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How Many People should your Church have on Staff?

Before you buy into the idea that you need another staff person at your church, think again. That just may be the worst decision you make at your church this year.

It’s not uncommon in churches that I work with to hear them say, “We need to add more staff.” After all if there are problems or areas where the church is stuck then throwing staff at that problem will surely fix it…right? Well, not always. In fact the opposite may be true. In fact the most effective churches that I see have a tendency to hire fewer staff not more staff. They hire more competent team members who have the ability to turn attenders into volunteers, volunteers into leaders, and build teams. Instead of paying people to do ministry they pay people to lead others to do ministry.

At the Unstuck Group we encourage churches to staff to a ratio of 100:1. As you can see in the chart above the average ratio of attendance to staff in most churches is 86:1. In other words for every 86 people in attendance at the church (including adults and kids), there’s typically one full-time staff person.

This number includes all paid staff at the church. That means administrative staff, support staff, ministry staff and pastors. This number also includes both full-time and part-time staff. We calculate the full-time equivalent (FTE) number by adding the total average number of hours part-time staff work and then dividing by 40. That number is added to the number of full-time staff to get the FTEs. For example, if there are 5 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees working a combined average of 200 hours per week, that makes for a total of 10 FTE’s.

Over staffing is a big deal in churches because it’s usually an indicator that:

1. The church has become Insider Focused

Typically an overstaffed church is paying people to do ministry and run programs to keep long-time people in the church happy.

2. The church has a Poor Culture of Volunteerism

There is a direct connection between staffing and volunteerism at churches. Generally the more a church spends on staffing the less likely attenders are to serve.

3. The church has Stopped Growing

There is also a direct connection between staffing and church growth. What we’ve discovered in our research at the Unstuck Group is that the more a church spends on staff the more the rate of attendance growth slows.

In other words the more staff your church has the more likely your church is to become insider focused, have a low level of buy-in and volunteerism by attenders, and to be plateaued or in decline.

Interested in learning more? Download the ebook “Vital Signs: Meaningful Metrics That Keep a Pulse on Your Church’s Health” or consider engaging the Unstuck Group to do a Ministry Health Assessment with your church.

Posted in Leadership, Staffing, Volunteers


Why People don’t Volunteer at Church Anymore

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 1-in-4 adults volunteered their time in 2013. Altogether, 62.6 million Americans volunteered nearly 7.7 billion hours in 2013. Based on the Independent Sector’s estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour, the estimated value of this volunteer service is nearly $173 billion.

People in the community you live in volunteer their time. That includes people in your community who know Jesus and those who don’t know Jesus. But are they volunteering at your church?

In our research at the Unstuck Group we’ve discovered that:

  • The average church in America engages 43% of their adult and student attenders in some kind of volunteer role.
  • The Top 10% of churches in America engage more than 72% of their adult and student attenders in some kind of volunteer role.

That being said, I’ve never worked with a church that said they had enough volunteers to accomplish the vision that Jesus has given them. In fact here are some of the most common reasons why people may not be volunteering at your church:

1. Your Church has too many Paid Staff

A common reason many churches lack volunteers is because they pay their staff to “do” the ministry instead of “lead” the ministry. At the Unstuck Group we encourage churches to move towards a staffing ratio of 1:100 (1 full-time-equivalent staff person for every 100 people attending the church). The most effective churches have a tendency to move towards having fewer, more competent, and higher compensated staff.

2. Your Church has no Compelling Vision

Volunteering is one of the ultimate statements that someone can make that says, “I believe in this place and I’m with you.” The percentage of people volunteering at your church should act as an indicator as to how many people have bought into your vision and are “with you.” Does your church have a compelling vision that naturally inspires involvement?

3. Your Church has Poor Volunteer Strategies

Poor volunteer strategies are common in church-world. Often times we make it difficult for people to volunteer by making them fill out an exhaustive multi-page application, do a face-to-face interview with a staff member, go through a background check (which I’m in favor of when it comes to working with minors), take a class, or be a church member. Making people jump through hoops to volunteer that are often meant to increase commitment can actually have the converse affect and become barriers for people to overcome that they simply won’t waste their time with. There is a difference between volunteering and leading. I imagine there are probably some roles at your church where someone doesn’t even need to know Jesus to volunteer.

