Part 1: When Raises Aren’t Possible for Church Staff
One workplace expert offers several ways to honor employees.

Editor's Note:Liz Ryan spent 20 years as a corporate human resources leader. During that time, she saw the best and worst of how employers treat their employees. She's now a full-time writer and consultant on workplaces and writes a regular column for Bloomberg Businessweek, all with the goal of "bringing more humanity into the workplace," as she puts it. And she has a unique perspective on church culture—as an accomplished vocalist, she often tours churches in Colorado where she lives. Through those visits, she has gained an appreciation for the dynamics at work with church pastors and personnel.

She recently sat down with Matt Branaugh, editor, to talk more about how churches as employers can reward and honor their employees. As the 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staffhighlights, raises are hit or miss, depending on place, position, and person. Not to fret, Ryan says. There are a lot of positive things church leaders can do—whether or not money is available for raises.

In Part 1 today, Ryan talks about the first four ways churches can reward and recognize employees when raises aren't possible. In Part 2, she talks about the final three ways and her thoughts about the how and why of implementation:


What is one immediate thing many churches can do to reward staff, absent of a pay raise or a new health benefit, but might overlook?

"We tend to think of churches or nonprofit organizations and assume they have a special burden because they don't necessarily have the cash or fancy stuff to throw around. But even in the big corporations and organizations that you'd expect to have the cash and fancy stuff to throw around, the biggest issue is recognition and the value of employee contributions.

This can come a variety of ways. For instance, it can be as simple as making it a habit to ask the front desk receptionist how to do things better in the church office.

Leadership is free. Management is expensive. Having to watch people on (the management) side of the equation, making sure they don't do the wrong thing, writing the policies—that's expensive and time consuming. Leading people the way they'd like to be led, giving them latitude, and really recognizing their contributions—that's pretty cheap. That's free.

People know the state of finances. But senior pastors need to understand their situation is no different than any other leader [who is] responsible for people. They say, ‘I'm a senior pastor and I have such limited chips. I've got so little cash, it's hard to talk about. It's painful.' And they assume it's maybe best to put everything under wraps and not talk at all. That's the last thing they should be doing. Once a month, they should say ‘Hey Jack, you're a great youth pastor and I hope I tell you that enough. I would pay you more. You know our finances and know we're not in a position to do it, but I would if I could because you deserve that. Your contribution is massive.'

That's the conversation you can have when you don't have the cash. For many people, when it's sincere, that's as meaningful as the cash. If people are motivated by soul energy, give it to them!

What else can church leaders do? Words and recognition are definitely valuable, but are there other gestures, perhaps ones more tangible, that can make a difference?

"When you don't have cash, give away soft stuff. You have a lot of flexibility:

  1. Provide flexibility in the job. Obviously this depends on the role. If it's the person answering the phone, maybe there's not much room to wriggle here. But for someone who is a youth pastor, give them flexibility; give them some chances to work from home, or maybe don't hold them to strict hours. As a recipient of this flexibility, I'm now in a position to coach my child's soccer team on Tuesdays and Thursdays because the pastor lets me leave early. That's a big thing for people.
  2. Time off. It kills me when a leader of an organization says I don't want to give more than two weeks of vacation because ‘time is money.' You have the ability to compete on that with other employers, and to not do it to save the money—it's not even money. It's time. You'll win more in loyalty from staff than in the time you'd get from them that week they were there.
  3. Let staff use your facility for their groups and events for free. The real estate for churches ends up being a significant asset. Give that as a perk to your staff members. Doing this also gives additional branding for your church in the community because it gives value to groups and brings people in your doors.

Read Part 2 of Matt Branaugh's interview with Liz Ryan.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."


Displaying 1–10 of 10 comments

Office Admin

January 29, 2012  3:53pm

I have been employed as office manager of my church for 12 years now. I agree with the idea of giving some acknowledgment for years of service. I don't need to have someone constantly affirming my work, but to be acknowledged on my 10th year, which I felt was a significant milestone, would've been nice. No one even knew or noticed and that makes me sad. Additionally, I went for several years without pay and actually took a cut in pay and hours. The most challenging aspect was that I was expected to complete the same amount of work in fewer hours for less pay. That is very disheartening. I sought after God in this situation, also because the Senior Pastor, my supervisor, misrepresented the Leadership team in regards to my wages and hours. This nearly destroyed my trust in our leadership. When the senior pastor retired, I felt as if a huge burden was lifted. Never did the senior Pastor ever thank me or say job well done. Even though I sacrificed and didn't get any pay raises, I never even got a review. What is the greatest sin? I would rather be told I need to improve than to be treated as if I didn't exist or matter. At one point I asked the Leadership Team to grant me an extra week of vacation, to which they refused. My substitutes can't do even 1/4 of my work, and they are unpaid volunteers. What would it have cost the church? Nothing but good will. How sad. Today, I can say God has brought me through it. Our new Senior Pastor treats me as a part of the team. My first two reviews with him I aced. He marked me off by .5 of a point just because he couldn't bring himself to give a perfect review. Additionally, he built in our budget a discretionary fund to award raises to staff. I thank God everyday I didn't quit and stayed the course. Our church is totally different today than it was 5 years ago. Praising God!

