Why Hire Help In The Local Church?

Robert N. White

Personnel Practices

Ant manager’s responsibility includes personnel matters, such as hiring, defining duties, compensation, and appraising employee performance. But these tasks often get short shrift in a church. An informal approach to personnel matters is often rationalized with the attitude that an organization with only one or a few paid staff people doesn’t need a lot of personnel policies and procedures.

Having heard a number of ministers complain bitterly about the time and frustration involved in dealing with just one “difficult” church secretary, it seems eminently reasonable for churches to develop simple procedures to apply to paid staff members. The principles apply as well to part-time workers as they do to full-time personnel. The procedures outlined here should help you find and keep qualified staff people and cut down on job dissatisfaction and conflicts.


When you have a position to be filled, several questions need exploration before you take any action:

1. What kind of candidate do we need?
2. How do we go about seeking candidates for the job?
3. How do we select the best candidate?
4. How can we avoid later misunderstandings between the new employee and the pastor or other supervisors?

To determine what kind of candidate you need, you should have a job description and a job specification. The job
description will be discussed later in this chapter. The specification sets forth the knowledge, skills, and abilities
required of an individual to perform competently in the job. For example, does the secretary need typing skills, knowledge of bookkeeping, a pleasant telephone voice and manner? An example of specifications for a representative job in a church is shown in Exhibit 6-1. Such specifications which describe the kind of person the church is seeking are helpful in both recruiting and screening candidates.

The job specification need not be developed in great detail, but it should represent mutual agreement by the pastor
and the personnel committee. Otherwise, there will be considerable opportunities for misunderstanding between the
pastor and the committee (if both are involved in hiring) and between the pastor and the candidate who is hired.
Misunderstanding may result in a mismatch, the hiring of a person who is not qualified for the job. When this happens, the cost in administrative time and effort gets very large.

To develop a job specification, you will need input from the lay board, the pastor, and any staff people directly
concerned with the position to be filled. It is often useful to refer to job specifications for similar positions in businesses or other churches. A pitfall to be avoided is simply to describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the last incumbent in the job.

The job specification should be reasonably specific but not unduly restrictive. Treading this narrow line may take some discussion. A too lengthy list of requirements may screen out a desirable candidate; too vague a specification may make final selection very difficult.

With a job description and a job specification in hand you are ready to begin recruiting candidates.

Exhibit 6-1 Job Specification, Minister of Music

A. Knowledge
1. Thorough, detailed knowledge of choral music techniques.
2. Working knowledge of instrumental music.
3. Understanding of church organizational structure and roles of key positions in that structure.

B. Skills and Abilities

1. Enduring patience in working with volunteers.
2. The ability to lead through persuasiveness and diplomacy at times or through authority and assertiveness when
3. The ability to reach people with widely varying musical tastes while maintaining continuity in the program.
4. The ability to teach.
5. The ability to accompany instrumentally (extremely helpful though not essential).

C. Personal Attributes

1. Conviction as to importance of music in the total church ministry.
2. Willingness to yield personal desires to those of choir members when it is in the best interest of the church and
the choir.
3. Appreciation for widely varying musical styles.


Most church staffs are not large enough to have someone who can be transferred into a new job opening. However, if at all feasible, it is well to consider filling the vacant position with a member of the present staff, either as a promotion or as a means of broadening the person’s skills. While the selection of a present staff person may require additional training or modifying the job to fit the individual, these alternatives are much less expensive than recruiting someone from the outside.

Let’s assume, however, that you will recruit from outside the organization. These are ways of finding job

1. Employment agencies. A good one can do an excellent job of producing candidates and performing preliminary screening for you against your job description and specification. The agency will not charge you for this service, but your eventual candidate may negotiate to have you pay the agency fee.

2. Advertising in the local newspapers. When you place a classified ad, you act as your own employment agency. You
can request “resumes only” to avoid unnecessary interviewing. Use the resumes for the initial screening. Screening interviews can be shared between the pastor and the personnel committee. If you use the job description and
specification, everyone helping with the screening interviews will have the same understanding of what kind of person is needed to fill the job.

