Part 2: When Raises Aren’t Possible for Church Staff
Three more ways churches can reward employees.

Editor's Note: In Part 1,Bloomberg Businessweekcolumnist Liz Ryan shared with's Matt Branaugh the first of several ways that churches can reward and recognize employees when raises aren't possible (as the2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staffhighlights, raises are hit or miss, depending on place, position, and person.) Today, she shares three more ways, plus some thoughts about the how and why of implementation:


4. "Professional development. People are dying for this. Any kind of denominational conferences and events—find out what you can do. These are often more affordable than what's offered in the outside market. Doing this also enrolls people philosophically and emotionally into the mission of the denomination at the national and international levels. It allows them to network and learn. People come back fired up from these things. For the most part, people are really excited because it's an investment in their future.

5. Assign things outside of the job description. For a lot of people that's a huge motivator. Shake up your organization and let people try things that they've never done before. Have a secretary help a pastor with a visitation at a hospital. Allow an administrator to attend a leadership conference. People want that personal and professional stretching—give it to them. To do this, maybe create a menu and let them choose. It might look like this:

  • A visitation
  • A conference
  • Attending a church board meeting
You can present this to the staff member spontaneously or do it at an annual review. The less formulaic, and the more specific to the person, the better. And the less you turn it into a program and the more you keep it a fun idea, the better. If it becomes a program, it becomes wallpaper within a couple of years. It becomes just another benefit. You want these to be surprises, to flatter and delight your employees, and you don't need a policy or program to do that.
6. Inclusion. In a church organization, one of the problems that can creep in, because of confidentiality concerns and the pressures of getting through the day, is that it's easy for communication to get stunted. People right in the middle of this get pinched. They feel overworked and underpaid, so keep them in the loop. People want to know what's going on. They want the back story so that they're not just passing messages but know the context. To do this well, you must sit down with people. Don't get trapped in the idea of ‘there's only so much time for this.' In mission-driven organizations, this must be the top priority. If someone on the team isn't feeling good or feeling they're doing what God wants them to do, then all of their other efforts are at risk of getting wasted."

How can leaders do these things and not wind up overwhelmed by the requests?

"Don't skip these altogether because you're worried about opening the floodgate of requests.

In leadership, we get completely unbalanced because we worry about the transaction. We should be talking a lot more about how we are doing, how you are doing, how we can do something better. Instead, we talk about these things as transactions, even the squishy stuff like working from home. So we get formulaic. What criteria should we use? Who qualifies?

A performer isn't thinking about how much they're getting paid when they're three weeks away from the opening of Godspell on Broadway. It's the same way at church—people are there for something greater than what they're paid. But we squash that and get into the transaction. ‘Well, Mary, as you know, the finances weren't all they could have been, so we're only doing 1 percent salary increases, but we will look at it again on March 1, so check in with me.' You have to convey that information, but that's the least important part of the story. Instead, you should have an amazing one- to two-hour conversation. ‘Mary, you know we don't have the money for raises. Sorry. But I hope that I tell you you're fabulous. Let's brainstorm what you want here as a church, for your career, and how I can support you personally in getting what you want, what we can change for the better, and what you want me to know.'

That's the real stuff. We say there's nothing to talk about because there isn't money. But those discussions are the best discussions because there isn't money hanging over anyone's head. These can be the most fruitful conversations—when we don't talk about the transaction."

Should church leaders be concerned about the appearance of giving special treatment to some and not others?

"We are not ever going to get to a place where everyone is treated the same in every moment and situation, nor should we. People don't need the same things from employers because every situation is different. Treat each person individually. ‘This is what you need and what you get.' But never talk about what other individuals get. It's not productive and it's not a good use of time. You tell them that discussing what others get sends the wrong message because it would say absolute uniformity is a lofty goal—and it's not.

If managers can't get comfortable with this, then they can't be managers. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing. That's why discretion is required. That's why it's called leadership."

How would you encourage the church leader who feels they can't compete with bigger churches or for-profits, despite their best efforts?

"Compared to corporations, churches are small and nimble, so they have all the ability in the world to do these things beyond money—if they will just do it. It would be a shame if churches tried to take the corporate world's view and look at things like financial return on investment. It should be the opposite. The corporations should be learning from churches. There is a perception that the corporate world has the answers, but churches and nonprofits have a lot to teach Fortune 500 companies.

Churches have these inferiority complexes because they think others have cash and they don't. Big corporations aren't paying a lot of money, either. Church leaders might be surprised that the difference isn't as monumental as they think.

