Having the conversation we hate to have
Now that we have shifted from the "blizzard mindset" into one that recognizes that the pandemic is going to have a long term effect on how we do church, I am having more conversations with church leaders who are being forced to think through their staffing situation. These conversations can be difficult as it is not uncommon to have people that have faithfully served on our teams for years, people that we love and cherish, but suddenly find themselves without the skill set needed to lead their ministries in the season ahead.
Over the last few weeks, I have been hearing stories of restructuring and layoffs at different churches around the country. Church leaders are helping people find new roles on the team that better fit their skill set, or are having the tough conversation about needing to part ways... one church I know of recently made the hard decision to let over 40% of their team go. These are difficult, heart-wrenching conversations to have. But they are conversations that we need to have if we are going to lead our church well in the coming season.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are forced to let some go, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
- Be Kind: This should be a no brainer, but it is easy to forget. We get so anxious about having difficult conversations that we can begin to steel ourselves, resulting in a conversation that feels cold, uncaring, and unintentionally brutal. I am not suggesting that you pull your punches (see the next point), but I am suggesting that when having these conversations you remember that you are a pastor and care for the person in the process.
- Be Honest: To be unclear is to be unkind. One of the more unfortunate things I have witnessed in this season is the "offloading" of staff members that church leadership had wanted to let go for quite some time, but decided to use the pandemic as a convenient excuse. When you let someone go, let them go with integrity. You need to be honest about the reasons, whether it is pandemic related or not. A bonus thought on this: if you are letting them go for performance issues and they are surprised, you may have a bigger issue to deal with.
- Be Generous: Our current season may make it difficult to give lavish severance packages, but we can still be generous. If you are able to extend health care benefits or give a small severance payment, do that. If it is appropriate to celebrate the service of your teammate, find a way to honor them well. Can you connect them with ministry leaders in the area to help them find a new role? Do that! We've begun partnering with churches to help their departing staff members prepare to enter the job search, you can learn more about our Transition Coaching here.
One last point: don't belabor the point. The last thing that people want to do is be told that they are being fired through the course of a 4-hour meeting. I hate the analogy of ripping off the band-aid, but it fits here. Be concise in your conversation, and allow the conversation to end.
I'm praying for you through this season
P.S. If you are wrestling through how to restructure or pivot your staff in this season, you may be interested in taking part in our upcoming Church Staffing Realignment Lab. The lab is starting soon and will give you the tools you need to make the right decisions moving forward.