Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Downsizing Church

A few weeks ago my congregation made a decision to make a reduction in our support staff, a move that was met with surprisingly little opposition. And from here on out this change is requiring us to do some adaptation in some of our operations. We're going to have to rely on volunteers to help do some of the jobs we've always paid someone to do. And we're beginning to have success finding willing, skilled people to help out.

Which causes me to ask: Why hadn't we done this before?

Why had we always paid people to do jobs that church members could, and should have, been doing? And what does it say about our faith?

For every congregation the answers are different, but for us it was simply a matter of not having thought about it. Our church, several decades ago, was much larger than it is now. So when the congregation reduced in size, the staff didn't reduce. And so we find that we're learning how to be a small church again.

This is quite an interesting concept to me. Last month I was in the home of one our church leaders around the dinner table and I asked some questions. "If we had never been a bigger church than we are now, what would we have? If we were just starting out and had just grown to the size we are, what would we have?" And the answers were clear, we were pretending to be bigger than we were. And in the process we were being poor stewards of the resources of the church, paying for things we didn't need anymore. And perhaps it spoke something awful we didn't want to hear about our faith...that convenience had become more important than participating in the ministry of Christ.

We don't need to spend money on staff to do jobs that we as church can accomplish together, especially when that money can instead go into ministries of all kinds.

Downsizing church means learning how to DO and BE church all over again. It means re-thinking our congregational self-image, and being honest about who we are. It means being honest about the difference between the church we are and the church we used to/want to be. And it means learning the difference between using the church's resources as tools of convenience and using them as tools for ministry.


DennisS said...

Being realistic and honest apparently aren't easy when our desire is to be what we aren't likely to be. Very cool post. It's exciting when a congregation takes a step forward to being the Church.

Jeremy said...

I think there are two reasons that churches have a hard time downsizing their staff.

First, I agree with you that churches all too often try to live in the past. They think about the days when they had twice as many members and twice as much money (adjusted for inflation of course).

Church is often the most stable part of any person's life and I believe that is the reason so many churches resist change the way they do. When the world is changing at an alarmaing pace and nothing feels right, it is comfortable to go to a place where the music is the same and the staff is the same and some of the faces are the same.

This does not make it right but I think it is a major reason. Churches begin to lose sight of their mission in and to the world and instead become overly invovled in making the institution survive.

Second, it is always difficult to let people go. Aside from the ego issues addressed above, what about the actual affects of letting staff go? The church has provided for the person and that position for a long time and it is more than a sense of pride, it is often an outreach for that church. When you lay someone off you have to worry about whether or not they will find another job, which is a real issue in this eceonomy. Will they be able to put food on the table until they have another job? Will they become another statistic and have their home forclosed on? Do the members really want that guilt?

It is easier to sit in a secure position and decide who needs to stay and who needs to go but there will always be consequences that follow those decision. Laying off staff is never easy and should never be easy.