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The Goal of the Staffless Church

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Which came first? The staff who ran the programs or the programs which required the hiring of staff?

No offense to my friends who work at churches– but I wonder if their goal is to secure a job for life or to work themselves out of a job as quickly as possible?

When I read church growth strategy books and articles I’m always amazed that they only talk about getting larger budgets, larger buildings, and larger staffs. Never mind that it’s a horrible strategy. Most think tanks only think about one strategy… how to get bigger. The idea of getting more efficient is ludicrous.

When I read about the church of the first 100 years after Jesus I see a church growth strategy of “get in, train people up, and get out as fast as possible.

Here’s a centuries old tried and tested church growth strategy we have rejected: With no staff your church will grow.

The “if you build it they will come model” of the last 50 or so years has lead to utter devastation of the church. Numbers are down big time. Sure, you can point examples of big churches. And no doubt people will leave comments saying how awesome their programs are. But the percentage of Americans regularly involved in the local church has declined sharply in the current multi-staff model.

The fact remains that a church with less staff will be forced to be the church more than a church with programs where people show up and everything is done for them. This “worked” for thousands of years. What we are doing now isn’t working and we all know it.

At some point someone decided that everyone needed to be on staff at the church. So we hired a music pastor. A worship pastor. A youth pastor. A children’s pastor. An associate pastor. An administrative pastor. A senior ministry pastor. And all of that staff required administrative support. Oh- and they’ll need offices and space– so we’ll need a bigger building.

If I put my businessman’s glasses on I examine this trend and say: You’ve added a lot of overhead. Your business multiplied by 25 times, right?

Wrong. The strategy didn’t work. But now we have an entire industry of church workers in an environment where they are reaching fewer and fewer people with bigger, more expensive programs. Now we’ve created an entitlement that simply isn’t sustainable nor is it leading to the growth long ago predicted.

It’s almost too easy for me to point to examples of this in other countries. (We certainly saw this in Haiti.) But it’s also true among the exploding Latino and African-American churches in the United States. With almost no infrastructure they reach thousands. In your own community it is likely that there is a church kicking butt with nearly no overhead of staff or a building.

I’m well aware of the biblical justifications that church staff deserve to make an income. Yes, I’ve used that myself. I’m not arguing that you have a right to claim that to be true. I’m merely questioning the strategy and inviting you to recognize that this strategy has seemingly paralyzed the church.

Even those who bring up the Pauline argument for getting paid in ministry often neglect to mention that Paul also didn’t implement this strategy in all the places he ministered. Nor did he ever buy a house and start a family.

Some questions to get you thinking

  • Where does the offering at your church go?
  • Where did the funds in Acts go?
  • How much has your church grown in the last 10-30-50 years using the current staff-heavy strategy?
  • What would it look like if say… 90% of that offering were given away in your community to feed the poor, care for the sick, take in orphans, protect widows, on and on?
  • Don’t you think that would be good news to the neighborhood?

What I’m not saying

  • The church is wrong to have staff
  • The church should fire staff
  • All of my friends who do associate level ministry are bad/dumb/hurting the ministry of the church in their community
  • My own church is bad, filled with money hungry punks who make fat salaries. (Um, they all raise their own support!)

What I am saying

  • A church as effective as the Book of Acts is possible today.
  • Churches should ask hard questions about meeting the needs of their community.
  • A lot of church growth strategies are really “church growth industry” growth strategies.
  • Church leaders should challenge their assumptions of what they know vs. what they know to be true in Scripture.
  • It is possible for the local church to reach 90%+ people in your community.
  • We should not be satisfied to “pay the bills” and reach 5-10% of our community.

Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Ephesians 5:14

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16 Responses to The Goal of the Staffless Church

  1. bub March 9, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    The comments on this post should be interesting. Thanks for being brave enough to say it even if you get a lot of flak for it.

