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10. 2. 2023

Staff Health| Leadership

How to Retain Kids and Youth Ministry Leaders During the Great Resignation

| 2 min read

Written by Kelly Norris
Jan 26, 2022 9:51:21 AM

A Chemistry Conversation with Dan Navarra and Kim Bobb


We may be back to in-person services, but why do our staff pastors and leaders still feel disconnected, unappreciated, and burned out? With greater expectations being placed on our church staff and with fewer leaders in active ministry thanks to The Great Resignation, what can we do to retain good leaders and build a solid staff culture in this unique season?  


In this Chemistry Conversation, Kelly Norris, Director of Strategic Initiatives, talks with Dan Navarra and Kim Bobb about how The Great Resignation is impacting staff members of youth and family ministries.


What's the low-hanging fruit to retaining good leaders in these areas of ministry? 


Two-way conversations: Create safe spaces and opportunities for two-way conversations. How can your church remain healthy if your leaders aren't healthy? How do you know if your leaders are healthy unless you ask? 

  • Be sure to touch on both personal and professional matters
  • Make sure your staff member feels heard
  • Don't be in a rush to get to the next thing.

Annual review: Now is the time for an annual review. 
  • Look at what your staff member has been doing versus what's actually on their job description. How have their responsibilities changed since the pandemic shook things up?
  • Do you need to give them permission to say no to some of the extra responsibilities that they have adopted outside of their scope of ministry?
  • What responsibilities drain them and which ones give them life?

Creative blessings:  Find inexpensive ways to bless your team members. 
  • Publicly recognize them and celebrate something they have done
  • Provide extra paid time off
  • Flex time (allow them to have days each week when they can work from home)
  • Send them to a conference and extend the getaway
  • Give them a small gift of appreciation
  • Upgrade their technology
  • Think of ways to incorporate kids/youth into your services so that your leaders have an occasional weekend off.

Watch the conversation or view the transcript.  



About Kim & Dan:

Kim Bobb currently serves as a Candidate Coach and consultant for Chemistry Staffing. She has served in the local church for 20 years as both a Kids Pastor and a Family Pastor. She is passionate about building teams, coaching, mentoring other leaders, and helping the church come alongside families to help them grow. Kim is exceptionally creative and loves to help churches discover how to best use their facilities for the kind of ministry they feel called to do. Additionally, Kim shepherds a team of Kids & Family Leaders from all across Central Ohio and empowers them to lead well. 


Dan Navarra serves as a Church Coach with Chemistry Staffing and has over fifteen years of experience in vocational ministry in sunny California. In addition to being a pastor, Dan has expertise specializing in church finances, HR, and Youth Pastor compensation; having run the largest-ever national compensation survey of over 4,000 Youth Pastors to date. His work with Youth Pastors has been featured at Church Law & Tax, the National Network of Youth Ministries, and he’s held coaching calls all over the country to help Youth Pastors turn their calling into a sustainable career.




As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!



Read the Full Transcript

Kelly Norris: Hi, my name is Kelly, and this is a Chemistry conversation. I am the Director of Strategic Initiatives at Chemistry Staffing, and I’m here with Dan Navarra and Kim Bobb. Dan is in sunny California and serves as a church coach on our team. He’s also the founder of the youth pastor compensation survey. The report just came out recently, so I’m excited to talk a little bit about that. He has a lot of history in student ministries and has a passion to help make churches healthier. Kim is in central Ohio - my neck of the woods - and serves as a candidate coach on our team. She has a rich history in family and kids ministries. She has the opportunity to pour into many kids ministry and family ministry leaders across the country. Thank you guys for being with me today. I’m really excited to have this conversation. We’re talking a little bit about the great resignation. Todd has released a couple of the blogs, even through the end of last year. This is really more in the “secular world” we’re talking about the great resignation, but we’re seeing it big time seep into the church world. I don’t know if churches are as aware of this or not, but one of the quotes that Todd had in his article is that “the great resignation has the potential to significantly change how we do ministry in the coming months and years.” So I just wanted to dig into that a little bit. Let’s start by talking about this - for both of you. Either one of you can answer this. What do you see being the biggest change we’re seeing in your specific area of ministry since the pandemic and everything has sort of changed how we do ministry.

Dan Navarra: Ladies first, Kim. Go for it.

