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Are Churches "Lousy Employers?"

How leaders can shift perceptions through fair salaries and stronger job descriptions.
Are Churches "Lousy Employers?"
Image: erhui1979 | Getty

I still remember this quote from seminary: “Churches are, for the most part, lousy employers.”

That seems harsh, right?

Maybe not.

Why did my textbook, titled simply Church Administration, describe churches as “lousy employers”?

“He just couldn’t find enough churches that evaluated their personnel to merit a book.”

First, according to the book’s author, Robert H. Welch, churches fail to pay adequate salaries and benefits to their staff.

Given the struggles many churches have faced on this front, that is the primary reason why ChurchSalary exists.

Second, according to Welch, churches fail to consistently and adequately supervise and manage their staff.

Few Churches Evaluate Their Personnel

I remember discussing (and lamenting) in seminary an anecdote from Welch’s book:

Welch wrote that back in 2005. Hopefully, churches have stepped up their efforts since then.

Creating a comprehensive personnel evaluation system is a big undertaking. And every church has unique staffing needs. That said, every church and personnel committee should prioritize creating such a system. Pastors and church staff deserve adequate supervision and management.

One key area where churches can make an immediate improvement is in the area of job descriptions, performance reviews, and revising old job descriptions.

When Did You Last Update Job Descriptions?

The shift to online and hybrid ministry models is putting a lot of pressure on pastors.

Not every church takes the time to write a good job description before starting a job search and interviewing candidates.

Trust me, I’ve looked through plenty of job listings for churches.

Beyond that problem lies an even greater concern: a poorly written job description rarely—if ever—gets reviewed, updated, and revised to reflect what a staff member is expected to do in his or her role.

Few churches take the time to conduct performance reviews or an in-depth job analysis.

As a result, even though most pastors have a written job description in a file somewhere, my guess is that it bears little resemblance to their actual duties and responsibilities.

That disconnect has been accelerated by the events of the past year.

Seismic changes in the church world due to COVID-19 restrictions and the shift to online and hybrid ministry models are putting a lot of pressure on pastors.

Ministers are being asked to step into roles that they were never formally trained to do. Pastors whose entire job descriptions once involved running a specific ministry now find programs and events suspended or significantly altered.

As I discussed with Matt Steen of Chemistry Staffing back in ChurchSalary’s November webinar, churches need to re-evaluate their ministry models in light of our new online and work-from-home world.

Still, COVID-19 aside, when was the last time your church reviewed and updated the job descriptions of your staff members? If you don’t remember, you may be neglecting the type of supervision that can help your staff members flourish in their work.

How to Revise Job Descriptions

On January 27, 2021, at 12pm CST, ChurchSalary will host a member-only webinar with HR expert Tiffany Henning, co-founder of HR Ministry Solutions.

We will discuss “How to Revise Job Descriptions,” with a special focus on updating roles in light of COVID-19.

Tiffany and I will cover:

  • The basics of job reviews;
  • How to revise job descriptions;
  • Avoiding POPEs (Pastors of Practically Everything); and
  • New hybrid (in-person + online) ministry positions.

ChurchSalary is a resource for churches that aims to help them offer fair and life-giving pay and benefits to their staff and to properly supervise and manage their staff.

We want to help churches avoid the stigma of being “lousy employers.” One of the ways that we do this is by connecting our members with experts like Tiffany Henning.

To register for the January 27 webinar, become an annual member of ChurchSalary.

Also check out ChurchSalary’s November webinar with Matt Steen to learn more about how your church can adapt and update its staffing to thrive in a post-COVID world.

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Lilly Endowment

ChurchSalary is made possible through funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. As part of Lilly's "National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders," ChurchSalary—and our parent, Church Law & Tax—is committed to helping church leaders and pastors develop an atmosphere of healthy financial stewardship, especially in the area of church staff compensation.