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Human Resource Guide for Churches

Everything you need to know .... Without the legal advise. :) 

Human Resource Guide for Churches

Thinking about human resources for a church is weird. Here’s why: The church isn’t a business, and the people who show up to your church week after week aren’t customers. 


And yet, your church does have employees, and all of them can benefit from the best human resources ideas and practices. 


Let’s break things down a bit and talk about the human resources needs of a church staff.


The Big Picture

Before we really get started, don’t forget to keep the big picture in mind. Human resources is all about stewarding the most important “resource” of your organization — humans! 


But for us as Christians, humans are never just resources, right? They are also made in the image of God. It’s important to keep an eternal perspective, and remember that the care of souls is more important than the upkeep of the organization — as important as that is. 


I like to remind myself that the most important question to ask when discussing any human resources issue in the church is: How will this decision show love to this staff person as a beloved child of God? 


It’s a good filter to have. Moving on...


What kind of church culture do you have? 


There’s one more big-picture question to ask before we dive into the nuts and bolts of human resources. This one is essential because it determines how you will understand every other HR question.

Here it is: Is your church a family culture church or a professional culture church? 


Many churches are somewhere in between, but consider these important differences:


  • In a family culture church, policies and procedures tend to be more informal and relationship-based.
  • In a professional culture church, policies and procedures tend to be more formal and process-based.


You might assume that small churches are all family culture and large churches are all professional culture, but this isn’t true. It’s entirely possible for a small church to be led by a pastor who strongly favors professional process over personality, as is the opposite scenario. 


What’s important is not the size of the church, it’s accurately naming what kind of church culture you have.

HR Considerations for Church Leaders

Both types of church cultures have their strengths and weaknesses, but we’re talking about best practices in human resources here. Keep in mind, that means that your church will incorporate at least some professional culture into your church system, which brings us to our first HR consideration.


I want to make side note here… Life Church has done and incredible job creating a lot of structure around the HR process for churches. They’ve also published all of the HR Documents and made them available churches to use freely.. You can access them by clicking here.


Remember, process is your friend


Process is your friend. In fact, it’s even more than that. 


It may seem counterintuitive, but having solid processes in place is an act of love. It ensures that you do the right thing and act justly toward everyone in your church system, even when things get heated and problems arise. 


A good process also signals that individuals matter enough to be respected and treated fairly and equitably, not just based on personal whim. 


One of the most important processes to get in place is a formal hiring process. Here are some things to consider to firm up your hiring process:


  • Put a team together for any and every hire. 
  • Be clear about who the contact person is for all candidates. 
  • Make sure the hiring process has clearly defined stages, and that the candidates know which stage they are in at every step. 
  • Create or find objective metrics by which to measure candidates, so that all candidates can be assessed fairly. Chemistry is super important, but you don’t want good chemistry to distract you from remembering what the real requirements of the position are. 


As a final note, make those pesky reference checks at the end of the interview a must within your process.


Keep diversity and representation in mind


One aspect of human resources in any organization is paying attention to issues of diversity. In a church, this is especially complicated, because you are looking at diversity among church staff, diversity in the congregation as a whole, and diversity within the target community or neighborhood of the church. 


Questions you might want to ask include 


  • Is our church staff diverse?
  • Does the makeup of our staff reflect our congregation? 
  • Does the makeup of our staff reflect the target communities that we want to reach? 


If there is a serious mismatch between any of these levels of diversity, it’s an HR consideration that you should address with your leadership team. 


Create Room for Growth 


Every one of the staff people in your church is a human being with an immense capacity for growth and change in ways they might not even be able to imagine yet. 


Make sure that all of your staff are made aware of opportunities for further training and continuing education. When working on budgets, show your staff that you care about their growth enough to fight for funding for their continued development, not just as members of your church but as employees of the organization, too.


Schedule Regular Reviews 


Another key HR consideration is the need to conduct regular staff reviews and evaluations. Here are a few reasons why: 


  • Regular staff evaluations make sure that you are staying in touch, building trust, and emotionally connecting with staff on the important things. 
  • Reviews can expose the beginnings of problems right when they are forming, instead of letting things fester for too long.
  • Evaluative feedback is hard in the moment, but it provides clarity and lets staff know they are seen and heard.
  • It’s easy to get lost in the administrative grind. When done well, a good staff review can help a staff person see a bigger story arc to their work in the church. 


