STAFFING & The Vanderbloemen Search Group and Leadership Network Method for Analyzing the Cost Efficiency of Your Staff (FTE, full-time staff equivalency)

by Tim Stevens, Vanderbloemen Associates, 5/30/18.

… Below are three key factors to consider when answering the question, “Are we spending too much on staff?”

1. Percentage of Budget Designated for Staff

…Generally you will hear that your staff expenses (salaries, benefits, training, etc.) should not exceed 50% of your total general operating budget. That is a good rule-of-thumb, but there are several variables that you’ll want to consider, as each situation will be different.

  • Established multi-site churches with several sites often see staff costs as low as 35% to 40% of their overall budget. This is because they can find efficiencies with a central support staff, and if they utilize a video venue model, they don’t have to pay teaching pastors for every location.
  • If you believe in hiring proven leaders who can grow their ministry, you will likely have a higher percentage of your budget going toward staff. High capacity leaders cost more.
  • If most of your hires are internal (hired from within your congregation), you might be able to keep staff costs lower. These staff members might be in a dual-income family (thus reducing costs of benefits), and might be willing to work for far less than the national average due to their connection to the church and belief in the mission.
  • How well you leverage your volunteer base will make a difference in how much you spend for staff. I’ve worked with many churches that have a history of hiring staff way too quickly. Their first impulse is to hire, rather than to organize and equip volunteers. I think that is wasteful, both of the church’s money, but also of the giftedness of the congregation members, many whom would step up and serve if asked…

2. Staff-to-Congregation Ratio

The second benchmark is to look at how many staff you have compared to the size of your congregation (measured by average weekly attendance). Vanderbloemen Search Group and Leadership Network published a joint study of large churches (defined as 500+ in attendance) that took a deep look at salaries and trends in church staffing. That study indicates that the attendance to staff ratio is 76:1. That is, for every 76 persons in average worship attendance, churches have one full-time staff person. Those numbers consist of all staff, including pastors, directors, administrative staff, custodians and others. (It would not include staff devoted to non-church functions like a school).

Other studies have reported similar findings. Paul Alexander, who works with The Unstuck Group, reports that they see the average ratio of churches they consult at 86:1.

How to calculate your ratio:

Example Your Numbers
1. Add the total weekly hours of your part-time staff

(Example: 2 staff x 10 hours (20), 2 staff x 20 hours (40), and 1 at 30 hours would equal 90 hours)

2. Divide line #1 by 40 2.25
3. Add total number of full-time staff 6
4. Total Full-Time Equivalents (add lines 2 and 3) 8.25
5. Average weekly attendance (include kids) 950
6. Divide line 5 by line 4 115
7. The result is your attender-to-staff ratio 115:1

If your ratio is higher than 90:1, that means you are more efficient with your staff than the typical church. This might be a good sign, demonstrating a highly efficient team or showing an unusually good usage of volunteers. It also might mean your team is showing stress cracks. If you are in this category, and you have noticed your team is working unusually long hours and finding it difficult to balance family with work, then you probably need to work toward a solution that may involve bringing on additional staff. If you have high turnover, it might mean the expected work level is unsustainable.

If your ratio is lower than 70:1, then you are blessed with more staff than the average church. Start-up churches often have low ratios since they begin with a core of staff (worship, teaching, children, etc.) and initially don’t have any people. Their staff ratio can get closer to the average as the church takes root…

3. Combining These Two Benchmarks

For a deep dive into your numbers, consider both of these benchmarks together. What percentage of budget are you spending on staff and what is your attender-to-staff ratio?

