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How Do I Address Staffing Shortages?

This week on the podcast, Doug and Erin tackle an issue that seems to echo resoundingly with churches across the country: staffing shortages. 

Doug challenges us to reconsider our approach to staffing. He introduces the notion of “right-sized” staffing ratios, urging us to evaluate our needs objectively before rushing to a hire. This perspective prompts a fundamental question: do we truly understand our staffing requirements, or are we merely reacting to perceived pain points? Erin echoes this idea, emphasizing the need for strategic thinking in staffing decisions. It’s not merely about filling positions; it’s about aligning staffing with strategic goals and organizational needs.

1. What do we need to keep in mind when we are missing an essential staff member?

Doug urges church leaders to reevaluate their situations before hastily seeking new hires. Erin encourages listeners to assess whether they are genuinely understaffed or if other issues are masking the problem. She stresses the importance of identifying non-negotiable essentials amidst staffing challenges, considering the scarcity of church leaders and the need to preserve critical aspects of ministry for mission advancement. Doug echoes this idea, emphasizing the necessity of adopting a developmental mindset to nurture existing talent within the congregation. He cautions against cultivating a mindset where volunteers aspire to become staff members, advocating instead for equipping individuals for ministry roles. 

Erin highlights the significance of language and communication in shaping a culture of active contribution within the church, urging leaders to avoid language implying passivity among congregants until staff positions are filled. Instead, she encourages fostering a culture where every member feels empowered to engage in ministry. This emphasis on agency, or the freedom and permission to act, is crucial for creating a culture of empowerment within the congregation. The conversation transitions into practical tactics for addressing staffing shortages, including challenging assumptions about staffing needs and inviting volunteers to assume new leadership roles. Erin shares a specific example from Canyon Ridge, where they revised their approach to student ministry staffing based on a comprehensive assessment of needs and available resources. Despite the challenges and uncertainties, Erin emphasizes the importance of focusing on essentials and remaining open to adaptation in effectively navigating staffing shortages.

2. Even in times of staffing scarcity, what essential principles should a church leader consider? 

Church leaders should thoroughly examine staffing ratios and identify the essential tasks that need to be done in times of scarcity. Erin prompts leaders to differentiate between genuine understaffing and other underlying challenges, stressing the preservation of critical ministry elements. 

Doug emphasizes the significance of adopting a developmental mindset, cautioning against nurturing aspirations for staff positions among volunteers. They discuss the impact of language on congregational engagement, highlighting the risk of conveying a lack of need for contributions until staff positions are filled. Erin shares insights from a Brazilian church she visited, where a culture of agency fosters active participation despite minimal staffing. 

Doug reflects on the efficacy of adopting a church planter’s mindset and the need to equip congregants for ministry. They explore practical strategies for addressing staffing shortages, including challenging assumptions about role necessity and leveraging volunteer involvement. Erin provides an example from Canyon Ridge, where they reframed their approach to student ministry staffing based on evolving needs and available resources. Despite the challenges, they advocate for a mindset focused on essentials and continual adaptation in navigating staffing scarcity.

3. If a church is understaffed what are a few things you would tell those church leaders to do?

Doug suggests a simple exercise his friend Dave Miller at Leadership Pathway: allocate ten minutes for staff to list potential candidates for open roles, focusing on personal connections and influential individuals. Have your staff create a list with two columns. One is for them to list people they know who potentially could fill the vacant role. And then the secondary column is to list people you know who are well networked. Doug has  found time and time again, that if you give space for your staff to stop and think, including you, we will be able to generate a list of people to follow up with. This approach leverages relational networks to identify suitable candidates, bypassing the need for costly search firms. Erin confirms the effectiveness of this method, citing a recent successful hire her church made through network referrals. 

They emphasize the importance of reframing mindsets and challenging assumptions about staffing scarcity, urging leaders to actively engage in raising up leaders from within their community. This shift in perspective encourages a proactive approach to addressing staffing challenges and fosters a culture of continuous leadership development. As they conclude their conversation, Erin and Doug express enthusiasm for debunking myths and offering practical strategies to navigate staffing uncertainties.

Check out the full episode wherever you download your podcasts, or watch it on YouTube!

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