4. Your Church cares more about the Ministry than the Volunteer

Asking people to volunteer every week in the kids ministry because you have a value of consistency for the kids involved in the kids ministry may be noble, but alas ineffective. It’s a sure way to lose volunteers. It also keeps others from getting involved because the same person is in there volunteering every week, not making room for more volunteers. Often times I see churches that care more about what they can get out of a volunteer instead of what they can invest in a volunteer. Churches forget that volunteering is discipleship. People actually grow spiritually by volunteering and living out an others oriented life. So why not do what’s best for the volunteer instead of the kids? Those kids aren’t there every week anyway. If you do what’s best for the volunteer, chances are you’ll have happier, more fulfilled and more consistent volunteers. Which would make for a better ministry wouldn’t it?

At the Unstuck Group we help churches benchmark their behaviors and metrics to gauge their Church Health through a Ministry Health Assessment tool. Interested? Follow this link to learn more.

Posted in Leadership, Volunteers


4 Symptoms Your Church Needs More Volunteers

As you might guess, our Volunteer Rocket coaching is primarily about helping churches get more volunteers. With that in mind, you may be surprised to learn there are instances when getting more volunteers can actually create more problems.

The primary reason this happens is because you have a leadership shortage. If more volunteers create more problems, you very likely need more leaders. Here are some symptoms that you have a leadership shortage.

1. Your “span of care” is too high. In business, it’s called a “span of control.” Fortune 500 CEOs usually have seven direct reports. In ministry, I would argue our span of care should not be any higher than that because we’re trying to accomplish a mission and disciple people. So add up the number of volunteers and then divide by the number of staff and volunteer leaders. If the result is higher than seven, you have a span of care issue, and you need more leaders.

2. The mission is getting in the way of your relationships. Because we’re in the ministry, we can’t just focus on getting things done. We are also in the people business. When it comes to volunteer teams, that means we need time to share life together. We need to create space to coach, encourage, challenge, care for and pray for the people we lead. When was the last time you prayed for each person on your team? If you can’t remember or you didn’t know specifically what to pray, you need more leaders.

3. You are making all the decisions. If you have to touch every task and every decision, you haven’t learned how to empower your team. Of course, this begins with clarifying mission, vision, values and strategy. Everyone must understand their role and know the expectations for what success looks like. Once that’s in place, you need to challenge leaders to move from doing tasks to actually leading their teams. If they don’t have the capacity to do that, you need more leaders rather than doers.

4. You are waiting for leaders to magically appear. If you’re hoping and praying for more leaders but you don’t have an intentional strategy to develop people, you probably have a leadership shortage. Leaders just don’t grow on trees. They need to be mentored and discipled. They need to watch you handle leadership challenges. They need the experience of facing leadership challenges themselves. If that isn’t happening, you need more leaders.

When you don’t have enough leaders, more volunteers can lead to more problems. As you might expect, we don’t suggest you avoid adding more volunteers to the team. The solution is to raise up more leaders.

Because churches have limited resources, hiring staff leaders to do everything won’t work either. The only way to grow your teams will be to raise up more volunteer leaders. Here’s the great news–the spiritual gift of leadership isn’t just limited to people who are on church staff. Volunteers can be leaders too!

We’ll teach you how in our FREE upcoming event called Get More Volunteers. We’ve interviewed nine leading pastors and church leaders about how they’ve built healthy, thriving volunteer ministries and put it all together in this online training event to help you and your team.

You’ll learn from Dave Ferguson, Pete Scazzero, Larry Osborne, Ronnie Floyd, Chris Mavity, Dave Gibbons, Carey Nieuwhof, Sue Miller, and Matthew Barnett.

Click the banner below to register now!

Posted in Volunteers


Top Posts of 2013 #4: “What the Church can Learn from SouthWest Airlines About Volunteers”

One of the most popular topics that I blogged about this past year was volunteers. Churches run on volunteers, and I’ve never met a church that has told me they have enough.

I was recently on a Southwest Airlines flight and witnessed one of the most amazing volunteer moments I’ve ever seen. When it came time for the midflight snack of pretzels and peanuts a woman on the flight stepped up and volunteered to pass out the snack. And here’s the amazing thing…they let her! No application, no waiver, and no complex training classes. They simply handed over the basket of snacks and said go for it! Watching this whole thing go down I couldn’t help but think about how difficult we make it for people in the church to volunteer. Here are a couple of observations from that moment that I think are worth the church considering.

