About the Author
Stefan Jonasson

Staffing For Growth: Finding the Right Balance

When adding staff, it’s important for congregations to strive for balance. For instance, the gifts and talents of an associate minister should ideally complement those of the senior minister. It is also important to strike a balance between maintenance positions, which serve the needs of current members, and growth positions, which expand the congregation’s ministry. Yet another need is to balance relationally motivated staff with task-oriented staff.

In a nutshell, maintenance positions tend to support the administrative needs and organizational infrastructure of a congregation. Such positions include administrators, bookkeepers and other office staff, of course, but they may also include positions like pastoral care workers and parish nurses—even membership personnel, if their work is focused more on administrative than programmatic responsibilities. These positions are often task oriented and those who fill them tend to meet their responsibilities on their own, assisted by few volunteers, if any. They serve existing members, for the most part, and help to keep the institution on an even keel.

By contrast, growth-oriented positions are more likely to serve both newcomers and existing members equally well. They nurture the spiritual development of congregants and focus more on organizing programs and ministries than sustaining the institution itself. They typically have a more relational focus and, ideally, most of these positions seek to organize volunteers in support of the mission and ministry of the congregation. Growth-oriented positions typically include ordained ministers, educators, community organizers and membership directors (especially when they function like “cruise directors”).

In real life, almost any position can lean in either direction. Sometimes ministers get trapped in institutional maintenance, while at other times administrators find themselves ministering to significant numbers of congregants and newcomers. Every growth-oriented position has a certain element of maintenance that goes with the job, while every maintenance-oriented position will also contain a growth imperative. The important thing is to get the balance right and, overall, to emphasize serving people over simply taking care of business.

The staffing needs of a church are not met simply by complying with a formula, however sound. Staff must be empowered with the authority necessary to accomplish the goals developed for their positions. This can be a growing edge for some Unitarian Universalists. It can be especially challenging when staff assume tasks and responsibilities that formerly fell to committees.

Staff also function best within an environment where the lines of authority are clear. The ideal staff is one that functions as a team, where goals are shared, communications are clear, and working relationships are collaborative. But all good teams have leaders and the natural team leader in any size of congregation will almost always be the minister—or senior minister, in the case of congregations with more than one.

However we may feel about the increased reliance on paid staff in our churches, there can be little doubt that the quality of congregational life is enhanced by an adequate, balanced, well-trained, fairly compensated and strongly motivated church staff.

Paul Nickerson Highlights Growth Conference in Taunton

Have you thought about growing your church?  Are you excited about Unitarian Universalism, and looking for ways to let others know about our spiritual communities and all the wonderful things that go on there?  First Parish Church in Taunton, Massachusetts, is hosting a conference, “Growth: Strategies for Your Congregation” on October 26 to 27. The Taunton congregation welcomes Unitarian Universalists from far and wide to attend this ecumenical conference, which will focus on:

  • Understanding your community.
  • Understanding the current realities facing your congregation.
  • Seeing your congregation’s mission field differently.
  • Designing events that will enhance hospitality.
  • Developing networking strategies.
  • Building teams for growth and creating a plan for going forward.

Paul Nickerson, their presenter, has a proven track record of helping churches grow in both number and vitality.  An experienced UCC minister, he is a senior consultant to the Griffith Coaching Network and has worked with many denominations.  Peter Bowden, a television producer and church consultant, will also be presenting on Social Media in our time.

When? – Friday, October 26, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m., and Saturday, October 27, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Where? – First Parish Church in Taunton, 76 Church Green, Taunton, Massachusetts.

How much? – $125 per person or $350 for a team of four.

Please register by Saturday, October 20, 2012.

Contact First Parish Church in Taunton (508-822-2107 or office@firstparishtaunton.org) for more information.  Or go to http://growthconference.eventbrite.com and register today!