3. The broadcast approach. Spreading the word that you have a job vacancy to the governing board, church committees, and the congregation as a whole will turn up a number of names. It may also turn up some new headaches in that church members will recommend their sisters, aunts, and friends. Sometimes the major
qualifications of these candidates are that they “need the job.” Your job description and specification can help you deal tactfully with these well-intentioned recommendations.

What about the issue of hiring a church member for a nonpastoral job in the church? One consideration is that of
“taking care of our own. ” Another is the issue of getting the job done efficiently. A third, and perhaps most important from our discussions with pastors is the problem of the church member staff person whose concern for the church and its fellowship gets in the way of carrying out his or her duties in an unbiased manner. In other words, the church administration is frequently better served by hiring nonmember staff persons.

Selecting the Best Candidate

Now you are ready to screen resumes and hold preliminary interviews. No matter how it is done, the screening process is time-consuming. The only way to speed it up is to give it high priority with the pastor and others who will be involved in interviewing, but you can make the process more efficient by either of these methods:

1. The pastor conducts interviews until he or she has identified two or three good candidates. These are referred to
the personnel committee for its appraisal.

2. The personnel committee does the screening interviews and presents the two or three best candidates for the pastor’s appraisal.

A third approach is to have the pastor and the committee interview all candidates. This is very time consuming and tends to be used when there is no job description and specification as a means of making sure that everyone is satisfied.

Certainly, if the employee is going to be working for the pastor, the pastor must do the final interviewing and make the final decision.

What if the recruiting process turns up a “super” person whom all concerned would like to have on board but who doesn’t really fit the specifications? This can and does happen and presents a real dilemma. Before you make a hiring decision, consider what the impact will be on the rest of the staff organization and how other jobs might have to be restructured in light of the decision.

A search for job candidates can be seen as an opportunity for enhancing the public relations efforts of the church. An advertisement or circular for the job is a chance to “sell the church.” Competent interviewing, use of job descriptions and specifications, and prompt and courteous communications with candidates all give the impression of a
well-managed church. Communications with candidates must of course, include notifying unsuccessful candidates as soon as the decision about them has been made. A thoughtful letter is preferable to leaving it up to the candidate to call in and be told that he or she is no longer in the running.

Avoiding Misunderstandings Later On

At the point of hiring a good manager makes sure the candidate has a clear understanding of certain basics of the
job, including pay, policy on granting raises, fringe benefits, duties, authority, responsibility, relationships with others in the organization, hours, and working facilities and conditions.

The pastor or another administrator must anticipate the kinds of questions a prospective employee will have and be
prepared to provide answers. This means explaining existing policies and being clear about areas not covered by policy. Questions like these may be expected:

1. How soon before I can expect a raise? How much of a raise is customary?

2. Are there duties I am expected to perform that are not spelled out in my job description?

3. How will my performance be evaluated? How often? By whom?

The agreements reached at the time of hiring can be spelled out in the form of a commitment by both parties. A
written agreement of this type is shown in Exhibit 6-2.

Exhibit 6-2

October 20, 1973

Mrs. John R. Shipwash
1940 Brantley Street
Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27103

Dear Joyce:

I am pleased that you have agreed to accept employment as our Parish Secretary, and I look forward to working with you. What follows is a summation of the things we talked about which are relevant to this position. After you have read it carefully, please either sign the original and return it to me for our parish files or call me for an appointment to discuss some possible alterations.


As Parish Secretary, you will be expected to provide complete secretarial services to the Rector and to the general
parish (which, from time to time, will include non-parochial organizations such as Brownies and Girl Scouts). In addition to general stenographic and typing services, filing, and general office records maintenance, you will be expected to post the pledge cards each week, count and deposit the Sunday collection, send out statements, write all checks, keep all financial records accurate and up-to-date, and make monthly reports to the Vestry concerning our financial condition. You shall also be responsible for the reproduction and mailing of all printed matter relating to parish activities. Among your more important special activities will be the preparation of a parish directory
each August and the preparation of the annual parochial report during the first week in January.

Although you are technically employed by the Vestry and paid by the Vestry through an appropriation of necessary funds, your work will be supervised by me as Rector of the parish. I will represent your interests and needs to the Vestry, assist you in acquiring and maintaining necessary office equipment, and will be of general assistance whenever possible.