  2. Al March 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Hey Adam…

    Of all the people that have truly captured my imagination about what church can be (in a good sense)… it would have to be the man I sat down and chatted with over cheese and crackers when we were camping one year. He had been on staff in a large church for years… he used to commute 40 minutes to get to the church from where he lived and he and some others had finally decided to “keep it local” and minister to the people around them. They run a house church and have it written into their “constitution” that they will never own a building and never employ staff… about 5 years ago that hit me at a time where I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with church. Now I am not intending to run off and start my own house church – but my commitment will always to express my faith in Jesus in a local setting first…

    There is also a growing trend here in NZ for people to be heading back to local churches rather than commute to big city churches. I have recently met an ex-Youth Pastor from a huge city church that is now going (with some friends from the same large church) to a little Presbyterian church near where they live!!! Imagine a Church culture where people went to church FOR OTHER PEOPLE!?

    Thanks for writing this Adam – probably not as controversial here in NZ as it is in the US – we would very much eat up this stuff as spiritual food!!! :)

  3. Russ March 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    While I am a salaried pastor, it is a position, not a way to get paid quick (as if I were in this for the money). Will the church or ministry die if I was not around? Nah. I have capable people I have been raising up in the event anything happens- vacation or otherwise. Perhaps this is the way we need to transition to within the next decade. Honestly, it is becoming more and more obvious, salaried positions will not be normative, at least not on their own, within a few years or so (give or take ten to twenty).

    As a push back- perhaps a large reason you are writing this, or that there is a need to discuss this, is regarding the law/principle of maximum impact: Are the people in the positions (mostly salaried) getting you the most bang for your buck? Beyond that, you need to look at your return on your investment in salaried staff- the reproduction of disciples, growing faith(s), etc…

    That’s my nickel (always think I’m worth more than a penny).

  4. T.C. Porter March 10, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Amen. Thanks. I think you have made good points regarding paid clergy. A future part of the conversation is what Christian leadership will look like if we do go with a different model. One supporting document I have written would support your thesis that the tithe should be going from the middle-class church to the poor. http://adamsavenuecrossing.org/2009/12/01/cut-poverty/

  5. Pete March 25, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    I get what you’re saying and where you’re coming from, but I feel like you’re ignoring the cultural differences between AD 2010 America and AD 35 Rome. Sure we can devote 90% of our offerings to the hungry and poor, but that has not had any success when we devoted 20% to it, why would it change now? Plenty of churches offer plenty of services to those in need. It rarely results in anything resembling conversion and is usually simply a faith-based form of socialism. I’m not saying we shouldn’t so those things and indeed, we do far too little of it. but if our motivation is evangelism and growth, as opposed to loving others and obeying God, then we’re missing the boat.

    And in an age where church volunteering is at an all-time low, the idea that churches should ask ministers to do as much as they do AND hold down a full-time job seems a little off base.

    The problem, in my opinion, is that the theology of the modern church is very similar to that of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They mean well, but focus on avoiding “dirty” people, doing “good, Christian” things and and are highly judgmental and inbred. Most of the church’s functions today are focused on the congregations and not those who don’t know Jesus. We’ve created a whole new type of Gentile. We spend far too much time and money on conventions, retreats and Christian concerts, books and seminars. We can get 100 people for a special Christmas Eve service but only 5 for an evangelism class. We’ll pay 300 dollars and travel hundreds of miles for a weekend of listening to our favorite authors talk about how to be happy people, but barely drop a 20 for missions.

    And the answer is to refocus and look outwards to those who need God, accept them without judgment and lead them to God’s love–much like Jesus did when faced with a similarly minded Jewish community.

  6. adam mclane March 26, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    @pete- we’re not too far apart here. I agree with you about theology. My contention is that most churches don’t practice monothesis worship of God, they practice a form of animism. They feed the god of fear with their teaching dependency. They placate the god of safety by reshaping the Bible about the individual. And they lay it all on the alter of the god of church growth.

    Honestly, if all churches in America gave away 20% of their offerings to the poor… we’d live in a country that looked much different.

