January 19, 2012
Part 2: When Raises Aren’t Possible for Church Staff
Three more ways churches can reward employees.
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.’”