You will be expected to work in the parish office from 8 a.m. until noon and from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. each week Mondays through Fridays.


As we agreed, your starting salary shall be $ . Your salary will be reviewed annually by the Finance and Personnel
Committees and recommended changes will be included in the proposed budget for the following year. All changes in the parish secretary’s salary must be approved by a majority vote of the Vestry. One-twelfth of the annual salary, less State and Federal Withholding, shall be paid to you each month. No deductions are made for Social Security or for any other type of retirement plan.


The Parish Secretary shall receive with pay the following holidays: New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day,
Thanksgiving Day, Christmas (one and one-half days) and Easter (one and one-half days).

In the first year of your employment, you will receive a paid vacation of one week. After the first year, the vacation
period shall be extended to two weeks. Such vacation normally shall be taken during the summer months (June through August) but may, with adequate arrangements to cover the needs of the office, be taken otherwise if necessary. The two weeks may be taken together or separately, but any schedule must be agreed upon by the Rector. Absence of the Parish Secretary due to either sickness or accident for a period up to and including one month shall require no adjustment in salary. Absence beyond one month shall require that the normal salary be made available for any necessary and temporary replacement. Normally, employment shall be terminated at age 65. Employment may be continued, however, by an annual review which indicates acceptable performance can be maintained for the ensuing year.

Should you wish to resign prior to age 65, a one month notice shall be given to the Rector when possible, and the
Rector will furnish letters of recommendation to prospective employers. In the event involuntary termination seems desirable, the Personnel Committee shall review the matter with the Rector and with the Parish Secretary, and if determined advisable, the Senior Warden, on behalf of the Vestry, shall terminate employment with severance pay in the amount of one-half of one month’s salary.

Very truly yours,

John R. Campbell


I understand and agree to the conditions of employment as stated above.




Church employees are no different from any other employees in their attitudes toward compensation. They want to
be paid what they believe the job to be worth, and they want recognition in their paycheck for good performance on the job. Regardless of the size of your paid staff, these should be your objectives in compensation policy:

1. Compensation should be based on the value of the job to the church.

2. Compensation should be in reasonable relationship to the value of a similar job in other organizations in the area.

3. The job should be valued fairly in relationship to other paid positions in the church.

If you can meet these objectives, you will keep disappointments and friction over salaries to a minimum.

Most organizations set minimum and maximum salaries for each job category. This is good policy for churches, too. The technique for setting appropriate salary ranges is called job evaluation. It is used by most companies today to meet the compensation objectives outlined above. Essentially it involves these steps:

1. Identifying the different jobs in the organization and preparing job descriptions for each. (Examples of job descriptions are  shown in Exhibit 6-3.)

2. Comparing the value of each job against an objective set of criteria. These criteria, or yardsticks, for evaluating the
relative worth of jobs are the technical component of a job evaluation system and will not be described here. You will be able to find in your community a well-managed company which has a job evaluation plan which can be made available to you to evaluate the few jobs on the church staff. The company’s personnel manager can be a valuable resource in applying evaluation criteria to your jobs.

3. Determining the salaries for comparable jobs in other organizations in your community. Salary surveys are done in almost every community, usually by the larger employers, and these surveys can be made available to you. Don’t be too concerned that church jobs are “different. ” This is not an insurmountable problem.

4. Evaluating jobs to establish salary ranges. The ranges you establish should represent fair relationships between the jobs in your church and with salaries paid on the outside. Once developed, salary ranges are kept up-to-date by annual review against the community salary survey data. A personnel manager in the congregation can guide this relatively simple checking process.

Some ministers wonder whether it is necessary for a small church with only a few salaried positions to go through
the process of job evaluation. You don’t have to do it, of course, but you do have to deal with employees who want a
reasonable explanation of why they are being paid what they are being paid. Job evaluation techniques make it possible for you to have a rational discussion based on facts, not feelings. Job evaluation is a tool for avoiding salary conflicts.

