Your Church & The Path Forward

Effective Churches Will Make This Shift

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“You can teach people analysis, but you can’t teach them experience.” – Matt Mashburn

We’re heading into a time where the future of staffing and team development will look very different. As church leaders, we will inevitably be facing some tough decisions around staffing in the near future, and that may mean severances of staff in some cases.

Principles for navigating difficult transitions with staff

1. Don’t offer a golden parachute option. 

This is a situation where you say, “We’re going to offer six severance packages; whoever grabs it first, gets it.” By doing this, you’re randomizing your leadership and the ones who are going to take that offer will be your best leaders who have other opportunities for employment.

2. Do it all at once, if possible. 

Prolonged staff reductions only puts your team in an extended season of mourning. It also distracts the team from the mission because their primary vision becomes about their own personal survival, and it creates confusion because of constantly changing job responsibilities. 

3. You need to severance well and you need to be generous.

Decide what you think is fair and then double it. We’re the church and we want to be way more generous than the marketplace. Pay for health insurance for the term of the severance or some counselling sessions. People leaving in a healthy place are much better for your church and for their families. Do this now while you can still have the funds and can make the decision to do it.

4. Prepare a well written letter of reference.

Present this letter to them when you have the severance conversation. It softens the blow and shows that you care and believe in them. 

5. Agree on the answer to the “why” question that you’re both inevitably going to be asked.

Decide on the answer for severance together and then make sure you’re all saying the same thing. People always want to know the real story. You need to be united in your answer and just keep repeating it. 

6. Celebrate them publicly (as much as you can and is possible in this season).

What is the way your congregation could celebrate them, even in this season? This could be a reception, acknowledging their service over email, bringing them up front. The public level of communicating this transition is a feel thing based on the size of your church, the level of the positions, and a number of other factors. At any rate, be honest with your people. People will be upset or frustrated, but they will at least respect you for being upfront, honest, and open. 

7. Ask the staff to extend the church the same courtesy that you’re extending them. 

Ask them to find one or two safe people to talk to when they’re frustrated and then, if possible, ask them to share those names with you so that when you hear things you know it’s coming from the right people. Then ask them to stay positive when talking to everyone else. If they hear something that you’ve said that they’re frustrated with, ask them to come back and speak with you directly. 

8. Invest in the staff that you keep

This could include coaching, time off to take care of themselves and their families in this new normal, counselling benefits, boundaries, extra grace, support groups, ensuring support of the ministry spouses, transition counselling including resume help, etc. These are practical steps and they go a long way.

Creative alternatives for the future

The new normal is going to keep changing and there are alternatives on the staffing side that might be coming down the line, which means that there are things we should be thinking about creatively in this season. 

Churches across the country are in for structural changes around staffing and hiring. Everyone should be thinking clearly about where we started and where are we going next beyond this, including the next two to three steps down the road and our eventual recovery. 

Benefits of contractors, consultants, and experts:

  • Specific areas of expertise // They are experts and can address a specific issue or area.
  • Temporary // There’s no permanence to a contract basis. You only pay for what you need for however long you need it.
  • Flexibility // There’s room in the church world for us to look at how can we staff ourselves more flexibly. Contractors are one way to do that.
  • No other associated costs // You don’t need to pay for additional benefits, vacation pay, sick pay, or payroll taxes. 

3 things contractors, consultants, and experts do for us:

  • Fresh eyes // They see things we don’t see.
  • Fresh perspective // They see things objectively. 
  • Fresh energy // They excite people. 

“Experts smell solutions.” – Matt Mashburn

We see this creative alternative for staffing taking hold in other industries, so why has the church world been so slow to adopt this idea? The problem is we’re either trying to become an expert in an area or we pile work onto the people who are already getting things done.

Sometimes the pushback on hiring contractors over staff is that we want to be able to see the person and ensure they have full availability for us. It’s easy to hire staff, but is it good stewardship? As executive pastors, one of our main responsibilities is to protect the church. We’re the first ones who have to make sure that we’re doing what’s best for the church, not the staff member. 

Caring for yourself and your team

When we talk about leading, we also have to talk about how we’re managing ourselves as executive pastors. Many of us are doing things right now that we’re not good at, and maybe there are some things we need to give away. You have to do what only you can do and let others do the rest. What is the most important thing you do that you shouldn’t be doing right now? 

When it comes to team leadership, there are some principles we should be thinking about. Coaching for your staff should be in the forefront because unless you’re an expert in everything, you shouldn’t be coaching your staff. Eventually they will hit your ceiling. Staff should know more about what they’re doing than you. We need to make our people experts, and to do that we should provide them with coaching. There is training but having a coach beyond that is important.

Question and Answer

Churches assume contractors are going to be expensive, but is it an expensive solution? 

Yes and no. The reality is they do cost more than an average staff member’s hourly rate or salary, but there’s no other associated costs. Because they’re specialized, it usually takes less time to perform a task or project. If they don’t pay for themselves many times over, then you picked the wrong person or the wrong project. Contractors and experts can be transforming for churches who don’t have these people to fill these gaps. Often when executive pastors hire external consultants, they find that it was a shortcut and they could move faster in that direction. It’s often an investment, but it’s one that ends up paying off. 

What are some of areas a church should look at closely for considering inviting people into in a contractual way? 

Start by taking a good inventory of your team; think about who’s there, what they do, and what they are good at. Then look at the seats on the bus; what’s missing? Having someone come in and do that audit is helpful. Church communications is another huge area. Especially in this season, this is not a volunteer position anymore. Someone who can properly handle finances and HR is another big area. This area has a lot of landmines and churches often get in trouble here. Think about using outsiders to eliminate that liability.

How do you transition from being full-time at a church to being in a contract ministry position?

If you can, do it slowly. Talk to your leadership at the church and ask if they would be okay with taking on a few clients or a reduced pay. Take a phased approach; moving into things full force comes with a lot of stress. Also, consider that maybe you can make a kingdom impact with this transition. There’s something to be said for the big-C Church in these cases. The Church wins when local churches see an opportunity for their staff to move into other ministries. 

How do you know if your position is the one that should be outsourced?

If there’s some natural uncomfortableness in what you’re doing, if you’re spending a lot of time doing things not in your wheelhouse, if you’re not busy, then maybe it’s time. Take some time and look at what’s out there. Go online and see if what you’re doing can be done by someone on the outside.


What are the financial markers you should use to know when it’s time for a staff reduction? 

You should be thinking about what your reserve needs to be. You should take as much risk as will allow you to sleep at night. When that reserve starts to become jeopardized, that means it’s time to make a decision because you still have the margin to do it well.

What are your thoughts on having two to three lead pastors who are specialized versus having one senior pastor who shoulders all of the weight? 

It’s an interesting way of dividing and conquering because it allows people to work within their giftedness. It requires a lot of honesty and transparency, and it would alleviate some stress and pressure on one person having to make all the decisions. However, one person does need to have the final say. Finding that leadership balance is important. 

Track with Matt and Melissa Mashburn

The Mashburns Consulting Group 

Schedule a free half-hour consultation with the Mashburns today to dig into how your church can move forward! 

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.