Career Mobility ~ Folks are just not staying with companies for fifty years anymore. It used to be that you came out of college, you signed up with a company, and barring some unforeseen change, you stayed until the pension started. Not anymore. Clergy may still stay with the same denomination, sometimes. But when it comes to the congregation, the folks clergy serve aren’t staying with the same company, so why should they? This leads to the next point.
Geographic Mobility ~ While the WWII generation more often stay where they have been, the younger generation is not doing so. This means that, while you have a substratum of the congregation staying in the same church for years, the younger generations are moving. Since the congregations with the WWII generation are tenaciously holding onto the family church with some of their children and grandchildren (those few children and grandchildren who have not moved) younger generations when moving into a new town do not seek out those churches where the WWII generation are – and this is not just because of the antiquated worship – it is because these folks are new in town and will more likely attend church with the other folks who are also new in town. Because those folks who are new in town are younger, this inevitably draws some of the local young folks to those very same churches who cater to those who are new in town, diminishing the number of younger folks in the older churches in town. This leads to a sense of abandonment and irrelevance amidst the older churches in town. It starts a downward spiral towards pessimism and a series of brief (and often failed) attempts to revive the older congregations in town.
We need young people! ~ There are far more churches in town than there were in the baby boom generation. At that time, like housing developments, churches got built, and built, and built. But as denominations were building churches like crazy to deal with all the returning veterans of WWII, social upheavals in religion and secular culture were splitting church and forming new denominations. The same social upheavals resulted in a culture shift away from church. This resulted in a vastly smaller “cliental” (church shoppers) for a vastly larger set of “businesses” (churches) all vying for the same business. Thus, unless you are one of the few pastors able to secure one of the few churches in town that has been able to break into the new-in-town crowd, you are probably struggling with a pessimistic congregation. They are afraid that their grandchildren are going to be heading off to the congregation that built itself off of the new-in-town crowd (and which has subsequently had the numbers to have the energy to hold the programs that it is believed the younger generation wants). This results in a pastor being stuck in a time crunch. He has a limited time period in which to attract and hold the few children left in his congregation and turn the tide so that he can be competitive with the church that has tapped into the desired demographic. He has a limited time period, because if he or she can’t do it, the congregation will find somebody else who can. Why? Because finances are tight!
Finances are tight! ~ While young families have no money to give (or can’t figure out how to fit it into the budget), the older crowd has (a little bit more) money – due to the fact that, even if some of them might be on a fixed income, they probably don’t have student loans, no mortgages, a pension, a nest egg, and an empty nest and have a lot more practice budgeting. Nevertheless, they are dying off. So again, time is of the essence. To repeat, the vast majority of churches in any single town are in this condition, even if they have endowment funds. Therefore, the salary is kept very low to try to make what is considered a finite amount of money over a finite period of time last as long as possible. Add to this fact, the fact that whatever money does come in over and above budget seems to get carefully hidden, for a rainy day or a new roof, lest it get used on lights and heat and… salary. This leads to the next point.
The Pastor’s finances are tight! ~ Because the extra money is hidden away (often times understandably) lest it get used on something non-essential (defined by whoever is determining what “non-essential” means), the pastor, even if growing the church, is not seeing a raise commensurate with the (very difficult) “sales” work that is being accomplished. Although no pastor is in it for the money, no pastor can live without money, especially while paying off student loans and growing a family.
Since the Pastor has a limited time to grow the congregation (to some extremely ill-defined ideal size) and there are limited finances and limited financially-solvent, elderly givers dying faster than your minister can replace them with the desired, and poorly contributing, younger families, the Pastor is really in a bind. Generally speaking, the Pastor has to add quite a few young families for every older member that passes away. That, of course, is the goal. But then, the Pastor isn’t seeing his salary raise in a consistent way.
So the Pastor is left with the possibility of slugging it out in a salary that isn’t, usually, keeping up with inflation; while what extra comes in is hidden away for a rainy day. Or that Pastor can use the present position as a “star” on the resume to get a different ministry, and thereby get a raise by taking a higher-paying ministry. Furthermore, leaving a position will provide the Pastor a much needed vacation – either while figuring out whether or not to go back to school or to take a higher paying position, or a congregation that is more patient, or some slightly different dynamics where there is a greater possibility of success.
It can also be said here that it takes a while in the ministry to figure out that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side. It takes a little while in the ministry to figure out where you are fit. So this, also, no doubt, affects the turnover rate and the average stay, because a Pastor might have a few stints that are short before settling down and grinning and bearing it for a longer stint. Few of these problems are all that new. Nevertheless, many things are happening at a much faster rate – and that includes clergy turnover.
What can be done? We might start with five simple (although not easy) steps.