  • If your ratio is low (staff-heavy) AND your percentage is low – you have room to increase salaries. Make sure you are paying your core staff what they are worth. It costs a lot more money to replace a high-performing staff member than it does to keep one. Consider this as you set next years’ salaries.
  • If your ratio is low (staff-heavy) AND your percentage is high – you need to consider reducing staff over time through attrition. You likely have too much staff. If your offerings are okay, you probably don’t need to lay off staff. But every time someone decides to leave, you should consider moving people around and avoid replacing them – that is, until your attendance or offerings increase.
  • If your ratio is high (lean staff) AND your percentage is low – you have room to hire additional staff, and may want to consider doing this for the health of your existing staff. They are likely feeling the stress of long hours and wearing multiple hats. Get them some help!
  • If your ratio is high (lean staff) AND your percentage is high – you likely have limited income and need to work hard to engage and equip your volunteers to help carry the load. Consider getting a copy of my book, Simply Strategic Volunteers, and focus on getting more of your laity engaged in the work of the ministry.

This article provides some broad categories that will hopefully give you some direction. If our team at Vanderbloemen Search Group can be helpful in providing customized consulting for your team, we’d love the opportunity to partner with you.

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PASTOR TRANSITION & 6 Things You Must Understand for a Successful Transition

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/28/15.

William Vanderbloemen has studied the inner workings of hundreds of churches. As the founder of maybe the largest pastoral search firm in America (, he shared at the Society of Church Consulting Summit on Church Staffing at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I’d looked forward to hearing from him, since he helped one of my client churches (Vineyard of Cincinnati) complete an effective pastoral succession. Here are my notes from his presentation.

1) AGILITY: Power to nimble. By this he meant that churches have everyday innovation. They work at this because every day that a church exists it becomes less flexible. So, it requires churches, like people, top practice exercises that keep you nimble and flexible. Stretching exercises as a team are his recommendations to offset calcification. He suggests you recall the “unlock your past, to unlock your future.” Read the board minutes to cite examples of where the church in the past has become nimble and flexible to foster agility.

2) RECREATE EFFECTIVE CULTURES: The question he uses to understand culture is “When were the times when you functioned best as a team? And, what were the things that characterized your team at those times.” This is what he defines as “the code for your culture.” In new churches it it the set by the top five leaders in your church. In old churches it is set by its history. “I think we have seen the death of the 5-year plan. It is now about defining and supporting out culture.” So Vanderblomen feels the future is not planning your future, but understanding, stating and aligning your current and future teams with your culture.

3) FOSTER FLATTER ORGANIZATIONS: This means people on the front lines, those in the trenches, are given empowerment to make decisions rather than waiting for upper management to give permission. “It is not necessary to check in with the hierarchy. If those on the front lines understand the problem, they solve the problem on the front lines. This is a flatter organization, where teams can make the decisions, they don’t have to ask the higher-ups if those on the front lines know the culture.” He went on the say these we characteristics of Millennials.

4) FEWER SPECIALISTS: “There are fewer specialists on staffs today. A good Children’s Ministry leader can learn the speciality skill to be a youth pastor.” He stressed you hire leaders and then they can adapt and move around to fill needs. This is partially being filled by more part-time workers. A part-time but excellent leader will be better part-time rather than just using her or him as a volunteer. Hiring more part-time leaders is the future. “Fewer people, but better people; they are spending more money on smaller staffs.”

5) THEOLOGICAL AWARENESS: Being aware of theology and practice is something younger generations want today. Online and accelerated seminary programs are attractive, but they don’t want to leave their context to go to school. This is exactly what Wesley Seminary offers.

6) AWARENESS OF OPPORTUNITIES: My students undertake a SWOT analysis, where the O stands for external opportunities that an organization must respond to. This means a church is sensitive to what is happening on the outside and an organization is prepared to pounce upon new opportunities. “Communication breakthroughs lead to religious renewals that take advantage of those breakthroughs.” He went on to talk about Roman Roads that carried the Good News, how the printing press fueled the Reformation and I would add how the Industrial Revolution was used to spread the method of the Methodists. Being ready to take advantage of new communication tools usually leads to great spiritual breakthroughs.

