Stop catering to your church members and start investing in your staff members
According to most surveys 70% of the people who help plant churches will no longer attend that church after three years. I set out to personally change that statistic within my own church plant, Rhiza. Unfortunately, we ended up with about the same average. Granted, we planted two weeks before a world pandemic, but even so I was quite surprised after looking back at how many of our launch team were no longer on mission with us.
Church members come and go. Not just at church plants, but at every church. People are fickle. There are too many reasons to count why they leave, but let’s highlight a couple. Some leave because the church doesn’t offer a particular ministry that the church down the road does. Some leave because of the music is too loud and some because it’s not loud enough. Some leave because the preaching is way too deep and not practical enough. Some leave because the preaching is way too bold and intellectual.
We don’t need to look further than a parable of the soil to know that some spring up quickly and then fall away because they have no roots. As well as some are carried away by the cares of this world. Even some who have been around for years, whom you’ve invested in immensely and their spouse and their kids, will leave because you said one thing that offended them or challenged their thinking. Poof. Gone.
If we’re being honest, it can actually be traumatizing and leave you wondering what could you have done differently. So we read a couple of books, go to a conference and redesign our ministries to attract the most people. We plan countless events to entice everyone in the community. We start multiple ministries to try to meet everyone’s needs. By “we“, I really mean we have our staff carry out our new found strategies. That’s what we hired them for, right? To be able to pull off the things that we’ve seen churches three times our size pull off on social media. All in the name of the great commission. All in the name of Jesus. It actually works…for a while. Numbers in buildings grow. Numbers of volunteers grow. Usually dollars grow too…as long as they’re going to more ministries and events. I’d even say many grow spiritually as well. The problem is that it’s at the expense of spiritual wellness of the ones executing the events and leading the ministries.
The event-a-paloosa and “we offer it all” culture we’ve cultivated has led to a mass exodus of damaged ministers who no longer want to do ministry.
The event-a-paloosa and “we offer it all” culture we’ve cultivated has led to a mass exodus of damaged ministers who no longer want to do ministry. That culture has created a tidal wave of ministers leaving the ministry for jobs in the workplace where they work less hours for more money. Many times with unlimited paid vacation, weeks more maternity / paternity leave and the flexibility to work virtually. (Admit it. Even as you read that, it sounds tempting for you to do the same.) According to Barna, 42% of pastors have considered quitting in the last year. 19% of them do not feel equipped for the ministry. 43% feel lonely and isolated. Worst of all, 29% are unhappy with the effect their role in ministry has been on their personal family. Wow… we are doing something wrong. Many of us will have to face our Heavenly Father knowing the areas of ministry He asked us to steward are so damaging to the ministers He has called to it. Too many lead pastors are more concerned about building up their brand than building up their staff.
Too many times senior church leaders view staff as employees growing the programs rather than disciples growing as ministers. I remember being on a church staff where the senior pastor was responsible for developing me as shepherd telling the entire staff “You are not ministers. You’re administers.” That was the beginning of the end of my time working on that staff. Many modern lead pastors have taken their cues from the worst parts of marketplace and have viewed their staff as replaceable tools to be used rather than invaluable leaders to be molded. That is why when hiring, most church staff position descriptions have higher demands and lower pay than non-ministry jobs.
Most volunteers become great at sharing their time to serve on a Sunday morning but are poor at sharing the gospel to save their lost neighbor.
Most senior pastors use “coaching” as a way to make the staff grow in their job rather than a way to help staff grow as disciples of Jesus. In turn, the staff become more focused on coaching volunteers to be equipped for the ministry and forget all about shepherding them to be equipped at ministering. Most volunteers become great at sharing their time to serve on a Sunday morning but are poor at sharing the gospel to save their lost neighbor. We often replace the idea that our main role is to equip the Saints for the work of the ministry with the idea that we’re to demand the work from the slaves of the ministry. We’re fine as long as we teach them to proclaim “we get to do this!”. These leaders make great CEO’s and terrible Pastors. I know all of this true because I have a great amount of experience being both, the terrible CEO and overworked “administer”.
Problem is, that’s not the way Jesus did it. I know, I know, a lot of the stuff wasn’t around when Jesus was around. I get it. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus would’ve loved a great block party, a beautiful parents night out and an amped up dodgeball event where many surrendered their hearts and lives to Him. However, when we look at Jesus’ ministry, He did things a different way. Jesus loved, cared for, guided and shepherded everyone around him who was willing to be led, but invested the most time in leading and developing his 12 disciples.
Some people think you have to do ministry one way or the other, but I can recall a time I worked for a kind shepherd who also had huge vision. He had such a gift for caring for the staff while also pushing us just the right amount. To put it in my wife’s words “We healed from things we didn’t know we needed to heal from.”
Here is a small list of ways we can invest more in our staff members than our church members:
1 on 1’s
Having regular one on ones are not original, but let’s rethink them a bit. Make the focus of your one on one on their RPMS. Find out how they’re doing relationally with their spouse and family. Find out how they’re feeling physically. Follow up on personal health issues if it’s relevant. See how their mental health and thought life are. Finally, dig into how they’re doing spiritually and helping them grow as a child of God. You can always mix in some leadership labs to help coach them and develop in their staff roles.
One of the best ways to invest in your staff is to do life with them
The Greek word used to describe Jesus spending time with His disciples was “diatribo”. It means to “rub together” and “pass time with”. One of the best ways to invest in your staff is to do life with them. Formal and informal. Planned and spontaneous. Spend relational time with your staff and their families. Let your kids play together. Laugh around a bonfire. Invite them to dinner at your home. Find opportunities to diatribo.
At Rhiza, the staff has unlimited PTO. You don’t have to go that far, but you may want to at least think about giving your team more opportunities to rest with their family. Consider forced time off. At Rhiza we take a summer sabbath. The church closes the week leading up to the 4th of July. Sunday service is virtual, giving the team a real week off. The point is, you can get creative with ensuring you ministers get rest. I’m also speaking to you and to your rest. Are you taking healthy amounts of rest. You can’t give what you don’t have. Speed of the leader, speed of the team.
Look, I’m not saying I’ve figured out the perfect way to lead a healthy staff. I learn new ways to lead all the time. I’m simply looking at the statistics and trying to read the room. The culture we’ve created on church staffs has resulted in almost half of the pastors in vocational ministry considering quitting. Let’s follow Jesus’ model and focus on investing in our leadership. Healthy staff, healthy church.