How to Keep I.T. Staff in the Local Church

church salaries

Church salaries and benefits are usually the largest expense category. Sometimes the facilities category is higher, but there’s no getting around the fact that church salaries and benefits consume a large portion of the budget. We are called to be good stewards, or managers of the resources we’ve been provided, so this category of expense is full of “good stewardship” opportunity! One of the most challenging aspects is how to retain good staff over time— especially those in positions that focus on what would typically be considered non-ministry skillsets. I.T. is one of those skillsets.

Typical Approach
When hiring to fill open positions we appropriately look for those who are motivated by our missional focus and who we can afford. We want people who are of our faith— and growing in their faith experience— who are sold out to our mission, and who are well qualified to do the work for which they’re being hired. Some churches consult salary guides, but honestly, most don’t. We also often do our best to hire as inexpensively as possible— again driven by the charge to be good stewards. If we do consult salary guides, we probably only focus on those that are published specifically for churches and ministries.

That can work initially. When someone is applying for and interviewing for a new job, their main focus is to land the position. But how do you manage the transition from a new hire to, over time, that team member in a non-ministry discipline position that has become a key member of the team? There comes a point in time when we recognize that the impact of someone like that leaving the team would be difficult on the entire staff and ministry.

As an I.T. consultant who focuses on Christian churches and ministries, I get to talk with a lot of I.T. people in secular positions and in church/ ministry positions. For those who work for churches and ministries, the most common complaints they share include:

  • Having to work weekends when their friends are off and having fun.
  • The high-stress demands by management to accomplish high reliability and meet new needs without an appropriate time or expense budget for good equipment.
  • The low pay that usually accompanies church positions.

It’s great to be motivated by the mission, but some supporting strategies are needed to sustain the demands of ministry for those living in a world with friends that are not in ministry.

Work Environment
Pastors and those in ministry have many friends and colleagues in similar roles. That’s true for most of us: we tend to grow relationships with others in similar roles and with similar interests.

For those in non-ministry disciplines such as I.T., that creates a sometimes-challenging tension because of the different types of organizations (secular vs ministry) and how they approach I.T. Work schedules, equipment budgets, professional development opportunities, etc, are approached very differently across secular and ministry organizations that employ I.T. professionals. Frankly, churches don’t tend to invest well in these areas for their teams. Here are a few strategies to consider that can help in these areas:

  • Work Schedule. Evaluate your corporate culture and look for opportunities to encourage non-ministry discipline staff to take weekends off. A couple of examples in I.T. would be the use of a larger team that could rotate weekends off and/ or use volunteers that can support most needs on weekends. These would be people who can reconnect devices to the network that have gone off-line, add paper to label printers used for checkin of kids, etc. They don’t need to have network expertise, network admin passwords, and the keys to the kingdom. They just need to help system users keep going in the rush of worship services.
  • Equipment Budgets. Churches and ministries look for ways to minimize overhead so they can focus as much budget as possible on program. That’s appropriate. Consider, though, believing your I.T. team when they say that to accomplish something in their area would require a budget of $XXX. Then for a way to provide the funds rather than saying “That’s too high.” Church and computer needs are more sophisticated than many in church leadership believe. In fact, it’s more akin to configuring services for a convention center. Leadership often thinks, however, that it can’t be that challenging or need that high of a budget since it can be so inexpensive and easy to do something similar at home. This is not a home environment; and the strategies needed to make it work well are different than those used at home.
  • Professional Development. I.T. is a profession whose methodologies are constantly changing. Decide to require and fund professional development for I.T. staff. Insist they attend 1-2 conferences annually. They need to if they are going to continue growing in their skillsets and for refreshment. One of the better opportunities for this in the church IT field is The Church IT Network (http://churchitnetwork.com). They offer a high-quality annual conference every Fall. And it is very inexpensive.

Compensation
For non-ministry disciplines it is important to research beyond surveys of church salaries. To get the best picture of what these positions are worth, compare those surveys with secular salary surveys to ensure whatever salary range you set is reasonable. This chart is a comparison of three 2018 salary surveys, two that are church-specific and one that is secular (for two typical church I.T. positions).

  • Please note the following observations:
    MinistryPay’s and LifeWay’s terrific surveys, like many in the church and ministry field, don’t differentiate between highly skilled non-ministry disciplines like I.T. and all other non-ministry disciplines. Their survey might be helpful in setting a Help Desk, Tier 1 salary, but not much help beyond that role.
  • Robert Half’s surveys always feel a little high to those of us in ministry. However, they are more accurate of what the compensation of these two common church I.T. roles would be in the open marketplace and they get us closer to the right salary range. Especially for someone who is a more highly skilled network administrator, it demonstrates why so many churches have a difficult time keeping those team members from looking elsewhere for income and employment.
  • Starting salaries vary from city-to-city and region-to-region. According to Robert Half, the reasons are cost of living and scarcity of top talent. The variance can be extreme! In some cities like San Francisco and New York you should add more than 40% to these numbers! And we see others like Kalamazoo and Stockton reduce those numbers by about 20%. The numbers published in these surveys should be adjusted for your region accordingly.

This is not to say that a church needs to match the compensation possibilities available in the secular employment arena. Some will say that the ministry component (the I.T. person’s buy-in to the mission of the organization) should override the I.T. members’ drive for higher compensation. Mission should be a strong component—especially in their early years of church employment.

But if the I.T. person— or you can apply this to any team member whose skillset is traditionally a skilled non-ministry discipline— has proven themselves to be invaluable to the organization, then the disparity between the church-specific and the secular salary guides, if any, must be balanced.

That is, if the organization wants to keep the individual on staff long-term.

Recognizing that the cost of replacing a key team member is higher than is the cost of increasing a current team member’s benefits package to keep them, and then doing what can reasonably be done to keep them, is good stewardship.

 

This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

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Nick Nicholaou
Nick Nicholaou is President of MBS, Inc., a team of IT strategists who evaluate, engineer, and support servers, Mac & Windows computers, and mobile devices. In MBS’ private cloud datacenter they host email, databases, VoIP phone systems, SPAM filtering, file servers, and more.