Once the initial task of fitting the current jobs into an evaluation pattern has been done, it is relatively easy to fit changed jobs into the system. We are finding that an increasing number of small churches are using this tool, and
most large churches have been doing it for some years.

Developing Job Descriptions

We have discussed the usefulness of job descriptions in hiring employees and in determining fair compensation.
(Developing a job description for the pastor is discussed in detail in chapter 1. The value of the job descriptions for
volunteer jobs is presented in chapter 7.) How do you go about developing job descriptions (the process of “job analysis”)?

1. The pastor and the staff employees, usually together with the personnel committee, sit down and talk about the
desirability of having job descriptions.

2. Each employee is asked to write a description of his or her own job, using no more than a couple of pages. It is
helpful to suggest that the employee include the priority of the various tasks, the percentage of his or her time spent on each duty or group of duties, any special skills needed (such as operating equipment), the complexity of decisions required, and the relationship of this job to others in the church.

Either the pastor or a member of the personnel committee should review the employee statements and prepare job
descriptions from them. The pastor or committee member should ask questions to resolve any issues that are not clear and prepare a one or one and one-half page description which includes the following elements:

1. A brief statement of the purpose of the job (why it exists). In Exhibit 6-3 (at the end of the chapter) the
statement is headed “Principal Function.”

2. A list of the key duties or responsibilities of the job.

3. Statements to highlight key responsibilities, such as approvals for expenditures or special skills required.

4. A final statement such as “performs other duties as requested” is useful to avoid resentment when an employee is
asked to perform minor tasks.

Job descriptions should be reviewed each time an employee’s performance is reviewed. The employee and the pastor,
or another supervisor, agree on changes to the job description at that time.

Salary Administration

Salary administration encompasses pay increases and payroll cost control. The three significant policy areas are:
granting raises, progression of an employee’s salary within the salary range, and fringe benefits.

Employees need to know, at least in approximate terms, how often they will be reviewed for salary adjustments and what kind of raise is reasonable to expect. This should be spelled out at the time of hiring. Decisions on these policies would normally be reached with the personnel committee after checking the practices of other organizations in the community.

In today’s inflationary environment, policy on raises is changing radically. In profit-making organizations an annual
raise of about 7 percent to 10 percent was customary until recently. Today with the cost of living going up at the rate of 10 to 12 percent a year, a 10 percent or 12 percent raise just keeps the employee even. It doesn’t represent salary progress.

Companies are dealing with this problem by holding more frequent salary reviews, adding merit increases on top of
cost-of-living raises, giving bonuses for meritorious performances (to avoid building these one-shot payments into the basic salary structure) and reviewing the job evaluation system at least once a year to make sure the salaries they are paying are in line with community averages.

Raises should be budgeted, a point which seems obvious but is often overlooked in organizations with few employees. What usually happens is a last-minute, year-end debate on “what do we have to give Betty to keep her from leaving?”, with one eye on the stewardship campaign and the other on the deficit and Little or no regard for established procedures and policies. Building planned and realistic raises into the budget enables award of pay increases at the appropriate time in relation to employee performance, length of service, the findings of community salary surveys, and other pertinent information.

To help budget salary increases, let’s take a closer look at the salary range:

1. Minimum and Maximum. If an employee is doing the job, he or she should be paid at least the minimum of the range. An employee should not receive more than the maximum for the job with some rare exceptions, the principal one being extended length of service in the same job. In this case, it may be desirable to award a “length of service increase,” which is recognized as being above the maximum and is awarded only to that particular employee, not to any occupant of that job. Normally an employee who is above the maximum established for the job is not entitled to a merit increase.

2. The midpoint of the range. In conventional salary, practice employees tend to move from minimum to midpoint by
means of automatic or semiautomatic raises, often at yearly intervals. Beyond the midpoint, they move on a merit basis only.

3. Movement of the range itself. The salary range will be shifted upward if a community salary survey indicates the
need. Normally ranges for the several jobs in the church organization will move proportionately upward at the same time so that the relationship between the jobs, as established by the job evaluation procedure, will not be altered.

