Good churches need good manuals – Personnel Manual


Many churches don’t have a personnel manual or their manual is seriously outdated. And that is fine so long as it passes this test: will whatever you have stand up in court?


Personnel manuals are founded in personnel law which is written by Congress and the Department of Labor. If a church’s manual does not keep up with the current laws, then the church is open to a lawsuit. AND, if a church does not abide by its own manual, then every judge will rule harshly against the church.


A personnel manual is a living document – it must be reviewed every year and updated at least every other year. Not doing that minimal step is a failure by management. Most policies will remain the same such as employee benefits, grievance guidelines, etc. But as times change, new policies must be written and old policies changed.


For instance, most churches do not have a “social media policy” which instructs their staff on how to write about their church and/or boss on social media sites and blogs. Does your church have an updated weapons policy? What about political statements and statuses advocated publicly by lay leaders and staff?


The personnel manual template at has

  • Typical employee classifications which meet legal standards
  • Common benefits for employees (while salaries get an employee inside the door, benefits KEEP employees inside)
  • Dozens of other policies which help churches, their staffs, and their members


This manual is only $30. It is updated annually to ensure its compliance with the latest legal and tax changes.  This manual is a great starting point for churches needing to develop a manual scratch or to update their current one. It will save hours of research and writing. By using this manual, a church will need only to add sections that are specific to their situation and/or remove non-legal policies which don’t apply to them.

Employees Should Pay for Benefits with Non-Taxable Dollars

2016 06-June 14 (11)

The rule of thumb is that you always want to pay for benefits with non-taxable dollars. If you pay for them with taxable dollars, then when you get the benefit, you have to pay taxes on that benefit. Taxes on premiums are always cheaper than taxes on benefits. The best example is life insurance: the premium on a life insurance policy is a few dollars a year (depending on what the premium is and your tax bracket) but that is certainly cheaper than paying taxes on a life insurance benefit of $50,000 or $250,000! Other examples include disability policies and benefits and long-term care.

Health insurance and its related health savings accounts are not, by law, taxable (as of when this post is written). In fact, employee payments for both health insurance and HSAs are tax-deductible and employees should be encouraged to max out their HSA amounts if financially possible (same goes for retirement).


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Overtime Laws

2016 03-March 29 (8)

On December 1, 2016 new overtime (OT) rules as approved by the US Department of Labor go into effect. Actually, most of the overtime laws are over 30 years old. In May 2016 the DoL altered one major component of the OT laws but almost everything else remained the same.


The major change is that salaried employees must make over $47,476 (just round that to $47,500) to be exempt from OT. Salaried workers who are below this dollar threshold and who do not make executive-level decisions should keep track of their work hours. While tracking hours worked each pay period is a pain, it is necessary in order to know if the employee should receive OT compensation.


Some other information about DoL laws:

  • Hourly workers are never exempt from OT
  • Contractors must truly be from an independent company that has several clients and not just an outsourced former employee or two


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Admins as Notaries Public


Periodically church members will need documents to be notarized. This notarization may be for a document required to participate in a church event or even for a private need. FYI, all banks have notary public and people can get a doc notarized at their local bank. But it is often more convenient for the church to provide this service.


Becoming a notary public is pretty easy. Most of the work can be done online through the state agency. Do not use private companies that do the paperwork for you – they overcharge and you end up doing most of the work anyway.  The notary public fees are about $100 and the certification lasts for five years in many states.


I required all church administrative assistants to become notaries public so they could notarize docs as needed. Frequently the youth or children’s ministries had documents related to retreats or trips which needed to be notarized. It was easy to tell people to come to the church and ask for an admin who would then notarize the doc.


I told the admins who were notaries that they could notarize other people’s documents and even charge the legally permitted fee. They were forbidden from charging members a fee since the church paid for the notary public license.


This system has worked well and I encourage churches to take this step.


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Walking Away from Tense Situations

2016 03-March 22 (13)

Church staff face uncomfortable personal encounters frequently. These meetings may be with guests, members, and other staff members. Some of these meetings may get heated – emotions may run high and the tension escalates. It is at this point there is no “win” to this situation. Everyone, especially the church, looses.


