Leading with Fewer Staff: Right-Size Your Team to Equip Others for Ministry

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Many churches talk about adding staff ahead of growth. Far fewer seem to mention the need to build larger volunteer teams for growth. The second could actually be more practical (and effective) than the first.

Back in January, we released our Next Level Teams report, a study of hundreds of churches across the country analyzing how they build teams that drive growth. One fascinating finding was this:

Megachurches (3,000+) are twice as efficient in staffing as small churches (under 500). The average staff member at a megachurch is responsible for 47 volunteers. A small church staff member leads just 16 volunteers on average.

Megachurches have much larger staff teams than the average church, but this study shows they actually use far less staff per capita. This lean staffing approach is made possible by equipping more volunteers to use their gifts in ministry. Staff members at larger churches are not just leading ministry. They are leading volunteers to lead in ministry.

I asked a few members of The Unstuck Team to weigh in with some practical thoughts for how churches can work on leading with fewer staff. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Ensure you are clear on your mission, vision and strategy; then, align your staff with the highest priority/impact ministries.
  • Look for ways to streamline/eliminate administrative tasks. Challenge with “why” things are done.
  • Consider an intern position for seasonal/project work (or to help with a launch), and think about paying stipends.
  • Ensure you are casting vision for volunteers and that they are serving in areas meaningful to them. Put people in areas of their greatest giftedness so that they don’t feel like volunteering is a “job.”
  • Invest in your volunteer leaders – empower them to make decisions and shape the ministry within the overall mission/vision.

-Sarah Bouma, Ministry Consultant at The Unstuck Group

If You’re Currently Overstaffed

If you find you are currently overstaffed, evaluate these routes to a healthier staff-to-volunteer ratio:

  • Significant organizational restructuring is probably the fastest, but also the most painful, route to take. (It means letting people go.) Unfortunately, some situations call for it.
  • Minor organizational restructuring is less painful. You can keep “higher level,” more talented leaders and reduce hours or part-time roles of other team members who serve in less mission-critical roles, while intentionally developing volunteers to serve as “volunteer staff members.”
  • Grow the ministry and don’t add more staff until you hit your desired staffing ratio. This requires discipline and people shifting their roles over time to provide leadership in multiple areas.
  • Natural attrition. Don’t rehire roles when staff leave, instead reassign responsibilities.

-Paul Alexander, Ministry Consultant at The Unstuck Group and Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church in Phoenix, AZ

Paul wrote more on this topic on his blog in a post called Stop Paying People to Do Ministry. Check it out.

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About Author

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He’s written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.

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