Where Did My Staff Go?

August 23, 2022

Top 3 Hidden Reasons Church Employees Look for New Jobs

The local church should be the best place on the planet to work, right? 

Sure, the pay’s a little less competitive as compared to other employment sectors, but the intangibles are outstanding. Church staffers share a common purpose, enjoy their colleagues, and derive great satisfaction in serving and shepherding people. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep them? 

Sadly, no. 

Recent studies show that as many as 74% of U.S. workers are open to leaving their current jobs for new ones. And these numbers hold true for the local church. 

According to Barna Group’s 2022 Pastor Survey Data, 42% of pastors have seriously considered quitting full-time ministry within the last year. Whether they are actively applying for new positions or passively waiting for new opportunities to come their way, the result is the same—frustratingly high turnover rates that leave churches struggling to fill the void with new talent. 

And while recruiting church staff is incredibly challenging, retention is alarmingly tenuous. 

Of those who join a church staff, many will move on within one to two years of their hire date. 

So, why are churches losing so many of their employees? 

Several long-standing motivations for a job change are at play. 

These include the desire for advancement, higher salaries, or more interesting work. After a tough couple of years, many church workers may be considering whether ministry is sustainable for them or right for their families and are taking their transferable skills to positions outside of ministry. 

Many workers have enjoyed the independence and flexibility of working remotely and are not likely to give that up. If their current employer doesn’t offer the option of continued remote work, they will find one that does. Many others have reset their priorities and will move closer to family or find on-site work in a city they would like to explore. 

These are all at play in today’s workplace.

But there are 3 other issues that have been largely overlooked as strong motivations for workers to make a job change: 

  • lack of effective leadership
  • an unhealthy organizational culture
  • a disconnect with the changing church. 

Each will have a decided impact on your efforts to keep current employees and attract new talent. 

Taking a hard look at each of these could save you the time, money, and lost productivity that come from high turnover. 

  1. Employees are looking for organizations that demonstrate strong leadership.

While leadership gaps can go largely unnoticed in good times, they get revealed in times of crisis. 

The pandemic has served as a cautionary tale, shining a spotlight on churches that lacked the clarity, agility, decisiveness, and courage needed to respond to a challenge as overwhelming as a pandemic. Their employees bore the brunt of unclear direction and half-baked tactics. 

Now, wiser in the wake of the workplace turmoil of 2020–2021, employees are more likely to stay with a church where solid leaders can quickly organize effective, cohesive teams around mission clarity and well-thought-out strategies.

Those working for churches that lack effective leadership will (if they haven’t already) run for the nearest exit. 

  1. A healthy organizational culture attracts and retains high-performing employees. 

Organizations simply cannot advance their mission without a team of skilled, dedicated people that make it happen. 

While the last two years were largely spent managing crisis and adapting to change, 2022 is a time for introspection. During the uncertainty of the pandemic and the ensuing overhaul of nearly everything, even the healthiest churches may have drifted from their original intentions. Getting back on track requires honest assessment and constant adjustment to ensure an environment where people can thrive, do satisfying work, and know that their efforts matter. 

Wise leaders are engaging their teams in an honest and comprehensive culture check. They are asking themselves tough questions and seeking 360-degree feedback to make sure their mission is clear, their strategies are effective, and their people feel safe, valued, and connected. 

  1. The church has changed. So will your staff.

In 2020–2021, even the most traditional churches acquired the technology and employees needed to offer live-streamed or pre-recorded online worship experiences. They were so successful that, when in-person services could once again be offered on a consistent basis, many church-goers decided to continue attending Sunday services remotely. Others left the church altogether, either having lost their dedication to the church after such a prolonged interruption in their weekly attendance or feeling uncomfortable with a new all-too-prominent political presence in the church. 

Either way, they did not come back. And they aren’t likely to return. 

The same is true for employees. 

The church isn’t a place, it’s a people, and many church employees no longer recognize the church to which they dedicated themselves before 2020. 

Many will decide to look elsewhere for a church that looks more like the pre-COVID church they loved. 

Others will take advantage of shifts in the job market to look for a highly technical or communication-forward position needed by another church. 

Still others may seek a job change because they are exhausted and can’t see any let-up in doing their own job while also filling new roles associated with post-2020 church programming. 

Now is the time to take a good look at your organizational chart. Engage your staff in reviewing job designs and descriptions to make sure that they accurately reflect the work required of today’s hybrid-model church. Make sure that each member of your current staff is in a position where they can make the greatest impact on your mission and have the greatest job satisfaction. 

While it may require some difficult choices, in the end, you will have created an environment that attracts and keeps good people.

Slingshot Group

We take the guesswork out of nonprofit and church staffing.

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