Kim Bobb: Okay. Well, I think kids ministry and family ministry is really event-driven. We do a ton of outreach events in the community. If you are a part of any kid min Facebook groups or social media groups, you are seeing that from all across the country. We have had to really rethink what that looks like and how we can safely - because our demographic of children still are unvaccinated, either by choice or because they’re too young. That’s been a really big hurdle. What I have loved is I have seen leaders like never before come together and share ideas. So while it’s a struggle, there’s still that potential offer and opportunity to connect with other leaders and say, “Give me an idea of something that worked.” In different states across the country, our procedures and policies for masking and not masking are so different. But I would encourage you to find some leaders that can help you in that way because it really is a struggle right now. We’re having to rethink how we do ministry and how we connect with families relationally and spiritually.

Dan Navarra: Yeah, mine is a little bit similar to that. I had a conversation with a youth pastor a few weeks ago and he was saying, “I can’t plan events anymore, and it’s because I will never please my group like I did before Covid. Either I have too many restrictions or not enough restrictions.” No matter where you fall on the spectrum, the group that used to be like, “Yeah, we can’t wait to gather together,” now there’s always someone who feels left out or excluded or not thought about. The other thing that I’m seeing right now is a lot of youth pastors especially are saying, you know what, everyone realized that I have these technical skills during Covid, and that has changed the “other duties as assigned.” Those have gone through the roof post-Covid where churches realize all of the sudden now a lot of youth pastors can edit video and all that stuff. So now they’re doing this whole other job, and the compensation hasn’t adjusted for that. So there have been some value issues that have crept into a lot of people’s psyche I think.

Kelly Norris: Yeah, that’s so important to talk through, the additional responsibilities that have come since us pivoting. Even if you’ve pivoted well, how long can you last in a position where you’ve increased your responsibilities maybe. If you’ve leaned into the pivot, if you’ve really done your due diligence, but you’re also getting all these extra responsibilities. How long can you last doing that? It wears on you. Are you seeing a lot of burnout in kids ministries and youth ministries? The leadership and volunteer retention. Talk a little bit about that.

Dan Navarra: Let me jump in on this one. What I’ve seen is - especially among the young ministry community. I can’t really speak as much for the children’s pastor community. It’s always had a stigma of we’re not going to make a bunch of money being youth pastors, right? But there was this huge appreciation for the work that we were doing, and it was super gratifying, and it was soul-enriching. Well, all of the sudden, you haven’t done anything to the compensation and you’ve lost a lot of that significance through the difficulty of Covid. And I’m banging my head against the wall just trying to figure out how to staff youth group, how to have a small group meeting. And by the way, are we streaming it? On Sunday, I’m leaning into running broadcast and all these other things. So what’s happened is, as I’m talking to a lot of youth pastors, they’re feeling lonely, they’re feeling tired, they’re feeling exhausted. And the things that we used to do that energized us, like going to camp, they were cancelled or they changed drastically. How many churches said, “We can’t go up into the mountains this year and sleep into a cabin together, so we’re doing a one-day conference on our campus.” Which was great spiritually. It was the best that we could do with what we had, but it’s not the things - like for me as a youth pastor, camp brought me to life. That was my bread and butter, my sweet spot that kept me energized for the next six months until the next camp or retreat. You remove that and it’s like, “Man, I’m just banging my head against the wall” is kind of the narrative a lot of youth pastors are having right now.

Kim Bobb: Yeah, I’m hearing that too, Dan. It’s interesting that you say camp because I call camp the number one relational equity event that we do all year. When you live with people for a week, you do a lot of life together.

Dan Navarra: Without cell phone coverage.

Kim Bobb: Right. That’s the beauty. That is the absolute beauty. Non-distracted time. But those relational equity things that do fill us up - because most student pastors and kids pastors, we are relational people because that’s how God made us. Right? So they’re tired, that’s the number one thing I’m hearing. They are tired. They are emotionally tired. Because there’s been this whole back and forth church, families, church, families. And there’s this conflict all the time. People who deal with children, we also deal with parents on the regular. So that’s part of our regular DNA. But it might have been tension with one or two families. Now, there’s tension with 20 families and it’s all the time. And you’re right, Dan, when you say that we are always looking to do what is best and what is safest for our families, but now there’s always tension. I have friends in ministry right now - I could give you a list of names - who have just left with no place to go. Not because God has called them less, but because they’re unhealthy and they’ve been forced to make decisions with those extra jobs added and the no compensation, and they’re families are suffering. That’s our call first and foremost. If our families aren’t healthy, then we are not healthy. So they’re making choices to stay home. They’re making choices to get jobs in the secular community. They’re making choices to do things part-time that they can do from home to balance the health of their families. Because just as we as leaders are struggling during this season, our children, our teenagers, our spouses are struggling as well.

Dan Navarra: Oh yeah.