Conference Brochure: Taunton Growth Conference

About the Main Presenter: About Paul Nickerson


Staffing For Growth: A Simple Formula

“How much paid staff does our congregation really need?” This question comes up repeatedly when I work with the leaders of congregations of every size. Each congregation’s needs are a little different, and the available resources vary as quickly as changes in the economy, but there are benchmarks that congregations can aim to achieve.

In the past, churches relied on a cadre of dedicated volunteers to meet their staffing needs. But congregations today are finding it difficult to recruit, train and manage the number of volunteers they need to do all that needs to be done. I often hear people wax nostalgically about the good old days when there was a volunteer for every job and a job for every volunteer. The simple fact is that lifestyle changes have reduced the time available for volunteering.  And Unitarian Universalists have been affected by these changes more than most!

As congregations deal with a shrinking volunteer pool, they also face increased expectations for service by both members and the larger community. Individual positions may grow so large that it is no longer reasonable to ask a volunteer to fill them, nor may it be practical or possible to break a position up into “volunteer-sized” pieces. Even when church programs do rely heavily on volunteer staffing, such as in the case of religious education, the task of coordinating and training calls for a paid professional. There is a greater need for specialization, along with the training and skills that specialization demands. Each of these factors, along with others, point to the need for increased staffing levels in most congregations.

In his book Staff Your Church for Growth, Gary McIntosh observes that churches follow one of three policies for staffing, whether or not they are even aware of it. The most common strategy among churches is to staff for decline. The next most likely approach taken by churches is to staff for maintenance. It is comparatively few churches that intentionally staff for growth.

Encouraging congregations to be intentional about their staffing strategies, McIntosh offers a simple staffing formula. If a congregation is staffing for maintenance—that is, looking after the people who are already there—it needs the equivalent of one full-time program professional for every 150 active participants (i.e., average attendance, including adults and children), assisted by one full-time support person for the first program professional and one half-time support staff position for each additional professional. (This staff complement does not include custodial staff, since the caretaking needs are largely determined by the size of the facility rather than the size of the congregation.) If a church wishes to staff for growth, the basic formula remains the same but the ratio shifts to one professional for every 100 active participants.

Interestingly enough, churches that are well staffed usually find that their volunteer pool increases! We can speculate that this is because the quality of the volunteer experience improves when there is adequate staff to coordinate and support the work of volunteers.

Growth and Decline: A Numerical Snapshot

Numbers can obscure as much as they reveal, especially when it comes to measuring congregational growth, so I generally encourage congregational leaders to focus on the tangible things their congregations can do to serve people’s needs and let the numbers take care of themselves.  Nevertheless, measurement is important to get a sense of how we’re doing.  Using data from the annual certification process for congregations, which is one of our most reliable sources of information, staff at the Unitarian Universalist Association study the statistics looking for indicators of recent developments and longer-term trends. (more…)

Does Liberal Religion Have a Future?

“At the beginning of the new millennium three qualities mark the world’s spiritual profile,” writes Harvey Cox in his latest book, The Future of Faith.  “The first is the unanticipated resurgence of religion in both public and private life around the globe.  The second is that fundamentalism, the bane of the twentieth century, is dying.  But the third and most important, though often unnoticed, is a profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness.”

Harvey Cox believes that we are at the beginning of what he calls the “Age of the Spirit.”  I’m not sure that this is the right name, or even that Cox is reading the signs of the times correctly, but if Unitarian Universalism is to survive and prosper, we will need to read the spirit of the age and respond accordingly. (more…)

Welcome to Growing Unitarian Universalism

Welcome to Growing Unitarian Universalism, a forum for sharing ideas and strategies for growing our liberal religious faith in breadth, depth and numbers. Sponsored by the UUA Office of Growth Strategies, we will use this blog to share research, review resources, articulate strategies, identify good practices, present guest commentaries, and share stories from the field—all in an effort to stimulate Unitarian Universalists’ passion for sharing our faith and growing its congregations. (more…)