October 3, 2017 Amy Anderson

Why Mid-Size Churches Get Stuck: You Don’t Actually Need More Staff

“We need more staff!” your team cries. You can see that the staff is visibly tired, feeling overworked and stretched too thin. But you look at your staffing dollars and already feel like you’re overspending on staffing. How can that be?

My guess is one of two things. Either you’re over-programmed and your staff really is overworked and stretched too thin. Or, they’re “doing” too much. They’re doing, not leading.

As The Unstuck Group works with churches across the country on their staffing and structure issues, one of the most common stuck points for teams is that they have a staff of “doers” rather than leaders. It’s a common challenge for churches as they grow. When churches start out, it’s common they hire people to do the ministry. Initially, churches hire a Children’s Pastor who loves to teach and be with the kids. But as the church grows, they realize they need a leader who can identify and equip people in their church to teach and be with kids.

In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul wrote,

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

He’s saying the pastor’s primary role is to “…equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”  

And that’s the sticking point. Churches haven’t made the change to having a staff that does to a staff that equips. One church I recently spoke with put it this way:

“We’ve lost our spirit of the ‘priesthood of believers’. Instead of hiring leaders and giving ministry away to our church body (volunteers), we’ve fallen into hiring people whenever there is work to do. This has left our staff feeling chronically understaffed, when in actuality, we’re overstaffed.”

So, how do you know if this is an area causing your church to be stuck? Here are two metrics from our Vital Signs research that can provide perspective:

1) Attendance to Staff Ratio:  

Take your total 12-month average attendance and divide it by your Total FTE’s. This will tell you how many attenders you have per each staff member. How do you compare to other churches?

Bottom 10% Average Top 10%
42:1 75:1 121:1

We encourage churches to aim for 100 to 1. At this ratio it would indicate that your church is leveraging leaders on staff and creating opportunities for volunteers to use their gifts in ministry. Anything below that would indicate you have some work to do.

2) Percentage of People Engaged in Serving:

Take the total number of adults and students (Grades 6-12) who serve at least monthly on a volunteer team and divide that by your average attendance (remove children 5th grade and under in your attendance number). This will give you the percent of people serving. Again, how do you compare to other churches?

Bottom 10% Average Top 10%
21% 45% 71%

The higher the percentage, the more your staff are equipping and engaging the body to do the work of the ministry.

If you find yourself stuck, here are some next steps:

1) Evaluate Your Current Staff

List out all the staff that are holding leadership positions and assess:

  • Do they regularly identify and recruit high-capacity volunteers to help lead and execute the ministry?
  • While maintaining responsibility for their outcomes, are they delegating tasks and responsibilities to other people? Are they releasing team building and decisions of execution to other people?
  • Are they focused on leading, caring for, and raising up other leaders?

This is how leaders spend their time. They focus on multiplying the ministry by equipping the body to do the work of the ministry.

2) Fill Your Leadership Roles with Leaders

If you’ve identified that you have some people in leadership roles that are not leaders, the only way you are going to get unstuck is to move them out of that position and fill it with a leader. Sometimes we have to be reminded that not every great staff member has the gift of leadership. And that doesn’t always mean there isn’t a seat on the bus for them. It’s just not a leadership seat.

Evaluating staff and leadership capacity in church roles can be incredibly difficult — especially if you’re wired to be a people-person! Remember that our biblical mandate as leaders is to equip the body to do the work of ministry. We need to recognize our responsibility to take that directive seriously. That being said, we know it can be helpful to have a partner for this kind of task. You can learn how The Unstuck Group supports churches in this process by checking out our Staffing & Structure Review.

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Amy Anderson

Amy is a ministry consultant at The Unstuck Group. Amy served as the Executive Director of Weekend Services for over 12 years at Eagle Brook Church in the Twin Cities, helping the church grow from 3,000 to over 20,000. Today she works with churches of all sizes, providing a fresh perspective and concrete strategies to strengthen their processes, staff health and weekend experience.
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