Think sales, not salary ~ So often, salary packages can be seen to be rounded off to easy figures (e.g. $30k. $36k. $48k.) Here it would appear that the congregation is giving a good safe salary, something that it knows it can deliver, with an (often overly) prudent amount of padding. Certainly, nobody wants to offer something that can’t be delivered on, but what Pastors so often find is that slowly that little extra that they desperately need because the baby needs a new pair of shoes is getting squirrelled away by the congregation for a rainy day. This is all very understandable. The general plan is that when the projected increase, given the Pastor’s excellent skills, arrives at a sustainable and stable level, the Pastor’s salary will be increased. Real church finances, however, are up and down, all the time. Of course, the church board has their area of concern and the pastor has a household to finance. But when the Pastor watches extremely hard-earned (and often very slight) increases in giving go to make the congregation feel more financially secure, the Pastor eventually has to work very hard not to get slightly angry with the congregation and this can eventually and often does lead to an early departure for a higher salary.
Why not say that money given over and above budget by newcomers gets given to the Pastor? This too can be done prudently, safely. For example, what if one month newcomers put an extra $173 in the plate? Come on - give the Pastor an extra $150 that month. The treasurer doesn’t have to divulge how much extra was actually given, but it is going to make a world of difference to the Pastor that month. It is going to motivate your minister to keep putting in those long hours and doing a great job. It is going to be a great incentive not to go searching the internet in spare moments of cynicism looking for a better position. If the next month that amount doesn’t come in, oh well. It is going to motivate your minister to have an even better month the following month. Trust me. And, of course, if you really think of ways to make this principle work, I am sure there is one that will fit your congregation’s specific situation.
Inevitably, if you raise this idea in the church board meeting, you will get met with “That isn’t in the budget.” No. But neither was the extra-giving. And, sure, next month giving from the regular contributors might be down and you might need that extra $173 that a newcomer gave. But hey, you have to ask yourself: there is always a difference between proposed/projected and actual budget, so why is it that, at the end-of-the-year report, the Pastor’s salary is about the only budget line that is no higher than any other projected budget line year after year? If giving goes down, won’t the Pastor’s salary? Then why isn’t it going up when giving is up? It is because the Pastor’s salary is the one constant, constantly flexible and negotiable, constantly low, constantly ready to be lowered again if and when utilities goes up or membership goes down. It is the elephant in the room that the Pastor doesn’t do it “for the money” – but, eventually, your minister is going to need more money (inflation affects them too) so why not have a real plan in place for incrementally increasing it, instead of some ill-defined, pie-in-the-sky, “some [day] over the rainbow” approach. If you have a real plan, it is less likely that the Pastor will leave.
Get the taxes right, don’t tax the Pastor’s mind ~ Clergy taxes are complicated, unique, and important. When the taxes aren’t done right, the pastor pays, literally. Just because the treasurer is a CPA, doesn’t make that individual an expert on clergy taxes. Get with the experts and disseminate the information so that all the church board is on board. Doing the taxes properly and to the benefit of the clergy can maximize a small salary and keep your pastor pastoring on at your parish.
Think Faith, not Fundraising ~ Thinking prudently and squirreling away money is a sound, financial move. A church is a non-profit organization to the government; but it is a Faith-based organization in God’s eyes. A church board can only financially step out prayerfully and in faith at the rate of the weakest member. This is why folks with business backgrounds but without faith can’t see past the fiscal quarter, while a widow who struggles on faith every month to make it can see far into the future. Any such strugglers? – Get them on the church board and listen to them occasionally.
Save it ‘till after the Sabbath ~ There are two points here: If it can wait until after Sunday, don’t mention it on Sunday. That will keep to a minimum the barrage of information that just happens to be given the Pastor on Sunday. The second point is that your minister needs to have a Sabbath and needs a vacation. You should check regularly to make sure that your Pastor has taken one and have a few people in the congregation who run interference. When a member mentions something to you that they are going to make clear to the Pastor, think about running interference – ask them to wait until after your Pastor has had a day off. Also make sure your minister goes on vacation. Anybody loses their sense of perspective without a break and is subject to burnout. You don’t want your minister needing to resign just to get a vacation!
Support your local… Pastor ~ Four words that can make all the difference in the world. Most pastors are self-starters, sensitive and need all the encouragement in the world. Their ideas are not always feasible, but most are, because pastors wouldn’t be trying something that wouldn’t work, because they’ve got the most to lose. What has the average congregant got to lose, a friend in the pew? A tough budgetary meeting might ensue if the attendance or giving is down. What a headache! But the Pastor has the most to lose or gain. So why micro-manage? Roll with the creative energy coming from your Pastor and move forward. You’ll be amazed how much your minister is willing to stick around if the congregation is supportive.