So as a pastor, think about what you do get to say. Don't apologize—say ‘We're in the people business. And I'll do anything you need to take care of our congregation, to try new things, to take care of people.'"

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 1–5 of 5 comments

Pam Whitney

February 24, 2012  9:51am

While I agree with "Church Secretary" that giving extra assignments in lieu of a raise is ridiculous, I know that I am valued and appreciated as the "Church Secretary" / Office Manager / Accountant. Our board of Elders are all secular laymen working in professional jobs. They understand well the need for competent support staff. I came from the financial industry before this job and I am actually making more money than I did before - even if I haven't received a raise in three years. However, having worked for the mission board of another church, I do understand how churches tend to undervalue human resources. It really is a mixed bag from church to church

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Ad. Min.

February 10, 2012  11:43am

I too get treated like "Church Secretary" even after working here for 15 yrs. They have given rated raises. And of course I'm at the bottom of the scale. They gave bonuses in December and I got the lowest bonus. I know because the treasurer left a report in the copier. I have tried to educate these people for 15 yrs. and have not gotten anywhere. In the last year, our committee chair. in charge of staff has been on me like ugly on an ape about really crazy things. If I could do without my job here I would do something else. The pastor has tried to educate them and gets nowhere. If it wasn't for the fact I like what I'm doing, I would be here.

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February 02, 2012  9:42am

Wow, I feel really bad for "Church Secretary" because she is entirely undervalued in her role at her church. That church needs to wake up and recognize what she does for them is paramount. I'm a church office administrator and my church doesn't treat me that way at all. True, like most churches these days, my church hasn't been able to give me a raise for three years now, but they did squeak out a couple of Christmas bonuses in the last three years (none this year) and paid for two administrative training workshops for me, which is, according to "Church Secretary", more stress. In my experience, being allowed to take these days for my professional development, I indeed came back refreshed, just as the article mentioned. This was invaluable to me and I learned new tactics and ideas from other administrators. Not all church devalue their support staff. I don't know if the difference is because I work for a UU church or not, but I also worked for a UCC church and I felt valued there too. Being able to work from home and flexibility: priceless. I appreciate getting paid in something other than money, this is why I do what I do, because being part of something that adds real value to other people's lives is something that I value. It would be hard if I didn't feel appreciated, but I do. That church needs to recognize her and maybe it's up to her to educate them..or else she's gonna walk as soon as something else comes along, and I don't blame her.

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January 30, 2012  5:50pm

I'm a church secretary. I think it all boils down to the attitude of the senior staff and board. It's a combination of being treated fairly in comparison with other staff (fair does not necessarily mean equal) and being truly appreciated. If there's no money to give me a raise and I'm told so in a way that is apologetic and appreciative, I'm okay with that - as long as everyone else on the staff is also hearing the same news. I know church secretaries who are belittled and berated at their jobs, by pastors and congregants, and even if you paid me double my salary, I wouldn't want to work in a place like that. I know others who make a fraction of the wage I do, and yet are appreciated and treated with kindness, and they are happy to stay where they are. And let's be honest - some church secretaries need to have a better attitude! You can't expect to be appreciated if you're resentful and bitter all the time.

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Church Secretary

January 27, 2012  9:54am

OK, this is really bad. Give people more stuff to do as an incentive for not getting a raise. Oh, give me a break. As a church secretary, to do some of the things listed, plus my already full schedule would just cause more stress. Now if I was given the ability to do something different and to give up one task for another then that would be great, but often it isn't that way. It often becomes here is another thing for you to do. I know you can do it. You are so good at getting things done. Again another slap in the face and a devaluing of what I already do as well as making me work like a salaried person, while I am only hired part time with no benefits, no vacation, no days off and expected to "volunteer" my time, because it is a ministry and if I have to take a day off because I am sick, I have to make the time up to be able to meet all the deadlines that are required of me. If my child gets sick and I have to take time off, then it is an inconvenience for the church and seen as a hindrance to "the ministry". But if a pastor has a sick child or a family emergency, they are given the time off with pay, because "we need to be flexible in situations like this". This is the type of inequality, insensitive, undervaluing that support staff receive. Volunteers are often recognized for all their work, but support staff don't even receive a birthday, christmas or thank you gift, because "you are paid". That is just so hard to take some days. I know that not all secretaries are treated in such a disrespectful manner, but unfortunately I am and if I could find another job I would. In fact I would never work for another church again as the difficulties I have faced have been worse than what I faced in the world. Part 1 & 2 is the worst thing I have ever read about how to offer other types of compensation. You guys need to get into the real church world and work along side us and then tell us what can really be done.

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