Church staff must be empowered and encouraged to step out of the circumstances. They should be instructed that walking away from the meeting (even without saying a word) is a useful tactic to calm down the emotions on both sides. The staff person may need to leave his or her own office and walk outside. I have instructed staff that if the situation is particularly tense, they are permitted to get in their car and leave the church (to go home, to go to a café, etc.). After they have left the church, they are to call their supervisor to explain why they left.


Calming down one’s emotions can be tricky especially when someone has pushed all your buttons and set you off. In many cases, the only or perhaps the best way to ratchet things down is to leave. Leaving is not a sign of defeat. It is actually a sign of maturity – that you’re not willing for the situation to get out of hand and you’re willing to take the first step to calm things down.


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Strategic versus Organic Org Charts

2016 05-May (3)

Staff org charts are absolutely necessary. Every organization, including churches, must have an up-to-date org chart. These charts help all staff (and non-staff) understand who supervises who, where the buck stops, which department has which personnel, and so many other questions. And, as organizations grow and change, the org chart must do the same, too.


Ideally, the church leadership will think about three to five years out and dream about what staff is needed to accomplish the mission and vision of the church. Then, they will put in a timeline of which staff person to hire in which order (as budget funds are available). This planning helps keep the staff and personnel committee focused on its goals and using its people resources to reach those objectives. This is called strategic planning or a strategic org chart.


However many orgs, especially churches, fail to do this. Instead, the leadership reacts to complaints and requests from members who want to have a staff person to take care of a specific ministry area (usually the one the member cares most about). And too often the personnel committee and/or pastor will acquiesce and make that new staff person a priority even if it has nothing to do with the church’s mission and vision. This is called an organic org chart (it is also called a disaster).


Org charts must be intentional and well-reasoned. Otherwise, you may end up with an org chart in which the senior pastor has 10 or 12 people reporting to him; those org charts have the appearance of being a circus tent (which may be appropriate). Make sure your org chart looks well-planned and not like it was created by the monkeys in the circus.


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Physical First Impressions (part 5 of 10)

2014 12-December 27 (2080) Barcelona; Sagrada Familia Passion Entrance doors

  • Marked entrance doors
    • Are the doors you want guests to enter clearly marked? If you have multiple buildings, how do guests know what door to come in? Perhaps some clearly visible wording over the door like “Main Entrance” will cut through the confusion.
    • Regular attendees may enter through “short-cut” doors. If a guest follows a member into one of those side doors, the guest is immediately lost – not a good first impression. Help guests know which doors to use (and which not to use).
  • Appearance of entrance area
    • The main guest entrance lobby should be busy with people and signs to convey an image of an active, on-mission church but not cluttered with “funeral parlor” furnishings. Make the first impression an attractive, warm, colorful visual experience.
    • Word of caution – the furnishings in your lobby telegraph the demographic your church seeks to reach. Your grandmother’s furniture, while pretty, will appeal to, well, your grandmother and not 20-somethings. What does your lobby say about your target audience?


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Church Custodial Management (part 10 of 10)

Custodian and Administrator Responsibilities


  • Custodians have these primary responsibilities
    • Room setup and teardown
    • Cleanliness
    • Maintenance
    • Security
  • Administrators are responsible for the work done (or not done) by the custodian(s).
    • If a custodian is not meeting expectations, the administrator must take action in the form of a meeting or disciplinary consequences.
    • Before taking disciplinary action, it is important to learn the reasons for the poor performance. Sometimes a personal matter can make it hard for an employee to focus. The administrator might be able to help with the personal matter and thus retain a good employee.
    • If the custodian is just not able to do his or her job, release the employee ASAP. Be as generous as you can with a severance package and recommit yourself to hiring well on the next custodian.
  • Administrators are responsible for the morale of the custodians too. A couple of times a year, do something “fun” such as buying them pizza for lunch or hosting a game of pool.
  • Custodians are people but too many times they are seen as tools; treat them as people, not utensils.


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