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January 29, 2012  7:02am

This is a very difficult situation for church leadership to tackle. Churches are different than corporations and financial difficulties must be handled in a way that honors God. When the congregation is struggling and the offerings decline, church leadership is often faced with difficult decsions about staff. In serving the community, the church does cannot look to decrease its spending in critial outreach activities. So when faced with reductions in salary and benefits - which is better, laying off staff or reducing salaries across the board. The bible tells us the pastor is worthy of double honor. On a relative basis, you can only do this through across the board redutions. This has been the toughest economy since the great depression and everyone has an opinion about what should or should not be done in difficult financial times. If all Christian's were to step up and offer their tithe - we could literally solve world hunger. It's no wonder God allows us to suffer at the local church level when we focus more on what's in it for us than what can we do to help others. Prayer, bible study and obedience are our most important tools in situations like this.

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January 27, 2012  9:58am

I have been the Administrator at my current church since 2000. In that time, I have had 5 cost of living pay raises, nothing for the past 5 years. For a couple of years I was given an extra week of vacation, but that was taken away for some reason unknown to me. If I was a single person, I could not live on this income, I am thankful for my husbands income. I am the only person in the office with 2 pastors, 2 music staff persons and a CE Person. I am responsible for all phone calls, 2 weekly bulletins with power point presentations, the monthly newsletter, the calendar and the extra work from the other staff persons plus anything else that happens around here. The church asks me to train someone when I go on vacation, but only pays them $150 for the week. Which means that I have to get most of the work done before I leave, and then expect phone calls during my time away. Volunteers are difficult to count on in a retirement city. They are all too busy to help out. I am retiring next year at my full retirement age and am looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me. I receive a lot of cudos from the staff and members of the congregation, but it does not help raise my social security or retirement benefits.

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Jan Owen

January 24, 2012  10:11am

I was on a church staff as worship pastor that had budget freezes for several years, including our salaries, which were well under the "normal" range to begin with. I agree that we do our work unto the Lord but we have to feed our families and that is not an excuse to work people to death without adequate compensation. If this is a person's job, they should be paid and treated with respect. This is scriptural. In the situation we found ourselves in I argued for just these type of things - give more time off, allow for people to work from home if needed (we do it all the time at night anyway!) and start a sabbatical policy. My argument was simply this - why would you NOT bless your staff? Don't you want to keep them and help them be healthy and happy? Or is your desire to use them up and see them stressed over paying their house payment? So my advice is to look for ways to BLESS those that bless your church. There are many non-monetary ways to do it if that is a need. I think God blesses us when we have a generous spirit, and do not withhold what is good and in our power to do.

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January 18, 2012  8:23am

Our church has just implemented a Service Award policy. Along with the recognition of 5, 10, 15, etc years of service, there is a monetary award as well. And interestingly, it is based solely on years served. Therefore at 5 years, the Senior Pastor will receive the same monetary award as any other fulltime employee. I believe that truly rewards service and not just position.

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B Roberts

January 17, 2012  12:44pm

I was the church/business managers for 12 years, their is all to often too much money and benefits laid at the senior pastors feet and the other staff are for the most part paid barely enough to survive (i was paid well please do not think i have some ax to grind). But some where in the church market place we must have a healthy conversation and frankly all senior pastors should be forcefully having these pay equality conversations. It is completely unacceptable to ask someone to work in a succestful church and pay them peanuts while the senior pastor is making as much as 2–3 times the income as others then they demand 150 percent from their staff. I have heard them say you have to work your way up here. These issues should never happen in any church, more churchs should demand for fair marketplace pay for all employees. Once the pastoral housing allowance is factor in the minister basically pays no federal income taxs. This is a benefit that few people are a ware of.

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Dell McDonald

January 17, 2012  11:24am

I see a difficulty when church staff receives raises when in this tuff ecomomic time there are people in the congregation who are laid off or put out of work because of downsizing. I have been an elder and haave struggled with this situation. It has nothing to do with hard work or length of hours, It is emphathy with hurting people or lack of empathy.

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Mark Adams

January 17, 2012  10:56am

I have been the solo pastor at our church for almost 3 1/2 years. While our church is small, I believe they compensate me quite well for my work. My wife also has a good paying job. It would be nice to have more vacation time (especially if I were not to get a raise) since our parents and children all live quite a ways (over a six hour drive)from where we are ministering.

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A E Bell

January 17, 2012  9:52am

I have provided volunteer services for my church for the past 5 years (and will continue to do so). My work involves all church administration. I give to my church above and beyond my tithes. I do it for the glory of God. My Bishop/Sr.Pastor is not paid and gives from his minimum salary earned outside the church at least 1/4 of the church budget. There are those within the church that will not work unless the are compensated or reimbursed for expenses. Serving God and the church is not about compensation or raises.

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Office Manager

January 13, 2012  11:56am

Ok, this may sound petty, but to be told your value is worth more than we are paying you is just another slap in the face. It is one thing if there really isn't enough money and no body is getting a wage that meets their needs. But when the person saying it makes enough and sometimes more than what meets their needs and then gives that kind of answer just rubs me raw. When I look at church budgets (yes, I do the churches budget) and see that the Senior pastor is taking at least 1/4 of the total church budget, that is totally wrong. Not that he doesn't work hard, but when he turns around and gives another worker little or no pay who works just as hard and has the same standards for work that is just plain wrong. Or when hourly staff is expected to work like salaried staff that is also wrong and illegal. I had to quit going to Sunday School and prayer because I was expected to do work for who ever needed it at those times. The senior pastor even expected me to be in the office and to work without pay. It was at that point that I stopped showing up early and came just as the service was starting. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind helping people on a Sunday as most of the time it is a little thing that I can tell them to leave me a note and I can take care of it during work hours, but to expect me to "volunteer" my time is illegal and just plain disrespectful. It also leaves me no time to be a true volunteer in other ministries within the church.

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