PASTOR TRANSITION & Thoughts from a Conversation w/ William Vanderbloemen

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 9/28/15.

Tonight I had dinner with William Vanderbloemen, founder of one of the most successful pastoral search firms and co-author with respected researcher Warren Bird of NEXT: Pastoral Successful That Works. As the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Houston (the oldest Presbyterian church in Texas) he learned from a colleague how Christian hospitals had effective succession plans. Out of these two careers came one of today’s most effective pastoral succession firms.

We were discussing how churches branch out with different cultural worship expressions. Knowing Bill was from Texas, I mentioned that a colleague of mine in Texas was branching out with a “Cowboy Church.” If you know about Cowboy Churches, these churches often hold worship at rodeos or under a tent, where boots and cowboy hats are welcomed, even expected at church (see Cowboy Church with Rodeo Arena, They do Church Different).

William responded, “The key for success is if the preacher is really from the cowboy culture. You can’t fake that in Texas. There is one Cowboy Church pastor and he is missing two fingers. He lost those riding in the rodeo. That is a signal that he is part of your culture.”

William’s response reminded me of what I had heard about his firm from my client, Vineyard of Cincinnati, that had used him with their pastoral search.

The key is authentic cultural relevance. The cowboy pastor with two missing figures was a sign to his cowboy culture that he was committed and authentic.

As a man who leads probably the largest pastoral placement firm in America, I’ve heard from my clients that he stresses the importance of matching a pastor to the authentic culture of the organization. “So do you have a place on your questionnaire that asks, ‘How many fingers do you have’?” May be we should he replied.

HIRING & Six trends in church staffing #Vanderbloemen

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Hiring the right staff and pastors are some of the most critical things that churches get wrong. And as a consultant, of course I am pleased that this research by the leader of the nation’s largest pastoral search-firm points out that hiring a consultant is an important step. But more than that, here are field-tested ideas about how to develop a healthy staff that leads to an expanding church.”

By William Vanderbloemen, Church Executive Magazine, 7/31/15.

…Probably the most common question I get from senior pastors and executive pastors at client visits is, “What’s everyone out there doing?”

Smart churches are spending more money on fewer people…I am seeing smart churches pay more for a few top notch staff and hiring fewer of them.

Quality, higher-salary candidates might cost a few more dollars in the short-term but many churches find that they are more likely to make a higher impact in the long-term. Instead of hiring a pastor who can do the work himself, many churches are looking for a “leader of leaders” who can recruit, train and lead volunteers to accomplish the work.

Hire coaches. One client told me: “William, I need a coach for our team. And coaches just don’t touch the ball.”

Hillsong Church in Australia is a great example of this principle. You will find that the folks down under spend an inordinate amount of time training leadership. Their intern program receives enormous time and attention. Their training focuses on leadership development and not any one particular skill set. The result? When I’m visiting “down under,” I’m amazed at how little they are doing on as small a head count as they keep. Additionally, the leaders on staff are almost purely interchangeable among departments…

Get social. While you are reading this article many of you are also checking your email, tweeting and updating your Facebook status. Churches are recognizing this trend and are placing more and more emphasis on communications and social media, even in the form of a chief communications officer…

If you look at church history, you’ll see that every seminal Kingdom breakthrough has happened on the heels of a communication breakthrough. Rome built roads and Paul was given a route to run missions. Alexander’s conquests created one common form of Greek, and the New Testament came together. The printing press is invented, and the Bible’s printing ushers in a Reformation…

Hire from the inside and the outside. One of the best places to find good staff is inside your own congregation. We recommend hiring from within as a first option. In the 1980s Corporate America attempted to put a heavy emphasis on hiring only from within and in a lot of ways American churches followed suit.

But the trend we see among churches are those who also look outside their own congregations. Looking inside is not healthy if it is the only practice. I’ve witnessed plenty of inside hires that didn’t work out. I tell clients that I was born and raised in the Western culture …

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