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The Hard Question Nobody Likes to Discuss

| 2 min read

Written by Matt Steen
Apr 22, 2020 1:32:26 PM

Addressing hard questions related to staffing

Over the last ten days, we have had a handful of churches asking us about how to approach their staff in light of current programming realities, current needs, and current giving. While many churches are in great shape financially, with giving that remains strong, there are still many churches whose financial situation was tight going into the current crisis, and is keeping leadership up at night. This is part of the reason that we will be talking about leading your team with hope and reality tomorrow with Dan Reiland and Mike Bonem

While the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program has allowed many churches to push back conversations about staff layoffs, there is some wisdom in being prepared to revisit the conversation as our financial realities change. As we walk with churches through this season, here is how we are advising them to approach their teams right now:
  • Revise Job Descriptions: We have said this several times, but it bears repeating: everyone is in a pastoral care role now. As churches grow, they are often able to allow their team to specialize in areas that may not have as much pastoral care responsibilities as pastors in smaller congregations. As we continue to navigate the season ahead, it will become more and more important for our teams to prioritize virtual touches (phone calls, text messages, Zoom conversations, written notes, etc.) with our congregation. This allows us to continue to care for our congregation, but also encourages continued engagement. If your church has not yet made this pivot, it is not too late to begin.
  • Have a plan: For many of our churches, I encourage them to not make staffing changes until they absolutely have to but to begin thinking through the next few months now. Ask yourself, based on current giving trends, once the PPP money runs out, how will this affect us? What happens if our giving dips 20% in the days to come? Thinking through the possibilities now will help you be better prepared in the days to come. 
  • Be Honest: Some churches have someone on staff that they have been wanting to let go for some time. It is tempting to use our current situation as a convenient excuse to let them go... Don't be that church. Letting people go is tough, and it needs to be. Do not allow the Corona Virus to be the easy way to avoid having a difficult conversation. If you are letting someone go because of job performance, cultural fit, or because they root for the wrong college football team, be honest about it. 
  • Layoff as the Last Resort: If you come to the conclusion that you have exhausted all cost-cutting options and you need to begin to look at personnel costs, realize that layoffs are not your only option. If you have clearly communicated your situation to your team throughout this process, they will not be unaware of the realities of your situation and may be willing to help. Here are alternatives to consider before laying staff off:
    • Voluntary Unpaid Vacation Time: Offer the ability to take unpaid vacation time through the length of the crisis. This may be a good fit for those teammates who may not be adjusting well to the new job requirements listed above, have a second income at their home, or need to be with their family during this season. This is something that you can offer to the entire team (not offered as an alternative when letting someone know that they are being laid off). 
    • Voluntary, Temporary, Reduction in Pay: Again, this is an option offered to the entire team that allows people the opportunity to take a reduction in pay because they have the means, in order to protect their coworkers. Patrick Lencioni shares some thoughts on this from a corporate perspective here. One word of caution, people will take note of what senior leaders do and will take their cues from them when an offer like this is made. 
If you must make layoffs, please be compassionate, clear, and communicate what is going on to your team. Be as generous as possible when you make the decision: a small severance, benefits, a love offering, or any other support that you can offer will be much appreciated by the person being let go, but it will also speak volumes to your staff and congregation about how you value people. You may also want to help them prepare for their next position by offering them coaching on how to conduct their next job search (Chemistry can help with this).

Our prayer for you and your team is that you will not need to make any cuts in the days to come, but we are here to help if you do. If you are wrestling through how to manage your staffing situation in this season, I would love to talk... this link will help us find a time



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