Joe Park, CEO of Horizons Stewardship, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tony Morgan from The Unstuck Group to review and discuss the findings from their latest Unstuck Church Report. This edition focused on staffing and structure.  

Unstuck_podcast              Unstuck_report2

Below is Joe’s summary of the report's findings and how leaders can apply its insights into their ministry strategy. 

Key Learnings from the Survey 

Attendance Trends
  • Average church attendance increased by 17% over the last 12 months.
  • The findings are very similar to Horizons Giving and Worship Survey which found that a much higher number of large churches (82% with giving greater than $5,000,000 annual giving) saw increases in worship attendance versus just the smallest churches (32% with giving less than $100,000).
  • The finding that one in five churches is now multisite, with an average of three locations, underscores the trend that larger churches are more likely to thrive even while learning to do so in smaller multisite venues.  
Giving Trends
  • Giving is increasing faster in larger churches.
  • This is consistent with findings in the most recent Horizons Giving and Worship Survey, where 75% of churches giving over $5,000,000 saw increases compared to just 47% with annual giving between $100,000 and $499,000.
Staffing Levels and Ratios
  • The average church employs one full-time equivalent (FTE) staff person for every 62 attendees, with larger churches having a higher ratio of attendees to staff.
  • The average church also has one volunteer leader for every 19 attendees, with smaller churches having a lower ratio of attendees to leaders. 
Staffing Budget and Turnover
  • The average church invests 54% of its total budget in staff salaries and benefits, with smaller churches spending a higher percentage than larger ones.
  • The average staff turnover rate for all churches in the last year was 12%, which is lower than the national median of all employers over the last four years.
Staffing by Ministry and Generation
  • The average church allocates staff positions to different ministries and roles, with larger churches having a smaller percentage of senior leaders and a higher percentage of adult ministries staff.
  • The average church also has an equal number of women and men on staff, with smaller churches having more women and larger churches having more men.
  • The average age of senior pastors is 50.
  • The most represented generation on staff teams is Millennials, followed by Gen X and Boomers. 
Staffing Challenges and Best Practices
  • The most common staffing challenges that church leaders face are financial constraints, finding qualified staff, structure, and organizational challenges, staffing for growth and change, and cultural and communication issues.
  • The most common best staffing practices being implemented are planning for pastoral succession, restructuring staff positions, defining team values and behaviors, having an on-boarding process and a staff development strategy, and empowering the senior pastor to hire and fire staff. 

What Do These Findings Mean? 

Attendance and Giving Growth Trends
  • It is encouraging to see most churches experienced an increase in worship attendance with an average worship increase of 17% in 2023.
  • A closer examination uncovers a continuing trend that larger churches are far more likely to see attendance and worship growth than smaller churches.
  • Givers who attend worship at least once per month and who are also active in either a small group or a serving ministry give 3-4 times as much as someone who only attends worship 1-2 times per month.
  • Larger churches are growing both giving and worship attendance in smaller venues through multi-site strategies much more successfully than smaller churches in similar settings.  Resources and leadership are key factors, but a commitment to engaging households in discipleship, serving, and giving is likely the most important difference. 
Staffing Levels and Ratios
  • The survey's staffing data reveals crucial insights into resource allocation and leadership structures within churches.
  • The ratio of one FTE staff person for every 62 attendees provides a metric for efficiency in staff deployment as does 54% staff expense to total spending and one volunteer leader for every 19 attendees.   
  • The Unstuck Group and Horizons' Expert in Residence, Tim Stevens, both recommend a target of staff expenses to total income of 50%.  It is important to remember that there are two ways to achieve this goal, reduce spending on staff or increase giving. 
  • More important than the amount of income spent on staff is getting the outcome desired by church leaders which requires a clear vision and measurable goals.  Keep in mind an investment of resources in community and spiritual growth in small groups or in mobilizing volunteers in hands-on ministry will, on average, produce 3-4 times the return as an investment in worship.  Horizons observes most churches with high staff expense-to-income ratios also budget most of their resources into worship and underfund discipleship and serving. 
Staffing Budget and Turnover
  • Allocating 54% of the total budget to staff salaries and benefits signifies a substantial investment in human capital within churches. Higher staff expense levels (except in church plants or intentionally staffing for significant growth) are highly correlated to churches in decline. 
  • The lower staff turnover rate of 12%, compared to the national median of all employers of four years, suggests that churches are successful in retaining talent, which is crucial for organizational stability and continuity.
Staffing by Ministry and Generation
  • The distribution of staff positions across ministries and generations sheds light on the organizational structure and demographic composition of church staff teams.
  • The prevalence of Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers in staffing roles reflects generational diversity and potentially differing perspectives and approaches within the church environment.
  • A best practice in staffing is to reflect the diversity in your staffing to mirror the demographic your church is targeting. Churches often staff in a way that mirrors what already exists versus what they are trying to attract. 
Staffing Challenges and Best Practices
  • Identified challenges in staffing were financial constraints, recruitment difficulties, and organizational issues. 
  • Implementing best practices like succession planning, team restructuring, and staff development strategies and empowering senior leadership in personnel decisions are being successfully used by high-performing churches as part of a strategy to achieve their vision and goals verses cost-cutting measures to balance the budget.