Kim Bobb: And we have to make those hard choices to put our families first. And when we are called, it brings a different element to that. There can be so much beauty in finding people to love and support you during this season. But we do, I think kids pastors feel lonely and isolated. The people in our churches that normally pour into us are isolated as well. So we’re losing that piece. I think they just feel unappreciated, which is really tough.

Kelly Norris: It’s heartbreaking. And I think that both candidates and churches, they have different perspectives of course, but this is new to them. They’re learning. What worked before doesn’t work now. So what do we tell the churches at this point? How do we help them encourage and retain their staff or even find new staff, create healthy environments within their teams to prepare themselves for new staff. Help me understand what you would recommend for the churches. We’ll talk about the candidates next.

Kim Bobb: You want to go, Dan, or you want me to?

Dan Navarra: I have a couple thoughts. So one of the big things that we hear in the youth ministry community all the time is we feel like we’re in the basement of the church, off in a silo. In the youth pastor compensation survey, I asked the question last year, “Have you had an annual review?” Have you had the chance to sit down with your boss and talk about benefits, compensation, hours, demands, responsibilities? And the numbers are staggering about how many youth pastors don’t have a safe conversation, an annual review with their supervisor every year. It’s like 40% don’t get to have that conversation. It’s really hard to feel like you can just walk into your boss’s office and talk about what you’re struggling with unless it’s invited. So for all the senior pastors and executive pastors that are sitting here wondering, how do I care for my kids pastor and my youth pastor right now, I think one of the big things you can do is actually sit down in a scheduled meeting, not off the cuff, and ask them, “How are you doing? Here’s the ten questions I’d like to walk through.” How does your benefits feel to you? Have you had any major changes in your family? All those types of things. And see what you can do to meet some of those needs, desires, and hopes. If they need a weekend away where they can go worship with their spouse. One of the things Covid did to a lot of churches is they went from two services to one on the weekends. That crushes your children’s team because now they’re serving when everyone else is being poured into during the worship service, and they don’t get to go to the second service or the first service. So they’re missing a whole weekend, and now they feel disconnected from the church family. We’re seeing a lot of churches going back to two services now who don’t have a critical mass to go to two services because they know it’s killing their people. I think there’s some wisdom in that. But also, we need to realize those realities and how we can help.

Kim Bobb: Right. That’s huge. That’s huge. I think from a kids ministry perspective, I think what you’re saying - you’re hitting the nail on the head. Take time to invest in your existing staff. Ask them what’s important. Ask them what they’re struggling with. And ask separate questions. How are you personally? How are you professionally? Because those two things, the answers can be different. Professionally, I’m good, but personally I’m a train wreck. I’m tired. I’m not sleeping. The stress is really affecting me. My daughter is crying going to school every day. We’re dealing with anxieties in our home we’ve not dealt with before. So I think it’s really important that they feel cared for. And sometimes it doesn’t take much. Sometimes it just takes an intentional conversation. And even saying, “Hey, I want us to have a sit-down conversation about how you’re doing, just so I can support you.” Give them that. Don’t just say, “I want to have a sit-down meeting with you” because that terrifies us as a staff person. When there’s not a lot of communication and then you’re like, “Hey, we need to have a one-on-one.” And that’s not really happened, and we’re a hot mess. Label it. Tell us, just so we the church can come alongside you in the best way possible. But I think you also need to create a safe place for your staff to play together. Because when we work hard together, we need to play together. We need to know one another inside and out. There need to be inside jokes, We need to be able to laugh at each other and with each other. Those things matter now more than they ever have. Because we’re tired, but we can get through a lot of things if we’re tired and there’s camaraderie, and we don’t feel like we’re at it alone. We tend to get pushed. At least student ministries for the most part is part of Sunday morning worship. Kids ministries is completely separate from that. The worst thing that you can do for your kids paster is talk about how great the service was on Sunday. Don’t tell them. All that does is remind them that they are missing out on being a part of the body of Christ in that way. Especially in a season where the only time they have to worship is in an online service, which is not the same. It just isn’t.

Kelly Norris: Sometimes it’s the only way they have to connect with other people. Like human adults, in general.

Kim Bobb: Right. We love adults. I know people don’t believe that about kids people, but we do. We like to have adult conversations every now and then too. So love them well.

