Navigating difficult transitions with church staff — and creative alternatives for the future of your team

By Matt Mashburn & Melissa Mashburn

We’re heading into a time where the future of staffing and team development will look very different.

As church leaders, we will inevitably be facing some tough decisions around staffing in the near future. That might mean downsizing staff in some cases.

We’ve outlined eight principles for navigating difficult transitions with staff and how to invest in and care for the staff that stays.

#1: Don’t offer a “golden parachute” option. This is a situation where you say, “We’re going to offer six severance packages; whoever grabs it first, gets it.” By doing this, you’re randomizing your leadership, and the ones who’ll take that offer will be your best leaders who have other opportunities for employment.

#2: Do it all at once, if possible. Prolonged staff reductions only put your team in an extended season of mourning. It also distracts the team from the mission because their primary concern becomes about their own personal survival.

#3: You need to severance team members well, and you need to be generous. Decide what you think is fair, and then double it. We’re the Church, and we want to be way more generous than the marketplace. Pay for health insurance for the term of the severance, or some counseling sessions. People leaving your team in a healthy place are much better for your church and for their families.

#4: Prepare a well-written letter of reference. Present this letter to the staff member when you have the severance conversation. It softens the blow and shows that you care and believe in him or her.

#5: Agree on the answer to the “why” question leaders will inevitably be asked. Decide on the answer together, and then make sure you’re all saying the same thing. People always want to know the “real” story. You need to be united in your answer and just keep repeating it.

#6: Celebrate them publicly (as much as you can and is possible in this season). The public level of communicating this transition is a “feel thing” based on the size of your church, the level of the positions, and a number of other factors. At any rate, be honest with your people. They will be upset or frustrated, but they will at least respect you for being upfront, honest and open.

#7: Ask the staff to extend the church the same courtesy that you’re extending them. Ask them to find one or two safe people to talk to when they’re frustrated, and then ask them to stay positive when talking to everyone else.

#8: Invest in the staff that you keep. This could include coaching, time off to take care of themselves and their families in this new normal, counseling benefits, ensuring support of the ministry spouses, etc. These practical steps go a long way.

The new normal?
The new normal is going to keep changing, and there are alternatives on the staffing side that might be coming down the line. That means there are things we should be thinking about creatively in this season.

Creative alternatives for the future of your team

Matt & Melissa Mashburn teamed up with unSeminary founder Rich Birch for a timely podcast: “Your Church & the Path Forward: Effective Churches Will Make This Shift.” View it here.

We see these creative alternatives for staffing taking hold in other industries, so why has the Church world been so slow to adopt this idea? The problem is, we’re either trying to become an expert in an area or we pile work onto the people who are already getting things done. Sometimes the pushback on hiring contractors over staff is that we want to be able to see the person and ensure they have full availability for us. It’s easy to hire staff, but is it good stewardship?

Here are a few benefits of hiring contractors, consultants, and experts to supplement your staffing.

  • Specific areas of expertise — They are experts and can address a specific issue or area of need for your staff team.
  • Temporary — There’s no permanence to a contract basis. You only pay for what you need for however long you need it.
  • Flexibility — There’s room in the church world for us to look at how we can staff ourselves more flexibly and affordably, and contractors, consultants, and experts are one way to do that.
  • No other associated costs — You don’t need to pay for additional benefits, vacation pay, sick pay, or payroll taxes.

There are also three things contractors, consultants, and experts do for our churches and teams. They bring in:

  • Fresh eyes — They see things we don’t see.
  • Fresh perspective — They see things objectively.
  • Fresh energy — They excite people.

Churches across the country are in for structural changes around staffing and hiring. Everyone should be thinking clearly about where we started and where we are going next beyond this, including the next two to three steps down the road and our eventual recovery.

These are proven methods of staffing economically that the business world has been using for years, and it’s a good time for the church to adopt some of these ideas, as well.

We talk through all of this with Rich Birch over at Unseminary. Click here to access a short video of the interview and more details about these ideas, as well as some bonus ways to care for yourself and your team.

We love to help church leaders achieve and manage growth by developing practical solutions that are customized for your church with an implementation plan and coaching so that you can reach more people and see more lives changed. We also provide outsourced XP services and coaching to unleash the potential and maximize the impact of your team members — your most effective growth engine.

We would love to help you think through some options for you, your ministry or your church at no cost to you. Simply go to www.practicalsolutionsforgrowth.com to schedule a free 30-minute consultation. You can also email us if you have a specific question you’d like to talk through.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Matt Mashburn & Melissa Mashburn have served in senior leadership positions at three different churches over the last 17 years ranging in size from 90 to more than 14,000 in weekend attendance. They use those experiences to help churches grow by finding the right staff, developing strategy, and streamlining their operations and ministry. 

They started The Mashburns Consulting Group in 2019 to help churches and teams find practical solutions for growth. You can connect with them for free 30 minute consultation at www.practicalsolutionsforgrowth.com.

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