Personnel as a Percentage of the Entire Budget

Every year the question comes up, “Is the personnel budget too big?” Some people actually mean, “Are we paying the staff too much?” and that is a question that hurts. In reality, it shows the ignorance of the person asking the question more than anything – they have no idea what their staff does. But more often than not, the intent of the original question is concern over the size of the staff (number of employees) and is that cost appropriate for our church. Here are some figures that I gathered from my local colleagues regarding their church’s 2011 personnel budgets:

  • 40.00%
  • 53.58% – does not include food service or custodial personnel
  • 48.00% – does not include custodians; church also pays $400,000 in debt service
  • 54.00%
  • 47.80%
  • 52.60%
  • 55.76%

From this data, you can tell the personnel team, inquiring church members, and curious onlookers that a range of 40%-60% is within the “normal” range. Feel free to use this info and share it with others – it might help you from those who feel the staff is paid too much or the staff is too big.

BUT, the real question is, “How much staff do we need to do what we want to do?” That is a completely different question and it is too deep to unpack here. However, I do want to wade in ankle-deep.

Most church staffs grow organically – that is, stafff members are added progressively every year or two as the church grows. This is the normal and customary route. Oh, we need someone to help the youth minister, hire a part-time middle school coordinator; our seniors are feeling neglected, hire a retired minister (he can use the income) to take care of the seniors; our current custodians aren’t cleaning the building well, hire another one.

Let me suggest a better method – strategic growth. Strategic growth is more painful in the short run but far more productive in the long run. Because of the time needed, cuts in staff that result from this, and the ensuing time needed to educate members and implement the new structure, I suggest that churches only do this at most every five years.

Strategic growth, in a nutshell, is when church leadership (ministry council, elders, etc.) looks at the “five-year plan” that every church should have. Simultaneously, the council gets a conservative estimate of income for each of the next five years. With those two pieces of info, the council decides what is the #1 goal for the next five years (that thing, without which, the church would cease to exist) and then funds that with staffing, programming, and building money. The council then decides what is #2 and funds it appropriately and so forth until the estimated money runs out.

When the council has run out of money to fund its strategic plan, all other items on the priority list are cut. That means that some staff will be cut, some buildings may not be built or may be renovated, and some programs and ministries will no longer be done. That is going to please some members and anger others – this is where the hurt and pain come in. You’re not going to please everyone, but you will please God as the church uses its resources (staffing, building, and members’ time for ministries) in a strategic method.

A lot more can be said about this but I think you get the idea of where to go from here. I do feel that if strategic staffing and programming is implemented, you’ll be able to look back and be amazed at how far how fast the church went.

So, next time someone asks, “How big is our personnel budget?” return the question with one of your own, “Are we spending personnel dollars in the right way?”

Lead On!