Personnel salaries and benefits are usually the largest expense category for churches and ministries. Sometimes facilities is higher, but there’s no getting around the fact that salaries and benefits consumes 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 skill sets. Information Technology (IT) is one of those skill sets.
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 IT consultant who focuses on Christian churches and ministries, I get to talk with a lot of IT people in secular positions and in church/ ministry positions. For those who work for churches and ministries, the most common complaints they share include:
- The work schedule. They have 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.
Pastors and those in ministry have 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 IT, that creates a sometimes-challenging tension because of the different types of organizations (secular vs. ministry) and how they approach IT. Work schedules, equipment budgets, professional development opportunities, etc. are approached differently across secular and ministrial organizations that employ IT professionals. Frankly, churches don’t tend to invest well in these areas for their teams. Here 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 IT 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 check-in of kids, etc. They don’t need to have network expertise, admin network 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 IT team when they say that to accomplish something in their area would require a budget of $XXX. Then, look 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; the strategies needed to make it work well are different than those used at home.
- Professional Development—IT is a profession whose methodologies are constantly changing. Decide to require and fund professional development for IT staff. Insist they attend 1-2 conferences annually. They need to attend one if they are going to continue growing in their skill sets, as well as for refreshment. One of the better opportunities for this in the church IT field is The Church IT Network. They offer a high quality annual conference every fall and it is inexpensive.
For non-ministry disciplines, it is important to research beyond church-and-ministry-specific salary surveys. To get the best picture of what these positions are worth, compare those 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 IT positions.
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 IT 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 feel a little high to those of us in ministry. However, they are more accurate of what the compensation of these two common church IT roles would be in the open marketplace and 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 IT person’s buy-in to the mission of the organization) should override the IT member’s drive for higher compensation. That should be a strong component—especially in their early years of church employment. But if the IT person—or you can apply this to any team member whose skill set 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.
Recognize that the cost of replacing a key team member is higher than the cost of increasing a current team member’s benefits package to keep them. Doing what can reasonably be done to keep them is good stewardship.
This article was originally published in “Church IT: Using Information Technology for the Mission of the Church” and has been republished on XPastor.org with permission. You can find Nick’s latest book, “Church IT: Using Information Technology for the Mission of the Church” at Christianity Today.