Kelly Norris: Yeah. I love that you both touched on the two-way conversation. There’s one thing to be said for a meeting where one person is talking and getting people together and getting all the people on the same page, but the two-way conversation is what we need to lean in right now, making sure we’re both okay and making sure there’s a space to talk and express. And it’s okay to have some emotions in this season, right? What about compensations? I know we could probably do a whole separate conversation just on this. But just briefly, some churches can’t afford to bump up the pay. But like we touched on before, there’s a greater expectation that we’ve place on our workers, on our team members, without the matching compensation. This conversation that you guys are talking about, having that one-on-one conversation could even talk through, alright, what are we expecting you to do, what do you feel has been placed on you? And let’s reevaluate your job description. Let’s reevaluate potentially your salary or whatever. I feel like that’s an important part of this conversation that they should be having. If they can’t raise the - I know Dan has some great information because of the youth pastor compensation survey that he did and has been released. We’ll make sure we include that link in the bottom of the blog. But I want to make sure that we help pastors get creative. If we can’t raise the salary right now because of the undetermined growth rate of our church or Covid’s still kind of peeking up, what other ways can we encourage and provide relief to our team members?

Dan Navarra: I have a couple that are minimal cost right off the top. So one of the ones that typically doesn’t cost any more money because it’s already money that’s allocated is additional time off.

Kelly Norris: Nice.

Dan Navarra: Giving a weekend or a youth group night and saying - or making that phone call to that church member that’s got a cabin an hour or two away and saying, “Hey, can my youth pastor or children’s pastor borrow that to take their family away over spring break” or something like that where it doesn’t cost the church any money to, like, give them a raise every paycheck. Here, go have a one-week sabbatical, in a sense. Go get away and recharge. A lot of us lost our conferences over Covid. Like National Youth Workers Convention didn’t happen and hasn’t come back yet. Those were energizing things for a lot of pastors to go do their youth pastor conferences or their marriage conference or something like that. Find a way to give them one of those. That’s one thing. The other one is, a lot of us have been tasked with doing more tasks that are technology-driven. This is a small one, when was the last time that your technology budget got tapped to upgrade a computer? If you can find some more RAM for that MacBook Pro that’s seven years old or maybe spend a couple grand and buy a new computer. A one-time purchase, that feels like Christmas morning for those youth pastors that are doing hand-me-down stuff. It’s a one-time purchase, so it’s not an ongoing expense. It’s usually already allocated. And all of the sudden, I’m like, man, I can edit my videos faster. I’m much more available. My battery is not dying. All the things that slow us down or are inconveniences. You’re removing some of the pain points and allowing your pastors to be more efficient with their time, so they have a little bit more buffer and a little bit more time with family and things like that. The other one, just really quick, that I will say is giving them permission to not have a program every single week is a big deal.

Kim Bobb: Yes.

Dan Navarra: The whole mentality of “Sunday is always coming,” Sabbath your children’s ministry workers. Sabbath your youth group. Let them take instead of one week off at Christmas, take three weeks off at Christmas. You’re just giving them some more buffer and some more margin in their life.

Kim Bobb: Right. First of all, Dan, those are fantastic. I would “amen” all of those. But additionally to that, I think in kids ministry we get so locked into, “Well, someone needs to take care of the children.” Guess who the children have? Their parents. So there’s also this piece of we can release the kids to their parents with a small paradigm shift in what we’re doing in the church. We can minister to both at the same time. And there’s beauty in that that doesn’t stress out our staff, that doesn’t overwhelm our volunteer team, that speaks life into your leaders and speaks life into those families in your church. There’s something beautiful about a service that contains all ages. You can really see how our kids and our students are learning and growing through the experiences that they are able to have. I love that idea at the end of just rethinking and saying, hey, you know what, this matters too. Especially in this post-Covid world, one of the things we’re seeing big time in kids ministries is that we have enabled parents to bring their kids to church and say, “There you go. You disciple them.” And what we’ve not done well as the church is say to the parents, “You are the parents. You have them 168 hours a week. We get them for one, and we want to resource you for that time.” So there’s this opportunity to change what we do and look at some of those job descriptions to say this is an opportunity for us to shepherd natural leaders of their children, who have the most influence, and to leverage that for the Kingdom without it being more taxing on our staff and on our resources.

Kelly Norris: And that’s probably hard for some lead pastors.

Kim Bobb: It’s very hard.

Kelly Norris: To really wrap their brain around, “No, no, no, your job is to babysit.” No, no, no.

Kim Bobb: Don’t ever say that. Don’t ever say that to your kids pastor.

Kelly Norris: Never ever ever. But in their mindset, that’s basically, you care for those kids during that hour. That’s your “job.” But really, what is the job? Digging deep with your lead pastor and really talking through - and now I’m talking to the candidate side, or the kids ministry worker, the student ministry worker. Sometimes you have to bring this stuff to your pastor and have the safe conversation and say, hey, I really feel at this time the value is going to come when we resource the parents. Or the value is going to come in relationships with the parents. Or the value is going to come when we teach the kids to worship together with the family. I think all of those things are amazing. Anything on the candidate side that you can encourage the candidate? Candidate or worker. I’m saying the employee.

