Small churches face unique challenges when hiring pastoral and support staff. Great challenges, however, can provide wide-open space for opportunities.
We were about five years old when our Founding/Senior Pastor informed the leadership that he was resigning. God was calling him in a different direction in ministry, and he would be stepping out of his role in about six weeks.
We were a small church with a limited budget, and we were tasked with finding and hiring someone to fill a Senior Pastor's role for a part-time salary. As the process unfolded, we discovered a couple of challenges and a couple of opportunities that a small church encounters when conducting a pastor search.
Challenge #1 - Culture
Every church is unique. Your style, your language, your preferences - these are all built-in to your church’s unique DNA, and it’s crucial that any new pastor or staff member is a culture-fit. As we sifted through the resumes that came in, we found a number of candidates who were fully qualified, but who just didn’t fit our unique culture. A pastor’s personality and style must fit the congregation to whom he has been called. Had we not been paying attention, we could have ended up with someone who would have divided the small community rather than unifying and energizing it.
Challenge #2 - Compensation
Every church has limited resources, but small churches have a much harder time being competitive with salaries and benefits. We felt it important to take care of our new pastor financially, but the budget just couldn’t bear a full-time salary. Pastoral ministry is not something people get into for the money, but pastors have bills to pay and mouths to feed, too. Every small church will struggle to provide good benefits and a fair salary.
These are challenges that many small churches face when looking to find the right person to lead them. But, of course, God doesn’t give us challenges that are too great to bear, and sometimes these challenges become opportunities!
Opportunity #1 - Range and Flexibility
For the right kind of leader, a small church is exactly what they need to thrive. Small churches will require employees that excel when given a wide range of responsibilities. A good friend of mine is a solo pastor at a small town church. He ends up doing everything from mailing “get well” cards to repairing broken pews to preaching and providing vision for the congregation. And he loves it! Some people find a range of diverse duties far more appealing than regular office hours in service to a single role. This is a gift that a small church can give to the right candidate.
Opportunity #2 - Compensation of a Different Kind
It’s rare that a small congregation will have the budget to pay a competitive salary. But small churches can find non-monetary forms of compensation to offer their staff. I know of a number of pastors who blog and speak on the side. Small churches can give their staff the freedom to explore side projects - something that can be far more valuable than a larger salary. Other compensation options are free or reduced rate childcare, a church-owned parsonage (or housing allowance). Don’t feel limited by your lack of funds.
If you’re a small church, don’t be discouraged. Every church, no matter how big or small, has limitations, and God always gives us what we need to do the job we’re called to. Be creative with what God has given you to do that work, and sit back and watch God provide in amazing ways.