Like processes, reviews are your friend. Don’t treat them as a hassle.


Utilize recognition and rewards 


Okay, enough about intimidating reviews. Let’s talk about something lighter: recognition and reward.


The first and most important rule for church staff recognition is that You can never, ever say “thank you” or “good job” too many times. 


Seriously. It’s a good idea, every time. 


Also, remember that there’s a good chance that a church staff person didn’t take the church job for the money or the competitive career opportunity, but because they wanted to make a difference in the world. One of the best things you can do to recognize that sacrifice is to give them a simple “thank you” or “good job” in a way that connects their work to the mission of God in the world.

Caring for your staff

The recommendations above are all important for the general HR and administrative functioning of a church staff. Before we wrap things up, though, I want to take a minute to talk about caring for your staff from an HR perspective. 


Caring for your staff goes beyond a good hiring process, evaluations, and high fives and compliments. Remember, you’re functioning as part of the uppercase “C” Church. You want to care for your staff not just practically but with Christlike love. 


Here are a few ways you can go above and beyond to care for your church staff:


Give them Sundays in the pew


Okay so your church probably doesn’t have pews, but you get the point. One of the healthiest things a church staff person can do is periodically take a Sunday off to just sit among the people of God, worshiping, communing,  and being fed by the living God. 


This will give your staff a much-needed reorientation of perspective. Consider making a scheduled break every couple of months part of your job descriptions.


Encourage them to visit other churches


This one requires a lot of humility and courage on your part as a church leader. Giving your staff people the opportunity a few times a year to worship in other churches is good for the long-term health of your team. 


You can’t control how they will experience other churches — which is actually part of the point. It can expand the imaginations of your staff. The cross-pollination might inspire them or even reveal red flags no one has seen before. At the end of the day, it also reminds them that they are one part of a much larger global body of Christ. 


Provide encouragement and access to counseling


One of the responsibilities of corporate human resources departments is to provide access to counseling for employees who may be in crisis or in need of therapy. Church staff is no different. 


If someone on your staff is struggling with their marriage, an addiction, or a life crisis, you can show tangible care for them by having structured, professional support in place — emotional, spiritual, financial, or otherwise. It’s also a good idea to proactively make this support mindset an accepted part of your church staff culture. 


Respond to abuse situations


No one likes to talk about it, but one of the most important parts of caring for your staff is appropriately responding to allegations of abuse and harassment. To this end, every church should have a sexual misconduct policy in place — and HR is the place to tackle that issue. 


Your policy should be clearly written and reviewed by outside experts, too. You can find many helpful resources on the GRACE website. GRACE is an organization dedicated to helping churches recognize, prevent, and respond to abuse.


Fair Compinsation


When considering how much to pay your team, it's important to keep some things in mind... What is the average cost of living in your area? Is the salary available for the position enough for the person to meet their and their families needs?


If not, you will need to consider being flexible when it comes to side jobs and additional work. We've created a helpful guide for the average pastor's salary if you are wondering how to figure out how much to pay someone. 

The End of a Staff Person’s Time in a Church


At some point, every church staff person’s time of service comes to an end. Don’t forget to conduct an exit interview when a staff person is departing. 


As painful or as awkward as they can be, exit interviews are an essential part of ending a staff relationship well, because:


  • Exit interviews can also help with emotional closure for all involved, as everyone processes the staff change. 
  • They give the outgoing individual a chance to give you, the interviewer, an indirect performance review of the church. 


If you can stay humble and curious, the information learned from an exit interview can help you identify changes that need to be made. This has the potential to continually improve your HR efforts over time.


Approaching church HR with a Godly Mindset


Thinking about human resources can be complicated, confusing, and overwhelming. That’s why it’s always important to remember that God is in control. 


Ephesians 4 says that Christ himself is the one who is equipping his church and building up the body of Christ. In your hiring and care of church staff, no matter what happens, good or bad, remember that it’s all part of God’s mysterious, hidden work of building his kingdom. Living inside this truth frees you to make human resources decisions with confidence, hope, and joy.

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