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When Should My Church Hire? 

How do you know it's the right time to hire someone? 

When Should My Church Hire

How many employees should your church have? It’s a common question that can vary from one ministry to the next.


If you’re trying to figure out where your church’s staff should be, size-wise, never fear. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you figure out if your church has a healthy number of employees to manage your collective workload and still treat your staff with dignity and respect. 


Step 1: Stay Below the 50% Rule, Unless You Have Good Reasons

Making the call about how many employees your church should have based on your budget is the simpler question. So let’s start there. 


A general rule followed not just by churches but by many organizations is that the staff expenses of an organization should not exceed 50% of its budget. 


Are your staff expenses (including salaries, benefits, and other miscellaneous costs) under the 50% mark in your overall budget? Then you’re good to go. In fact, if you’re way under the 50% mark, that’s a sign to consider if there’s space in your church budget to launch a new ministry with a new staff person to helm it.


Are your staff expenses way over the 50% rule? Then it might be wise to wait to replace outgoing staff. Instead, capitalize on each staff transition as an opportunity to reevaluate the real ministry needs of the church. There may also be volunteers-in-waiting who have been sidelined by a glut of staff and are energized to try new ministry ideas in volunteer spaces. 


Or, it may be that your church chooses to intentionally go over the 50% rule temporarily as an investment for the future. This is especially the case in church plants because, in new churches, the compensation for core church plant team members is going to be the first and biggest expense. The other ministry expenses will catch up later.


That said, it could be true in other contexts, too. For instance, a congregation might hire a children’s ministry coordinator to grow their engagement with young families, even though this temporarily sends their staff expenses over the 50% mark.


Step 2: Get An Accurate Employee Count


Okay, so you’ve compared your church staff expenses to your overall church budget. The next thing you’ll want to do is compare the number of church employees you have to your church attendance. 


There are some fairly standard rates to follow here. But before we get to them, we have to get an accurate number of how many staff members you have in your church. 


“Wait,” you say, “Can’t I just count the number of people who work in our church and use that number?” 


Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that. Getting a reliable number to compare with other churches is tricky because different churches have different ways of counting their staff numbers. 


The best way to clear this up is to work in terms of what’s called “full-time equivalent.” “Full-time equivalent” (FTE) basically means that you add up all of the hours of both your part-time and full-time staff and divide the result by 40. This gives you an approximate equivalent of the number of full-time positions you would have at the church. 


Here’s an example: 


Let’s say you have 2 full-time, salaried staff and 4 employees who work part-time for 10 hours each. The 4 part-time employees together add up to 40 hours a week, which means that your FTE is 3 full-time jobs on staff.


Once you’ve got your FTE number ready, then you can start comparing apples to apples with other churches based on their FTE numbers.


Got your FTE number? Great. Let’s move on to the next step.


Step 3: See How Your FTE-to-attendance Rate Ranks


The next number we need to calculate is how many staff members you should have for your church, given how many people attend it. That number was stable for a while, but now it’s shifting. 


Here’s a quick little history lesson for you: According to the church staffing site Chemistry Staffing, back in the 1960s, the standard staff-to-attendance ratio was about 1 pastor for every 500 congregants.


I know this sounds like a crazy high number, but that’s the point here, right? The time, they are a’changin. 


Over the next fifty years, the ratio of congregants to staff members kept going down until about a decade ago, a number of church consultants settled on around 1:75 as the magic ratio. 


One FTE for every 75 people attending your church. It’s still a solid number and a great starting place. 


However, other studies have shown that it looks like the number is going down again, and the new average is hovering somewhere around 1:51. One thing should be clear from this data: People in North American churches have come to expect more and more pastoral staff for the same number of people. 


So it looks like the magic number for your church is somewhere between 50 and 75 people attending for every FTE. You could stop there, but it’s important to take this number and ask some deeper questions.


Step 4: Consider Staff Health 


Making sure that your attendance-to-FTE rate is between 1:50 and 1:75 is a good starting point. But it shouldn’t be the endpoint when determining the ideal staff level of your particular church. 


Once you have an accurate grasp of the numbers, it’s important to look past them to the health of the staff you already have. Indeed, the intense workload pressure that many church employees face is an important factor to consider when hiring new staff.


Many pastors and other full-time church staff members regularly work fifty hours a week or more in their jobs. Part-timers don’t fare any better, often blowing past the ten or twenty weekly hours their job is supposed to consist of. 


As important as your FTE number is, it’s even more important to gauge how much pressure your staff faces from their tasks. If a member of your staff is working three jobs in one, this should factor into how your view your staff-to-attendance ratio. It’s clear that good ministry is happening in your congregation, and it’s probably worth spreading the labor out to let other minds and hands contribute. 


Pay attention to your turnover rate, too. If your church is burning through staff quickly, this may be a warning signal that your attendance-to-staff rate is too high. It may be worth hiring more staff precisely so that the workload of each staff person is more manageable and can increase their longevity. 


Step 5: Adjust Your Expectations Based on Growth or Decline 


The next thing to consider is whether your church is currently experiencing attendance growth or decline. How you answer that question changes what your FTE-to-attendance number means. 


Let’s start with growth. If your church is currently growing, give yourself some wiggle room on your staff-to-attendance ratio. It’s okay if your church is pushing past the 1:75 ratio. It will take time to hire the staff you need to minister to everyone in your growing congregation. 


As with staff-to-budget ratios, churches that are just starting out are going to have a super low staff-to-attendance ratio for a while because, well, there just aren’t that many people around yet. 


As far as declining numbers are concerned, if your church is currently experiencing lower attendance, this is a strategically critical time in your church’s life. You may find your church pushing closer to a 1:50 ratio until certain staff leave or ministries go dormant. 


If that happens, don’t panic. This gives your church the chance to regroup. Use the opportunity to critically evaluate which ministries are core to the culture of the church and then listen to God’s Spirit for fresh direction about new ministries to launch. 


Step 6: Staff Your Church to Meet Real Needs


One final factor can trump the rest of your considerations about how many staff is appropriate for your congregation: the emergence of real needs in your congregation and in your community. 


Has your community experienced sudden tragedy? Consider hiring someone with experience in grief counseling. Have a group of refugees from a foreign conflict suddenly moved into your neighborhood? Consider hiring a part-time refugee care coordinator. Is there a local community of unreached artists? Consider hiring an artist-in-residence or an events coordinator who can host an art gallery or concert venue. 


The list can get as nuanced as you like (or the Holy Spirit leads). The important thing is to be highly responsive and to hire accordingly, even if it means going against the recommended FTE-to-attendance rate in the short term. 


Holy Spirit-Guided Hiring in Your Church


Once you’ve done the work of crunching the numbers and the work of taking stock of the particular needs of your staff, church, and community, the final, most critical step is the simplest (and hardest) one of all: listen to God.


At the end of the day, God may guide your church leadership to follow the patterns that others have noticed in the data above. Then again, He may guide you to blaze a trail and veer off from the “normal” ministry hiring rates.


I included it as the last and most important step, but the truth is, you don’t want to wait until the end of the process to listen to God. Pray during every step. Pray while you’re crunching numbers. Pray while you’re listening to staff feedback about workload. Pray while you’re evaluating unmet spiritual needs in your congregation and in your community. 


God’s got this under control, and if you’re open to it, He will lead you to the perfect number of staff for your church in this season of its ministry.


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