1. Create Entry Level Volunteer Opportunities

Handing out snacks isn’t the most complicated job on the planet. Just about anyone can do it, right? That’s kinda the point. Creating simple opportunities for people to jump in on allows them to safely test the waters and take another step at their own pace. Don’t worry; leaders will always rise to the top. And it’s important to keep in mind that volunteering is different than leading. Who knows, that woman may end up as the next great flight attendant at Southwest Airlines.

2. On the Job Training

It took very little to no training for this woman to perform the role of handing out snacks on that flight. Realistically she’s probably seen it done a hundred times before. Modeling and coaching in real time is a great way to train, and it doesn’t take hours of time out of the lives of your volunteers and take them away from their families.

3. Throw Away your Complex Volunteer Application

The flight crew didn’t make this woman fill out an application to work at Southwest prior to letting her hand out snacks. I know you think that having a multipage thorough application is responsible, places a high value on volunteering and is helpful. But it’s actually creating an obstacle to people volunteering in your church. While there may be a few volunteer roles that require a background check, for example working with minors. In actuality there’s only a very limited amount of information that you need from potential volunteers, which can be quickly collected in the on ramping process. Especially if you’re intentional about creating easy access entry level volunteer opportunities (like handing out snacks).

4. Make it Fun

Southwest is notorious for being a fun place to work. And when the Staff has fun the people on the flight will have fun too. And hint, hint…they’ll want to join in. If your Church isn’t a fun place to work and your Staff isn’t having fun, chances are you’re going to have a difficult time attracting volunteers.


Dear Southwest Airlines,

If you’re out there and reading this, and I just got the flight crew who allowed this woman the opportunity to volunteer in trouble by outing them, I apologize. Really I guess I should apologize to the flight crew. But I think what they did was stellar!

Posted in Leadership, Volunteers


Top Posts of 2013 #7: “8 Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer at Your Church”

One of the most popular topics this year on Helping Churches Make Vision Real was volunteers. That’s why this post checked in at number 8.

I’ve never worked with a church that has said they don’t need more volunteers. But I’ve worked with a bunch of churches that have trouble getting people to volunteer and stay engaged volunteering. This is a critical issue for churches to figure out. The reason why this has to be a front-burner issue is because at the heart of it, volunteering is an essential component of the discipleship process in someone’s life. Plainly put, volunteering is discipleship. Understanding that, here are 8 reasons people aren’t volunteering in your church…and subsequently aren’t growing in their relationship with God.

1. Don’t Feel Needed

Many people come to church week in and week out, they have an incredible experience and go home thinking, “All of this happens every week without me, what do they need me for?” Churches need to provide vision for people to volunteer and tie it to the spiritual growth process of the church.

2. They Think Staff Should do it

Some people simply have an unbiblical view of church…that the Church Staff should do everything. And unfortunately many churches have only reinforced this with a heavy staffing model and in so doing unfortunately built a culture that says, “Only professional Christians can do ministry.” Churches need to equip, empower, and release their volunteers.

3. Poor Past Experience

Many people have volunteered in the past and had a bad experience. They weren’t supported, encouraged, cared for well, or set up to succeed and they’re not sure they want to put themselves in that position again.

4. Don’t Feel Qualified

Many people don’t feel qualified or worthy to volunteer at a church. I’ve met incredible business leaders and military leaders who won’t volunteer in their churches because they don’t feel spiritually worthy. You need to help people understand that they are gifted and created to serve…even in the church.

5. Too Much Commitment

Some people are either at a stage of life or are over committed with other things and don’t have the time to volunteer. Churches need to provide these folks with easy low commitment opportunities to volunteer and perhaps a bit of coaching to move towards a sustainable pace in their lives.

6. Fear of Commitment

Some people simply are afraid that if they volunteer once then they’re in it for life. They’re afraid of making a commitment that never ends. So provide them with short term opportunities to experiment with volunteering and easy outs or off ramps from seasons of volunteering.

7. Difficult to get Involved

The number one complaint I hear from people who want to volunteer in churches who don’t is that they’ve tried to volunteer, they’ve signed up, they want to but they don’t know how to get involved, it was hard to get involved (they had to take multiple classes or be a member of the church prior to volunteering), or no one ever called them back.

8. Criminal Record

Yea, so you know that background check you run on people who volunteer with minors (and you should)…some people don’t want their past brought up on the results of that background check. So, help them get volunteering somewhere else.

Posted in Volunteers
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