Seven Occasions When You Should Not Hire More Church Staff

I recently received a Twitter request to provide guidelines for hiring additional church staff. Not too long ago, you could add staff according to a clear formula, typically one full-time minister for every 100 to 200 in worship attendance.

Unfortunately, it is usually not best to approach adding staff in a formulaic fashion today. Most churches do not add staff according to a programmatic approach. You could, in the past, know that the first staff was a pastor, followed by either music or education, and then followed by age-graded ministers such as students or children.

Today, the decisions are much more fluid and much more contextual. I must have an extended conversation with a church leader before I can even begin to suggest additional staff. So, instead of answering the Twitter request directly, I will approach it inversely. I thus offer seven occasions when a church should not hire additional staff.

  1. When it takes ministry away from the laity. There has been a tendency in a number of churches to bring on staff as ministry hired hands. The laity thus pay the staff to do the work of ministry. That approach is both unwise and unbiblical. A new staff minister should demonstrate that he or she will actually increase the number of people who will do the work of ministry.
  2. When you add staff according to the way you’ve always done it. Church practices are changing rapidly. Communities are changing. Technology is advancing. When a church is considering adding new staff, the leadership should see it as an opportunity to reevaluate what the needs in both the church and the community are.
  3. When it’s not a smart financial decision. There will be times when a church should take a step of financial faith to add a staff person. But that doesn’t mean that such a decision is done without prayer, study, and good stewardship. Make certain you are comfortable that the resources for the new staff will be available.
  4. When a particular group in the church pushes its own agenda. It is not unusual for groups in a church to want their “personal minister” to take care of their needs. Make certain that the addition is best for the entire church, not just a select few who might have influence or money.
  5. When a friend needs a job. Don’t hear me wrongly on this point. I am not saying that a church should never bring on a friend of the pastor, staff, or some church member. I am saying that an addition should not take place only on the basis of that friendship.
  6. When it’s just to copy another church. I’ve seen it many times. A church, usually a large church, has a new and creative way of adding and naming new staff positions. It won’t be long before I see churches all across the country making identical decisions. Certainly it’s okay to emulate a church if it’s best for your church. But don’t add staff just because another church is doing it.
  7. When you are unwilling to deal with a current ineffective staff member. Here is the scenario. A current staff member is obviously ineffective in his or her current role. So that person is moved to another role, sometimes a role that does not add true value. Then a person is hired to fill the role once held by the ineffective staff member. This workaround results in a bloated personnel budget and, usually, poorer morale among the effective staff. Be willing to make the difficult decisions before adding new staff.

I would love to hear from you about how your church makes staff addition decisions. I always learn more in these posts than I offer to the readership. I look forward to learning from you.


  1. Sherrybeth says

    If you could start from scratch, reorganize your church staff duties and responsibilities, how do you decide which paid ministers (leaders, teachers…) to have in church? Which roles and responsibilities should be handled by a paid professional?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Sherrybeth: I wish I could you an easy answer, but the right answer for one church may not be the right answer for another church. So many of these decisions are contextual. Sorry to be ambivalent, but i would need to understand the gift mix of the church and the demographics of the community at a minimum. I know one church that brought a full time community minister to staff, only second to the pastor. The church did so because they saw community ministry as one of their primary foci.

  2. Byron says

    I was at a church where the music pastor was aging and because of health issues could no longer sing. He was 60 and the pastor reassigned him to education minister and the pastor assumed the music ministry. It was done in a spirit of kindness to the aging music pastor but made for an interesting work environment and a very tired pastor.

    • Ben says

      I am in that situation right now. My music minister has been in our church since he was born. He is very ineffective and hurting the church. It is a very difficult situation and I’m struggling to know how to handle it. He would never leave gracefully because he really only wants a paycheck. He’s been in this church for almost 60 years. I would love to hear some advice from others.