    I think your wrong about the connection between volunteerism and busy pastors. My contention is exactly the opposite. If the pastor refused to do ALL of that stuff he/she is doing, it’d either force people to step up… or the church would stop doing those things.

    And just a reminder, the early church describes socialism. Capitalism is not a Christian value. It is a perversion of the New Testament’s view of possessions, personal value, and money. Aspirations of a capitalistic/Christian society is a syncretism with Western culture.

  7. Pete March 26, 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Yeah, maybe socialism was a poor choice of words: church funded welfare would’ve been more accurate. I’m fine with the idea of legit socialism and am no fan of what capitalism has done to America’s church.

  8. Dawn April 16, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    Just saw the link to this article this morning – and thought I would comment…

    As a former non salaried ‘worship leader’ I see that some of the problem is the culture changes in the church. My congregation moved from a piano and song leader and hymn books, to a worship band with power point lyrics on a screen. All of a sudden we weren’t just picking out songs to sing at the beginning of the service – but creating a worship atmosphere, that required often times hours of preparation in bringing songs together, changing keys, writing parts, practicing, creating slides, finding ways to create a flow so as not to disrupt the ‘worship’. What used to be 10 minutes, turned into a part time job of 20 or more hours a week.
    That’s great for a volunteer who has someone else in the house bringing in an income to support the family – but when that income was lost (my husband lost his job) – and I needed to help support my family monetarily, I could no longer find 20 hours to complete those ‘new’ worship tasks – along with a 40 hour a week job, the role of mother, homemaker, taxi driver, etc… I had to stop volunteering. If the congregation (church) had offered to bring me on staff – it would have helped my family quite a bit – but that wasn’t an option. And …. I am glad.

    That being said, at times I have to wonder – are salaried church workers involved in more than the activities they are paid for? It seems like some paid staff members are at the church during the hours that they are paid – but when the rest of us show up after our day jobs – where are they? Or when they know they are coming back at night for a bible study they are attending (not leading) they take off a few hours during the day – cause they know they will be back. Kind of a sad state of affairs in the Church when we get to that point. Kind of like I am paid to be a Christian.

    I spent so much time – working (even though it was volunteer) that when I resigned my position, I realized I had built no relationships with the people there. If I didn’t have that position, I had nothing there. I didn’t know who to talk to anymore – now that I had all this free time on Sunday morning. We ended up coming in and leaving, often times without talking to anyone – cause everyone else was so busy ‘running ‘ the services. That was wrong. I am ashamed that I let it get like that. But sometimes it felt as though if you were not part of the busy-ness, then you were not doing your job as a Christian.

    I totally am all for a community of believers who gather to honor and worship God and find ways to bring glory to Him thru serving the community, instead of trying to create an atmosphere in a building and creating overhead to pay for power point projectors and loud sound systems to reach people with a ‘show’ – but actually not having anytime to fellowship with the congregation. I would much rather be reaching out a hand and reaching people with your heart.

    “I’m coming back to the heart of worship … and it’s all about You Jesus” is a great song – but so contradictory when it is sung thru the 1000’s of dollars of stage equipment in a show of lights and ‘atmosphere’

    Give me a small spot of grass under a tree with the birds singing and the sun shining and this grateful heart doesn’t need a contrived worship setting that someone who is paid created. (I can worship in the rain too!)

    Sorry to take up so much space!

  9. adam mclane April 16, 2010 at 6:01 am #

    @dawn- thank you for your beautiful compliment. You didn’t take up too much space. :)

    My contention is simply that most churches invest their energy in stupid places. With all due respect to the musicians in my life, this is one area that I think we over invest. I’d much rather have a happy, healthy, mom who played songs and spent 10 minutes preparing than I would all the bells and whistles of a worship band, lighting, sound mix, seamless worship, and kickass lyrical projection on the screen. 99.5% are not megachurches nor are they worship conferences. But there are a lot of people trying emulate that style.

    But apparently I’m alone in that.

