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.

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Stefan Jonasson

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