Strategic Takeaways 

Strategic Growth Planning

The attendance and growth trends highlight the need for churches to adapt their staffing strategies to increase engagement in worship, spiritual development, community, and serving in service to a clear and compelling vision.

Resource Optimization

Understanding staffing ratios and budget allocations can guide churches in optimizing resource utilization and operational efficiency, but having the right people focused on the activities that bring our vision to life is the primary goal of optimization.  

Talent Retention

Ensuring a strong and supportive organizational culture is an important investment in attracting and retaining high-performing staff.

Proactive Leadership

Addressing common staffing challenges through best practices demonstrates proactive leadership and a commitment to organizational excellence. 

What should leaders do next? 

Consider how the insights gleaned from the survey data can inform how you navigate staffing structures, help you capitalize on impact opportunities, and foster a thriving and purposeful community. 

Here are some strategic next actions to consider, especially as it relates to funding ministry: 

  • Optimize Staffing to Achieve the Vision: Create a staffing model focused on what is needed to bring God’s vision to life in your church. This may require changes, redeployment, or retraining. Set goals and monitor outcomes (results), not just input (time, effort, and money) or throughput (activities). Plan, in advance, how you will adjust staffing as attendance, participation, and giving change.  
  • Enhance Volunteer Leadership: Develop strategies to align and equip staff to focus on empowering, training, supporting, and evaluating volunteer leaders.  
  • Staff Retention Strategies: Implement initiatives to reduce staff turnover rates, focusing on fostering a positive work culture, professional development opportunities, and competitive compensation packages. 
  • Diversity: Be intentional about developing and leveraging diversity in staff teams to resonate with the demographic groups prioritized in your ministry plan. 
  • Implement Best Practices: Embrace proven staffing best practices such as succession planning, staff restructuring, value-driven team culture, comprehensive onboarding, and continuous staff development to optimize operational efficiency and foster a cohesive and motivated workforce. 
  • Ask for Help When You Need It: Too many leaders experience burnout and frustration, both personally and within their team, simply because they do not ask for the help they need.  You may have the professional resources within your church (make sure they are focused on your vision and goals) or you may need a professional.  
  • If You Need Help in Visioning and Goal Setting, Staffing, Engagement in Worship, Discipleship, Serving, or Funding Ministry: Click here to set up an exploratory conversation with me about how Horizons and our Ministry Partners, like The Unstuck Group, might be able to help.

You can access the final version of this report in the Featured Resources section of Giving365. (If you don’t have an account, no worries. Giving365.com is Horizons' free resource library that is available to anyone at no cost.) 

Horizons Stewardship believes that staffing and culture are critical components to creating a healthy culture of generosity. If you’re ready to address staffing concerns and take your ministry funding capacity to the next level, we’d love the opportunity to connect.  

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