      • says

        Ben, I faced the same situation only with the church secretary. She was completely ineffectual yet refused to quit because she needed the small medicare supplement plan the church gave her as a benefit. I convinced the leadership that after 50 years of service they should offer to continue the medicare supplement plan and a small stipend as a “retirement package.” My secretary gratefully accepted the offer. After 60 years of service you might offer your music leader some kind of retirement package.

      • Paul Baker says

        Your situation, though common, is difficult, Ben. But there are times when you have to look at things from a CEO perspective (something many pastors/administrators fail to do). If an “employee” has outlived his effectiveness, it’s time for a graceful retirement as it would be in any business environment. Jim’s solution is a good one and one you should consider. In the corporate world, we continue to offer benefits to retirees as a show of our appreciation for decades of loyal service. One of the major shortcomings of the Church is that it doesn’t consider itself a corporation. But the tax man does. If you haven’t thought of retirement packages for your employees, now is a good time to start putting them together.

    • Frances says

      I heard a speaker (I believe it was Patrick Lencioni) address this recently. The church, of all places, shouldn’t keep ineffective staff because they need the paycheck. Our mission is WAY too important to forfeit for the sake of not offending/hurting someone. If a church doesn’t want someone to be destitute, they can offer benevolence or help in some other way, but they should only have staff members who are effective in ministry.

      This is exactly what Thomas is talking about in #7 above. Sometimes, we tell ourselves we’re being nice when the truth is that we don’t have the courage to have tough conversations. Everyone suffers as a result.

  3. Billie Blair says

    Thom, I’ve been reading your blogs for several months now and finding lots of good information. there is one thing that bothers me as I’m reading and that’s the use of the word “should” in so many of your writings. According to the Center for Non-Violent Communication, the word “should” is considered a violent word, putting unnecessary shame or guilt on people. I would – gently and with great respect for your work – like to invite you to think and pray – and maybe read up a little – about the use of that word “should” in your writings. Info about the Center for Non-Violent Communication may be found at

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Billie. I am always eager to improve my writing, I certainly have much room for improvement. I will indeed read the link.

    • John Walker says

      Hi Billie,
      I think your suggestion of removing ‘should’ from communication has the effect of rendering obsolete nearly all the commands of the New Testament!

    • Mark says

      It is much gentler than “shalt” and “shalt not”. What organization came up with that? Sounds like kids who don’t want to behave or help out at home.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Tim. I’m sure the problem is present in many Christian organizations that desire to deal with people in gracious manner.

  4. says

    Many churches are struggling financially, and having to reduce staff for purely financial reasons. A lot of 2-pastor churches going to a solo pastor model. Solo pastor churches going to part-time. I’m seeing this only increasing in coming years and not decreasing. To be honest the idea of a church having more than 2 full time staff members is hardly on the radar of the churches I know.

  5. says

    I can speak to #1. I am in my second year as a (paid, staff) orchestra director at my church. Previously, the orchestra was a seasonal (Christmas and Easter) ministry, but with my dedicated time, we now appear monthly in Sunday worship services and have seen new instrumental musicians emerge from our congregation to join us. In all humility, I am thrilled to be able to report that my hiring, by the grace of God, has increased the number of lay people involved in ministry!

  6. Jim says

    I am struggling with how we are to define the word “ineffective” in #7. I have used the word quite often myself in discussing an overarching philosophy of ministry, and I think I have a general sense of what it means. However, I am concerned that in 21st century evangelicalism, “ineffective” may have become code for “insufficient numerical growth” among many pastors and interested laity. How are we to measure effectiveness?

  7. Ji m Preston says

    I am afraid we have often lost touch of what ministry is about. It is not as the world sees it as always a matter of production, numbers, profit, bottom line, best voices, most qualified. In today’s standards most of the disciples would never been hired much less had the chance to be fired. Leaders of many of the churches today would have agreed with the disciples to send the children and some of the poor and sick away because they could not contribute to future success. An above poster suggested a man no longer was helpful after 60 years of service, time to move on. May I suggest while he may not be able to continue what he has always done he deserves to be cared for, paid and honored for his years of service if for no other reason and his widow after him even if a burden to the church. I would guess the poster would have abandon the Apostle Paul as did others at the end of his life because it was time to move on.

