Lean Church Staff

Sam Rainer

April 15, 2010

I’m tempted to make a joke about pastors and potlucks, but I think I’ll pass…

By lean staff, I’m referring to how much of the budget a church allocates to personnel costs. How much should a church allot to paid staff? It’s a great research question. The Leadership Network and Your Church magazine released results from a survey they conducted on this subject.

Here’s a few of their findings:

  • Lean-staffed churches averaged 1 paid staff member per 86 attenders compared to a 1-to-70 ratio for those that spend more on staffing.
  • Lean staff churches do a better job with volunteers and lay leadership development.
  • Lean-staffed churches generally spent 18 percent of their budgets on outreach, such as missions and community aid, compared to 15 percent by the other group.
  • Growing churches spend a smaller percentage of their budget on staffing costs, so they’re “leaner” than plateaued or declining churches.
  • Staff costs become leaner with size—as overall weekend worship attendance increases, but not dramatically so.

The average church spends between 40% and 50% of their budget on personnel costs. So what’s the cut-off point for a lean staff? Their research team determined anything less than 35% was “lean.” They surveyed over 700 churches nationwide, and only 15% of them fit into the lean category.

How do these lean churches do it? There are several possibilities: outsourcing, overworking staff, finding additional revenue streams (i. e. rental income), or—ideally—empowering lay persons. The Leadership Network is following up with another research project to find out more details. Until then, any of you want to speculate on how these churches have lower personnel costs?

You can download the entire report for free here.

6 comments on “Lean Church Staff”

  1. Kevin Rossen says:

    I started to write a comment on this post, but it became too long so I turned it into a blog post. Summary: Churches probably need to learn to re-think how they do things so they don’t face the same demise that the print industry does.

    Read it here: http://kevinrossen.com/religion/what-the-church-can-learn-from-the-demise-of-the-print-industry/

  2. Sam Rainer says:

    Good thoughts Kevin!

  3. Nate Ross says:

    Really love the idea of going lean/effective. Don’t know if most church leadership is ready to handle the opportunity to change structure. It’s exciting but i know most people take it like we’re changing the Gospel. You’re words/blog are helpful to many Sam!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I agree, I think churches need to rethink the way they do church. We need to break tradition and seek a more efficient model. I think one thing that many churches should consider is bi-vocational ministers, there are some benefits and some draw backs, one of the biggest benefits is the lean budget in the area of salaries. Empowering lay leaders is the key, some will serve in the church and some may leave to begin new ministries. That’s ok, we need to train leaders to lead bottom line. This is a biblical model that Jesus did with His disciples.

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