Policy on fringe benefits usually stems from the policy of the denomination, sometimes tempered by community practices. Also, the financial situation of the particular church will influence its own policy on fringes provided to employees. Unfortunately, the small size of church staffs often hinders churches from providing some of the benefits enjoyed by larger organizations. Nonetheless, the normal employee relations criteria of fairness, social responsibility, and motivation of good performance need to be recognized in making decisions on the fringe benefits package. From the point of view of administrative effectiveness, it is hard to defend a practice of substandard or nonexistent fringes to the church’s paid personnel.

The subject of pensions particularly warrants scrutiny. A number of denominations have pension plans available for both lay and clergy employees. Where these are not available, a church, particularly a small one, may think they cannot afford to establish a pension policy or fund. As the pastor, church secretary, or music director grows old in the church’s service, the problem becomes more acute until the crisis time is reached. Then crisis measures must be taken, and these measures often fail to meet the real need. Just as a banker counsels clients to think ahead and save for their children’s education, so the personnel committee must plan ahead for the retirement of key people. Deferring action on reserves for a pension can be more harmful than deferring maintenance on the roof of the church.

Appraising Employee Performance

There are three reasons for appraising an employee’s performance:

1. To decide about awarding a raise.
2. To motivate improved performance on the present job,
3. To prepare and guide an employee for promotion. (While there are relatively few opportunities for promotion within a typical church organization, your employees may well be looking beyond the church for career opportunities. Using performance appraisal to provide guidance in career planning can be helpful to the employee. )

Techniques for conducting employee appraisals fall generally into two categories:

1. Merit rating is a conventional approach using standardized forms that List a number of factors on which the
employee’s performance is graded. An example of a merit rating form is shown in Exhibit 6-4 (at the end of the chapter). Personnel managers on your personnel committee can provide details on forms they have used with success. Suffice it to say that merit rating is used primarily for compensation decisions. It is used, to a Limited extent, to stimulate improved performance by calling attention to factors on which the employee is judged to do well or poorly.

There is considerable agreement today that merit rating has limited usefulness in actually motivating employees to do a better job. Research indicates that criticism of performance is not a motivating influence and that praise, though it may be heartwarming, motivates at a decreasing rate.

2. Appraising against job-related standards is a technique that many companies are using now. (Chapter 1, in a discussion on appraising the pastor’s performance, provides a related approach to performance appraisal but with an annual review because of the pastor/board relationship.) Also called “management by objectives” (MBO), the technique can be applied in church organizations this way:

a) The pastor or other supervisor sits down with each employee to agree on targets for programs, tasks, and other
activities for the period ahead. One target may be set for a task to be completed in three weeks, another in three months, another at the end of the year. Exhibit 6-5 (at the end of the chapter) provides a simple form for recording the information discussed.

b) When the time for meeting the target arrives, the supervisor and employee sit down to review performance on the
task and discuss its accomplishment. They then set new tasks and new target dates.

c) At salary review time the record of task accomplishments becomes the basis for the decision about whether to award a raise and how much of an increase is appropriate.

This approach has the merit of being objective because it is job-related. A major motivational factor is that the
employee is involved in setting his or her own targets.

The use of MBO techniques need not be limited to large, bureaucratic organizations. Our discussions with pastors
indicate increasing interest in making use of these techniques in large and small churches.

Research in the complex field of motivating employees by means of performance appraisals shows that salary should not be discussed at the same time as issues of improving performance. The reason is that if an employee knows that salary will be a topic of the discussion, he or she will be listening only for the “magic words.” He or she won’t be paying much attention to what you have to say about doing a better job.

The proper approach, then, is to plan one discussion on better job performance and another one, at a different time, on the subject of the employee’s raise. When the management-by-objectives approach is followed, discussions on targets and job performance are held frequently, not just once a year. Frequent job performance reviews have far more motivational value than annual appraisals.

Personnel Records

Churches’ personnel records, like those of many small organizations, tend to be sketchy and may not even meet legal
requirements. At a minimum, the church should maintain a file for each employee containing the original records of hiring, a history of salary adjustments, and copies of appraisals.

Current job descriptions and job specifications should be filed, and there should be records of transactions covered by the fringe benefit program.

(The source of this article was adapted from “Managing Today’s Church” by R.N. White.)

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