Mikestrathdee’s Blog

Full-time pastors on the decrease – What can congregations do to reduce turnover and attract strong leaders? -published in Sept. 2011 Christian Week Ontario
September 26, 2011, 2:29 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Communication, Financial Management, Generosity, Investing, Work

Several media outlets had a field day this summer after learning that top staff at some Canadian charities earned six-figure salaries last year.

No effort was made to provide context in terms of the responsibilities and workloads of those people, nor how they compare with private sector counterparts.

They also focused on a small minority. The vast majority of registered charities in Canada operate with budgets equal to or less than the salaries paid to CEOS, presidents and fundraisers at the few large institutions whose Canada Revenue Agency filings formed the basis of the stories.
Reading the story, my thoughts went in a completely different direction than worrying about what the movers and shakers are earning.

I started wondering about part-time pastors.

Our church recently said goodbye to a talented young man who was a part-time associate pastor for an all-too-brief four years. I can’t blame him, as a recently married 20-something, for looking to focus on one job. He has already started a new full-time role with a relief and development charity that he was working for part-time alongside his pastoral work. Their gain is our loss.

His predecessors served a single term in the same position at our church. That says more about the demands of the job than any of the people involved.

Over lunch, Darren reflected on the challenges of juggling a couple jobs, and told me that churches need to offer as close to full-time as possible to minimize turnover and avoid burning out staff.

Unfortunately, the trend is in the opposite direction. Research by Rick Hiemstra of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada found that between 2003 and 2009, Canadian evangelical churches, both urban and rural:

  • tended to reduce their full-time staffing complements.
  • tended to add part-time staff.
  • converted some full-time positions to part-time ones.

Hiemstra studied tax filings by more than 5,400 congregations. He found that 50 per cent more congregations had no full-time staff in 2009 than was the case in 2003, even though congregational income generally rose over that time period.

“It is conceivable, if current trends continue, that a decade from now half of rural congregations will be without full-time staff, and most will be reduced to just one,” Hiemstra wrote.

Some of the change can be explained by churches moving from hiring full-time generalists to hiring part-time specialists, recognizing that it is a rare individual who has all of the gifts that a congregation is seeking. But Hiemstra also notes that “rural congregations appear to be having trouble attracting and retaining staff.”

As a father of adolescent children, I’m gradually cluing in to the primary importance of lasting relationships in faith formation. When I asked Darren what it might take to improve the chances that his successor will stick around longer, he suggested churches may have to stop looking to “20-somethings” to fill youth and young adult pastoral positions. The average university grad will change jobs a couple times before turning 30, so churches should be seeking out older candidates, he said.

But that would involve paying more, a tough sell in today’s climate.