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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

20 Responses to “How Many People should your Church have on Staff?”

  1. Bill Weisler March 10, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Good article. I get frustrated sometimes by churches that do not continuously encourage their congregation to volunteer and give back to God. I see some people on staff and wonder why does that person need to be paid, are they not willing to give to God the abilities that He has given them. I look at what Paul taught in Phillipians and 1 Corinthians and he seems to be a bit mixed on his words, but I think what I get from it is that it is ok to get paid (or compensated) for spreading the gospel but it shouldn’t be demanded. So for me that means that everyone volunteers including those that get paid, and those that don’t need to be paid shouldn’t be.

  2. Ron Geyer March 14, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    I’ve no interest in padding staff and am grateful for your theory. Does this formula break down at either end of the spectrum – those with either very small or very large attendance? Strikes me that it might.

    • Paul Alexander March 25, 2015 at 8:07 am #

      It’s not uncommon for the ratio to increase (i.e. move towards being “over-staffed”) in seasons when a church is staffing for key initiatives and growth. For instance a launch team at a plant may be technically “overstaffed” by these ratios, but it’s intentional for a season.

  3. Chris Meirose March 25, 2015 at 6:58 am #

    I’m inclined to suggest that 350 people is a key area. Below that, and it’s common to be “overstaffed”. A lead pastor, youth pastor, worship person and secretary and you’re now over staffed. After 350 your ratio of pastors to people stretches out in many cases. Whether that sub 350 church needs 4 FTE is certainly debatable, but that’s what I frequently see happening IRL.

  4. Francis December 24, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    Thats a very informative tip. I’m climbing my way in ministry and anticipate to begin a church. What do you say about staffing and more staffing to ensure consistency and effectiveness since volunteers come and go? – Sometime you want a job done so have somebody ready to do it?

  5. Andrew July 19, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    Does the 100:1 ratio that is recommended also apply to multisite churches or just to single site? For example if you have a campus (not the broadcast site) that has 500, should there be 5 full-time staff people at that campus?

    • Paul Alexander July 19, 2016 at 7:39 am #

      Great question Andrew! In my experience I’d still shoot for the 1:100 ratio overall, but in order to do this in a multisite setting the campuses have to be staffed “thinner” than 1:100 ratio in order to accommodate a Central Service Team to support all of the campuses. Make sense?

      • Andrew July 19, 2016 at 8:58 am #

        I think so. Are there any stats/ratios that you’ve come across or used that represent the thinner ratio if you don’t have a Central Service Team? We are at 2 sites about to add a third so we haven’t established a full on central support team as of yet, but probably will once we add the 4th site. But we are looking at staffing the 2nd site and possibly pre-hiring the third site team in advance.

        • Paul Alexander August 2, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

          Andrew, in a multisite church I encourage churches to staff their campuses at a 1:125 ratio which allows them to build a central service team at a 1:4 ratio of FTE central staff to campus staff. This allows a church to still be at the 1:100 ratio overall. You’ll notice as a multisite church grows over time that the power of scale kicks in and you don’t need to continue to staff as heavily as that ratio for central services.

  6. Scott S. August 2, 2016 at 7:54 am #

    I’m on an elder team at a church of about 330. That equates to 3.3 FTE according to this staffing strategy. We have 7.25! How do churches of our size provide the infrastructure to all the different ministries (Sr. Pastor, Associate Pastor, Worship Ministry, Children’s, Youth, Missions, Admin. Asst.???) I agree that we need to call the congregation to greater volunteering but shouldn’t there be a minimal amount of paid support and what is that level? Thanks!

    • Paul Alexander August 2, 2016 at 9:16 pm #

      Scott, great question! I would encourage you guys to wrestle through the following question, “Are we going to pay people to do ministry or are we going to pay people to lead ministry?” The truth is it’s not very reasonable for most churches of 330 to afford to hire and pay staff members to lead every ministry you mentioned in your comment. Instead it means hiring people to develop and lead the people in the church to lead those ministries that you mentioned. That may even mean making use of contract or part-time team members.

  7. Lon Dean August 20, 2016 at 6:59 am #

    Paul, While it is true that overstaffing is a volunteerism killer, I wrestle with your 100:1 ratio for smaller churches. Half the churches in America are under 100 that would mean that they would only have a paid pastor, not even a secretary. Is that what you’re saying?

    • Paul Alexander August 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

      Lon, you’re correct, the overwhelming majority of churches in America are under 100 people in average weekend attendance. In fact, the most recent #’s I’ve seen have the average church in America at around 80 people in average weekend attendance. And, to your question, the answer is yes. I still believe that this ratio should apply to both large and smaller churches. In fact, one of the reasons smaller churches stay small is they put too much money into staffing and as a result try to do too much and what ensues is they don’t put enough into fueling the few ministries that are producing results.

      • Joe February 3, 2017 at 5:01 am #

        Perhaps these smaller churches could band together for some of the staffing needs that choke the life out of a solo pastor. I served in a network of Churches, about 7, and we one guy for our church of 150.. that was full salary, but we also had someone who focused on ldr development and region wide outreaches (me) but supported and serving all 7 churches, a party time worship director, and a shared admin/book keeper between churches.

        I’d say it was a decent strategy since most of these churches are thriving and there are now more.

  8. Tyson April 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm #

    I serve at a church of 600 and we have 4 full time pastor’s, 1 full time childrens/missions director, and 2 ministry assistants. We have the 1:100 ratio and I find that a good balance to have. I think it’s vital to look at it from the pastor and sheep background. It becomes difficult for any pastor to effectively minister, discipline, and reach out to a 100 or more people. This is coming from a pastor standpoint. It is also vital for every pastor to be equipping the saints to be doing the ministry but a pastor is still the pastor of every Christian that is volunteering/serving

  9. Jim Murphy May 2, 2017 at 6:43 pm #

    Paul, are you counting only Sunday or Weekend attendance in the ratio? How do you calculate the ratio considering midweek programs and ministries? Do you 1) not count them?, 2) only add additional unique individuals, or 3) combine total attendance (even with duplicate individuals) of all weekly programs? Could you explain?

  10. drew July 19, 2017 at 6:55 am #

    my church averages 450 adults and 60 kids every sunday. we are considering adding staff starting 2018. how do I determine what staff positions we should have initially and how do I break down their responsibilities? thanks

    • Paul Alexander July 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

      Drew,
      Great question! One of the reasons churches go wrong with staffing is because they fail to staff to their strategy. I’d encourage churches to nail down their mission (why we exist), vision (where are we going), and then strategy (how are we going to get there) AND THEN staff to the strategy. That way the hires you make get you where you believe Jesus is leading you to go. If you need help with this I’d encourage you to check out the Unstuck Group’s process here: http://unstuckgroup.com/

  11. Allison September 6, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    Any advice / resources for right sizing a staff team without triggering more decline because the congregation likes that staff person- “how could we not keep him/her?” I just took a Lead pastorate at an over-staffed church that then also lost people in the transition. It is used to high program and professionalism. Is this where you make the team smaller to match realities and just know it means losing people along the way?

    • Paul Alexander September 6, 2017 at 8:17 am #

      Great question! And honestly a bit too technical and nuanced to answer via a quick comment here. I’d encourage you to check out this resource from the Unstuck Group that helps with Staffing & Structure: http://unstuckgroup.com/structure

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