For years, I assumed the ministry potential of our church was limited because we couldn’t afford to hire more staff members.
More is better, right? Not always. While being grossly understaffed is a problem, I’ve come to embrace the idea that a slightly smaller number of staff members is almost always better than having too many. I’ll explain a few of the reasons I fight to keep a lean staff rather than letting the team grow disproportionately large—even if we could afford to do so financially.
- With too many team members, everyone has very specific and narrowly defined roles. While these specific roles can be helpful, it also leads to a “that’s-not-my-job” mindset. In the church world, you might have a singles pastor, a senior adult pastor, a worship pastor or a pastor to preschool students. The single adult pastor isn’t likely to be invested in the preschoolers, and the worship pastor probably won’t give much thought to the senior adults. On the other hand, the constraints of a smaller staff lead teams to work together by necessity, creating unity, innovation and a spirit of collaboration.
- More staff members take more time and energy to lead and manage. Just like parenting six children is more complicated than parenting one (at least that’s what it feels like to me), a larger staff has more potential for conflict and challenges. Instead of putting your time into ministering to people, you may end up managing systems, creating policies and solving problems.
- Bigger staff teams tend to get bogged down with communication challenges and are often slower at making decisions. What was once a small and nimble team can quickly become a large bureaucratic nightmare. When a team can’t move quickly, ministry potential decreases dramatically.
- The bigger the staff team, the bigger the payroll will be. While you want your church or organization to be the right size, too high of a percentage of revenue going to salaries limits what you can put into evangelism (in the church world) or growth, marketing and product development (in the business world). A smaller payroll helps create margin to invest in strategic places for ministry return and impact.
- In ministries, a bigger staff often means a smaller volunteer base. When you start to hire people to do what volunteers once did (or could do), you rob your church members of the blessing of using their gifts in ministry. When you stop empowering volunteer leaders, you lose a great source of future staff members and ultimately weaken the strength of your church or nonprofit.
- When a team is lean, people naturally pitch in and are willing to work longer and harder. Once a team gets bigger, it’s easy for people to slip into an entitled spirit. Without realizing it, they may work less and lose focus on the overall mission.
- With a larger team, people might have extra time on their hands. And when they have free time, they often come up with additional ideas. While some ideas can be game changers, doing too many good things might keep you from focusing on great things. A smaller team is forced to stay focused on what matters most and naturally will face fewer distractions.
To clarify, being understaffed creates problems. But being overstaffed does too. When all things are equal, I always fight for a slightly leaner staff to keep the team focused, working together and sacrificing for the common mission.