Context Staffing



Building an Effective Staff with Limited Resources


By: Justin Anderson

Putting together a staff team is fraught with landmines. Peter Drucker, possibly the greatest management thinker of the 20th century says that even the best bosses only really hit on 1/3 of their hires. More specifically, he says that 1/3 of hires are great, 1/3 are fine and 1/3 are disasters - and that’s the best-case scenario. So give yourself some grace if your hiring hasn’t been spotless. This insight does underscore the need to be really thoughtful about our hiring. Nothing will make or break your church or nonprofit more than the effectiveness of your staff.

So how do you build an effective staff with limited resources? This is the question that every church and nonprofit has to answer. No one - no matter how big your church - is overflowing with money. You have to strategically allocate your resources for maximum effectiveness. To do this, you have to prioritize paying the kind of staff that has the most impact per dollar. I know they seem like an overly analytical way to think about this but go with me.

Let’s say you have $250,000 to spend on your staff. You have to think about which hires - paid at a competitive rate - will give you the most bang for your buck. Let me pause for a moment and reiterate part of what I just wrote. You have to pay competitive rates. Trying to make your dollars stretch by paying below market rates is a short-term strategy that will have a significantly negative impact long term. I’ll write more about this in the future, but it’s a really important principle.

Back to our budget scenario. Your first “hire” is the leader, so let’s say you make $100,000 for easy math. That gives you $150,000 to spend on the rest of your staff. I want to keep this vague so you can all apply this to your situation, but let me give one specific example of what not to do. Many of the churches I work with hire a second (or third) pastor way too soon and it is crippling to the church. Does that sound dramatic? It should. If you spend $100k on the leader, you are likely going to spend $80k on a second pastor. This is not an efficient use of your dollars. Why? A couple of reasons.

First, my experience has been that pastoring is the work you are most likely to be able to get for free. If you are developing leaders in your church, and especially elder qualified leaders, there is no more desirable role than to elder people. If you’re doing it right, you can get half a dozen guys to give you 5-10 hours per week of eldering for free.

Second, the cost of an elder is typically double the cost of a deacon. I’m generalizing here but most elders are the breadwinners of their family, which means they need a real, full-time salary. Depending on your context, that can cost you between $80,000 and $150,000. I know that’s a big range but Arkansas is different than Los Angeles. Deacons, on the other hand, will typically cost you between $20-$30/hour and get the kinds of things done that you don’t want volunteers to handle. Which brings some to my third reason.

Detail and admin work is hard to delegate to volunteers. It’s hard to hold a volunteer accountable to get tasks done in a timely manner, which (combined with the above reasons) means that it’s better to pay people to do the detail and admin work. 

I’ve argued before that a church planter’s first hire should be an administrator, and I would argue again here that if you don’t have an admin but you do have an associate pastor, you are wasting your money. Pay deacons, they are cheaper, harder to find, and harder to hold accountable as volunteers. This will open up your budget in significant ways and multiply the work of the elders.