  8. Charles Gibbs says

    Center for non-violent communication? I never imagined that telling my people that they should pray or read their Bible or share their faith was an act of violence. I thought it was an act of love and obedience.

  9. Dale Porter says

    i truly enjoyed reading all of the responses pertaining to the appropriate time to hire additional staff. In our economical realm of things it truly takes prayer and communication with existing church personnel to decide on hiring new staff or alleviating position (s). As far as the the comments pertaining to someone being “ineffective” in ministry, I believe that God has given His children discerning spirits when the individual (s) are not advancing the church, community or even the Body of Christ they are ineffective. Using the word should maybe a “strong and forceful” word but it informs anyone that it is an step that has to be taken. I don’t believe that there is any harm in utilizing the word even though Billie Blair alludes to the fact that it is a violent word. Possibly it may make a difference of who is using the word, to whom it is referring to, and what it is referring to. I love this blog immensely. Thanks for sharing.

  10. says

    Thanks for these thoughts Thom, we are currently praying through the decision to either add another staff member to invest and continue making disciples or add to our facility to handle our current growth and ministries… Conversations like this help immensely.

    Also, have you written any about the dynamics in relationship when a new lead/sr pastor comes on board?

    • Cassandra Jones says

      In response to Rob’s comment, (the environmental changes that happen with every staff additional as well as discerning when resources should be used on expanding facilities or adding staff members) I wonder if the theme of this particular blog/comment could be expanded for future discussions…

      When *should a church create additional worship services, ministries, or outreach programs? When *should they not? What general factors could be considered or prayed over before individual churches move forward or make changes that could impact the future of their congregation?

      Because while some churches simply don’t have the budget or inclination to add additional paid staff/leaders, I remember many a board meeting from the church of my childhood where debates centered around saving, stopping, or altering ministries, worship services, Sunday School approaches, and annual special events because of the amount of time, money, and history attached to these aspects of church life. There was no hiring/firing going on, but boy, were some hasty decisions and nonnegotiable declarations made which I think limit that church even now. And I think that just like creating a paid position can create a potential battleground for future generations (**What do you mean we can’t afford a full time choir director anymore? We’ve had one in this church for 55 years! Who cares if the choir only has six members right now? You can’t build the choir back up if we don’t keep our choir director!) I believe and have personally seen the same potential battles begin when a church adds a new worship service/outreach ministry. The problems seem happen most frequently when well intentioned church members make sacred cows out of programs or personnel positions which were meant to serve a purpose or meet a need which often no longer exists. **As a lived example from my old church, when your “Women’s Fellowship” program is intended to include and minister to all adult women in your congregation, but only women in the 65+ attend because it’s always and only held on Tuesday mornings… despite the fact that you have dozens of younger women and mothers in your church who need and want mentoring, but can’t leave work/school or find childcare you just might have a case of the sacred moo-moo.

      And once a church creates something, even a dated, ill-advised, ineffective something, it becomes so difficult to take that “something” back off the church’s plate, it must important to prayerfully think over all factors and future implications before major decisions are made, including personnel ones. Even think about how hard it can be to change the name, just the name!, of a program or ministry.

      I love this blog, both Dr. Rainer’s insights and the commenters who remind me other people are just as passionate about churches reaching the full potential God intended.

      *sorry if some of the other commenters do find the word “should” offensive; I can’t think of a decent substitute!

      **Sadly comments and mindsets like those are exactly what contributed to my leaving the denominational, more mainline church of my childhood and adolescence to the much more nondenominational and smaller church I currently attend.

  11. Brent Thornton says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Could you provide some general guidelines concerning the percentages of budget may reasonably be dedicated to staff salaries and benefits. From what I understand this may be a range depending on the size of the budget and other factors, but wondered if there are some general rules of thumb to help congregations in thinking about this important matter.

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