Kim Bobb: I think stay positive. And communicate and advocate for yourself. If there are things that are important to you, don’t be shy about them. Be honest with the right people about those things and why they matter. Don’t just say, “Well, my family has to come first or that’s it.” But be upfront and honest. “This is a struggle that my family is facing right now. I need to make some priority changes, and that’s why I’m looking for something new.” Or, “I would not like to look for something new. I’d really like to stay here where I’m invested. But I have to make some changes in order for my continued success, not just the church’s continued success.” And I think that it’s okay to think outside the box would be my other thing. We are in a new season. I tell my team this all the time. Don’t say “we used to.” Forget that. We’re never going to be “we used to” anymore. It’s a blank page. So get out your pencil and write some new plans. And dream big. It’s okay. Sometimes a blank page is the best starting point because there’s no preconceived notions. There’s no “it worked better last time” or this or that. You can start fresh. So try to find the beauty in those things and in those opportunities. And connect with other leaders. Nobody can understand you like somebody else who does what you do. So find people outside of your church who maybe serve in other churches in your community or across the country that you can do this with. You can have an honest conversation where the people don’t know the people in your churches. And you can say, “Here’s a situation. I’ve never had it before, and I don’t know how to handle it.” Or “How do I communicate this to my lead pastor?” Or “How do I personally navigate this?” Those would be my three big ones.

Kelly Norris: So good.

Dan Navarra: This is the piece of coaching I give people all the time. There is a bucket. I call it the bucket of bitterness. Every time something poked you a little bit, you put a drop of water in that bucket. If you’re not tending to whatever that bitterness is, whether it’s wage compensation, technology, dealing with families, apathy among your kids or students, whatever the bucket is and whatever goes in it. What’s going to happen over time is that bucket is going to get full to the brim, and what most pastors do is they end up kicking the bucket. And when you kick the bucket, you spill water everywhere. This is where you see people say, “You know what? I quit” or something even worse where they make a mistake ethically, morally, something like that. That’s where you see their unmanaged bitterness is starting to leak out of them. So I always tell people, manage your bucket with God - and your supervisor, but with God - to that bucket of bitterness, so that you’re releasing and surrendering the things God is putting in front of you that are causing frustration. We need to be doing that as human beings with everything, not just ministry, but with our family and life and so on and so forth.

Kelly Norris: So good, Dan. And I know we’re probably running out of time here, and I hate to rush the end. Dan, tell us really short synopsis of what you found in the youth pastor compensation results. I know that we have, that we’ll post. But why should people download this?

Dan Navarra: Well, the first thing that jumps out this year is all the numbers around inflation and cost of living adjustment, they far exceeded the amount of compensation raise student pastors saw this year. It wasn’t even close. So the world is getting more expensive to live in. Everybody can feel that, right? We go to McDonalds and there’s no more dollar menu. It’s like the $1.25 menu right now. The Dollar Store is $1.25. Everything is getting more expensive to live in, and compensation with pastoral staff has not kept up with that. Churches are payroll banding way too late in the game, and people are walking away. The youth pastor compensation survey results are full of dashboard lights. Little indicators of it’s time to change the oil, it’s time to rotate the tires, time to get gas. There’s a bunch of dashboard lights in there for senior and executive pastors to look at to help you understand how you can help your youth pastor - and other pastoral staff. The principles are the same - not leave because of compensation or benefits. I will tell you, a 2% raise - which sounds like a lot of money. It’s not. If the average youth pastor makes around $50,000, a 2% raise is not a lot of money over a 12-month budget. That raise though in good faith for that youth pastor feels like such a vote of confidence. Those are the types of things that you might have to pull from another bucket to pay that person just pennies more, but emotionally it feels like “I feel seen, I feel valued, I feel heard.” There’s all kinds of helps and guidance in the survey results for things like that.

Kelly Norris: And I think we could even translate that to kids ministry and family ministries in a general sort of way. People look at youth pastor compensation report and think, “Oh, this is for youth pastors.” It’s really for the senior leaders to get that idea of what they should be doing and, like you said, some of those indicators. We’re going to have some of the youth pastor compensation link, great resignation. And even if you’re searching as a children’s pastor, a youth pastor, Next Gen pastor, we’ll have a link below where we have a couple of opportunities available to you. Dan, Kim, thank you so much for your wisdom today. All the stuff you said, I really hope it encourages other. But I really appreciate the work that you do.

Dan Navarra: Happy to be here.

Kelly Norris: Thanks so much.

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