Alternative Staffing


Pastor Dan Reiland offers several creative options to help meet your staffing needs.

Leaders of church staff are notorious for repeating what has been done. I know I’ve been guilty of that. Some of my best leadership is connected to intentionally changing things up and making the less expected move — by trying something different.  Change for the sake of change is foolish.  Innovative change for improvement is smart and often highly productive.

The ideas I’m presenting aren’t new, unless you haven’t tried them. Then they may appear so foreign that you or a board member may resist them, and especially if they threaten current relationships. Let me assure you that many church staff teams are doing these kinds of things and more.

The first step is to see opportunity in every staff transition.  For example, if you lose your pastor of student ministries, don’t be so quick to replace him or her. That may be exactly the right thing to do, but this is your opportunity to ask the question. Is there another way to meet that leadership need and thereby free up resources to hire for an even greater need on your team?

There is no formula. Staffing is much more art than science.  It’s based on your need.  Let’s take for example a children’s pastor, certainly a high priority. But what if you have a leader in your church that has the time, talent and passion to lead that ministry and you don’t need to pay them a salary?  This just created another opportunity. What could you do with that opportunity?

When I started in ministry the use of administrative support was generous in most church teams.  In fact, that was considered the most important first hire. Today, there are many churches with young leadership that hire very few if any administrative support.  With email, Facebook, texting, and twitter etc, they get the job done themselves. Now don’t go fire all your administrative support staff!  They are invaluable. Just soak on the idea. The point is that there are other ways to get the job done.

Many of my friends and colleagues tell me about how they are laying off staff right now. It’s really a sad deal.  They just don’t have the money. That’s one of the reasons I’m fired-up to write about other ways that require far less money and not all on a consistent outlay.  Take a look a few:

  • Outsource – This is an increasingly popular practice.  The most common example is outsourcing building maintenance and custodial work. Companies that do nothing but this kind of work can do it better and less expensive than employees on your staff.  Outsourcing building maintenance has been done for many years. Other examples are things like graphic art work, web-design and IT help. Outsourcing is a great opportunity to hire ongoing help but retain the option to stop the service at any time without the emotional and relational fallout of letting a staff member go. More importantly, and on a more positive side, it allows you to focus on what you do best – ministry.
  •  Lean it out – I recently wrote a Pastor’s Coach article about leaning out your church’s ministries.  Ideally you design a lean ministry according to your philosophy, values and based on what you have heard from God.  On occasion, however, because life does happen and you have to make tough decisions — you may need to temporarily stop a ministry for the greater good of the church.  If you have already adopted a lean model, this option may not work for you. But if you have a long list of ministries, some of which are not effective and led by paid staff, this may be part of the answer to your staffing needs.
  • Contract – This in many ways is similar to outsourcing. One big difference is that people who fill these rolls, though not officially on staff, feel much more like part of your team than outsourced help does – even though the people who fill these rolls are most commonly from outside your church. This too has been practiced for some time, but only in the last few years has this idea found its way into ministry staff.  Worship leaders are a good example. They are on contract for week by week work, and the contract is written for any agreed upon length of time. The worship leader usually does a rehearsal and the weekend worship services. That’s it, and the church moves forward.
  • Temporary – This is another alternative route that I have found to be extremely helpful. There are seasons in your church when the press is really on. You’re in an intense ministry season and you need help. The temptation is to hire someone part time or even full time with the assumption that the level of intensity will continue. It rarely does.  Try hiring on a very temporary basis.  The person who fills this role is more often than not from inside your church.  Write an employment contract that stipulates a start and end date.  The end date is important, stick to it. And trust me on this one, if you hired the person for temp work, nine times out of ten they should not be hired later for full time work.
  •  Re-Direct – In the ‘90’s they called this downsizing, now we’ve learned how this is part of smart leadership. You have staff members who are learning, growing and getting better. They want to accomplish more, so give them a shot at it. I’ll bet that your best young staff are eager to jump in and carry a greater load.  Give them an opportunity to re-direct some of their energies and multiply their gifts by tackling another ministry area. In a large church this can be about expanding a ministry within a team.  In a smaller or mid-sized church it can be more about filling an open staff need.
  • Lead Volunteer – This is a cool deal. Bob Buford starting writing about this kind of person years ago, but the idea is still slow to catch on in the staffing element. Bob wrote about men and women making a difference starting at the “Half Time” season of their lives. People who want to make major career changes from secular business to ministry and many of whom don’t need any financial support.  This person is fully on your team, gets a cubicle, a laptop and comes to staff meetings, but receives no paycheck.  In a smaller or midsized church it only takes one person like this to radically impact your staff and ministries in a positive way.
  • Growth only – Put a moratorium on hiring any positions that are not directly related to the growth engines of your church. Get tough and say no to all strictly administrative staff hires.  Invest your limited financial resources only into those positions that you are absolutely confident will result in the measurable growth of your church.

As I have said, these are not new ideas.  However, if you are not leveraging any of them, particularly in this economy, I would urge you to at least have the conversation.  Think about the options and possibilities. Challenge your own thinking and systems. In the end, I trust you will do what is best for your church.  And this list may lead you to other creative options to help meet your staffing needs.

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