finding people, keeping people and gathering people for worship. However, as the church is successful at this, its members move into maintenance mode, taking care of what they have (people, programs, facilities) while abandoning the priorities that got them there (outreach, assimilation and worship). 

This shift in priorities is the cause of plateau in many churches. With numerical growth comes organizational needs. Those in the church are acutely aware of their needs and it can be tempting to staff based on the growing needs created by the constant addition of new people. However, staffing this way leads to an ingrown church and responds to a relational issue instead of a missional issue.

On page 26 he writes: "a church that wants to grow must staff positions ... [that] help find new people (evangelism), keep new people (assimilation), and worship (celebration)." These staff members will focus on the priorities that result in continued growth. To staff for decline would be to first hire a youth pastor in response to parents concern for their own children. This position is not going to grow the church. 

The book goes on to suggest that the second staff person to be hired should be a person who balances the gifts and talents of the senior pastor. You find the balance by understanding the two dimensions of nomothetic church roles, being growth focused positions. The first set involve finding, keeping and celebrating with people. The second set involve educating, overseeing and caring for people. If the senior pastor is stronger in the first set, then the additional leader should be stronger in the second, and viceversa. 

The third staff person should fall outside a nomothetic role and into an idiographic role, being more relational and focused on community maturity. Idiographic roles include internal programs like various adult, youth and children's ministries. However, there is a strong encouragement to staff these positions with volunteers for as long as possible because they do not grow the church. Additional staff beyond this can be alternated between nomothetic and idiographic roles to bring constant balance to the overall ministry. 

Adding a supporting staff member like a secretary, admin assistant, intern, or bookkeeper, is more flexible depending on how heavily program based the church is. A rough guideline is given of with 150 people one support staff is suggested. 300 would require 1.5 and 450 requires 2 support staff. 

The issues of hiring staff is also addresses well from multiple angles. Everything from recruiting, interviews, conflict and team roles are covered. 

Lone Ranger Vs Team
The book starts by attacking the notion of the "Lone Ranger" Pastor who does everything. On page 13 he writes: "Only one person has all the gifts and that is Jesus Christ Himself." Biblical reasons are given for the need to move away from this model of church staffing but another helpful insight is offered: "Just as the secular world has moved towards specialization and sub-specialization, so the church must respond with specialization to effectively minister to the complex needs of people." If the church is to be engaged with the culture, then we are to be engaged with an increasing complex culture. 

He also asserts that while vision usually comes from a central person, there always seems to be a team involved to bring the vision to reality. The various different team models are discussed. One example, The "Hired Gun Model", was addressed and warned against. This involves a strongly results-orientated environment where support staff and additional pastors are accepted as long as they do what they are paid to do. The major downfall of this model is that is breeds an inadequate loyalty to the team and means the "hired gun" can be hired away by another church. 

The best model for team is the relational/complementary model. There is diversity in gifting and function but with an emphasis on relationships and giftedness rather than strictly performance or popularity. The senior leader acts as a team coach, while the leadership team has room to help set the direction and agenda. A strong feeling of unity and shared ministry is developed.

The communication of a compelling vision and the development of clear job descriptions, evaluations, resources and rewards are significant elements in building a strong church staff. He writes: "Leadership and management are complementary and dependent on each other for the growth of a church ... it is entirely possible--indeed necessary if the church is to grow--for the pastor's role to move over time from shepherd to rancher." I didn't like the word rancher at first but in explanation this refers to a leader providing oversight through others, of which there are many good Biblical examples. This is a step on from the role of the shepherd which is one-on-one oversight. 

Another helpful insight is that of team and subteam size. Through Biblical observation and studies "... it appears that the best staff team is most often made up of seven or less persons since a team of seven allows for a leader and two subsets of three individuals (triangles)." This helps to explain why larger teams struggle to maintain intimacy and therefore common vision. He writes: "To keep larger teams healthy, it is wise to organize them by triangles." Keeping things small in the midst of growth is smart because it facilities change and sustains the personal dynamic and mutual ownership. He admits that developing a strong team simply takes time. 

This book had some really helpful insights into decisions about church staffing. There are of course many things I don't have space to mention. If you are interested, this is a quick read, checkout: Staff Your Church for Growth by Gary L. McIntosh

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