  10. Rick Abbott April 16, 2010 at 6:29 am #

    I agree with the idea of a staffless church.. Though a Preacher, a Pastor dedicating his life to shepherd is certainly worthy of his wages and there are many scriptural ties to support Honor and “double Honor” to worthy workers such as Elders and overseers etc…. When given an option to serve God or a salary for the greater body of believers.. I have seen both situations (paid staff (beyond the Pastor).. serving w/o pay) and personally loved the serve without pay scenario. When someone serves God through the body.. they are not serving a paycheck.. when someone serves God they are so blessed immeasurably.. when they serve a paycheck they fall into the.. I do as much as I’m paid and not much more.. and it takes the joy of serving.. the reward in Heaven and not on Earth goal away.. if the service is relegated to money and mammon.. then so many other issues come into play.. beyond simple service to GOD! :)

  11. chad swanzy April 16, 2010 at 8:22 am #

    I wrote this post today that sees a similar problem but through a differnt lense.

    http://www.chadswanzy.com/2010/04/dear-church-everywhere.html

  12. C. Fetters April 16, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    I really appreciate the article you wrote. I often wonder why we’re building indoor playgrounds and workout spaces instead of feeding and caring for those in the body. Thank you for voicing this concern over how the money should be spent.

    However, I’m a little concerned over the socialism comments. Only because the socialism that is practiced today is nothing like it was in the early church. I would have to contend that, in fact, it was more capitalistic in nature. Meaning that it was their choice to share what they had. No governmental entity was taking it from them and “distributing the wealth”. The Christians gave to their own body of believers, and the deacons of that body gave to whomever in the body needed it. It was not a social program to relieve the poor. It was a way to take care of those in the body. No one was forced to give that which he may have needed himself. The Declaration of Independence while supporting a capitalistic form of government did not prohibit the signers from pledging to each other their fortunes and they surely weren’t socialists.

    And I quote: “WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA……..FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES,…have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

    (For those that haven’t read the Dec. of Indep. for themselves I’ve only capitalized the words and letters that the writers themselves capped. I wasn’t trying to make a special point of those words, but perhaps they were.)

    Anyway, I just wish we would steer clear of comparing the first church to a socialistic system, because of obvious political ties these days. The money shared in the early church did not go to the Government to dispense.

    Anyway, thanks for the opportunity to discuss the topic of church leadership and money.
    C. Fetters

  13. adam mclane April 18, 2010 at 7:45 am #

    Um, you are the one quoting the constitution and making the post more political. :)

    Though I don’t share your political viewpoints, I agree with you that the church would be well served to serve the community instead of trying to grow their own from scratch.

  14. C. Fetters April 18, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    WelI…is the subject of politics off limits here? Just for the record, I didn’t bring it up first, but answered in response to the socialism remark. (ALL SMILES HERE TOO. :)) I wasn’t offended with someone bringing up up politics either, if that’s what you meant. Fine by me, really. I don’t mind giving an answer to either religion or politics. BTW it was the Declaration of Independence I quoted, and I just did that to show that capitalism does not inhibit one from giving freely, while socialism does – because it’s forced. That’s all. All good here!)

    So then, I have two questions based on your remark above:
    1. Are you saying you don’t believe in Constitutional Rights? (Just asking- not trying to offend here, but I don’t want to assume you don’t – based on your comment.)
    2. What do you mean by “serve the community instead of trying to grow their own from scratch?”
    I do believe that we should as believers serve the community, but the very church of Acts that was brought up earlier in the discussion did get together to be a community unto themselves also….to serve one another, to exhort, to share each others burdens and to provide for each other, to fellowship. You know – “don’t give up meeting together as some have done.” Also, the money taken up in the church was to care for the fellow believers.

    Perhaps I’m missing something here. You surely aren’t saying that the church was socialist because they freely shared, or that the money we have would be better spent on those in need outside of the church instead of those in need from the fellowship of believers. Right??

    C. Fetters

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