How to Gracefully Navigate Layoffs at Your Church

Laying off church staff is a difficult time that should be filled with compassion and professionalism. Learn how to handle layoffs at your church with grace and dignity in our latest blog post.

Susanna Fleming

Digital giving apps and tools

No matter how you slice it, church layoffs can be devastating for the affected employees, the remaining staff, and the friends and families of those involved. In order for church leaders to gracefully navigate layoffs, they must approach layoffs intentionally, with a focus on honoring the affected individuals and prioritizing practices that run counter to those commonly found in corporate settings. 

The Pain of Church Layoffs 

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced a layoff on my church staff. I had just started working at a new, large church, and I was grateful for the experience to grow personally and professionally. Just a few days later, my team was given somber news. Due to budget cuts, the church would have to lay off several employees across specific departments. I was heartbroken – and for good reason. Though my supervisors explained that it was necessary for the church to stay afloat, it was difficult for everyone. Especially as a new employee, I experienced a form of “survivor guilt.” Why was I hired as a new employee when other departments would soon be cut? Was this how churches were supposed to operate? I was heartbroken. 

Though I cannot comment on the specific dynamics surrounding this round of layoffs at my church, I can say that it had an adverse effect on everyone. Importantly, we should never take church layoffs lightly! We should always approach these situations with a soft and compassionate heart. 

But what can church leaders practically do to navigate these challenging scenarios? Here are a few tips as you consider layoffs at your church. 

#1 Consider Alternative Options

Many times, organizations let go of employees due to financial reasons and budget cuts. In these cases, it may be common to lay off staff from certain departments while hiring staff in others. If your church is considering layoffs for financial reasons, it is important to look for alternative options first. 

One alternative option is to move staff across departments. If, for example, your church needs to make budget cuts in the Communication Department but is sorely in need of another Children’s Ministry Director, consider asking a member of the Communication Department if they are interested in being trained in Children’s Ministry. They may say no, of course, but they also may be thrilled to stay at the church with a different professional opportunity. Church leaders will likely need to commit a few weeks – and even some money – to help staff transition from department to department, but offering this option is incredibly honoring to church staff and treats them like the family that they really are. 

A second option may be to cut down on other budget items. Perhaps you can curb your church calendar slightly to save money, or you can add motion sensor timers to rooms so lights don’t get left on. Cutting down on other budget items in order to avoid layoffs is incredibly worth it in my opinion. 

Ultimately, churches should be hiring staff because they want them to be part of the ministry team – not simply because they help them achieve metric goals. Church ministry has always been about people, and that begins with your church staff. 

#2 Offer Adequate Notice

In many corporate organizations, people are made aware of their lay off and asked to gather their possessions and leave on the same day. The church should never operate this way! If it is ultimately necessary to let go of certain members of your church staff, make sure that you offer your employees adequate notice, along with options for how they want to proceed. 

Perhaps you can offer a month-long transition so your staff can gracefully transition out of their role while saying goodbye to coworkers and tying up loose ends. To help them find other work, you can offer resume/job hunting support and the opportunity to use some paid work hours toward finding another job. If people desire to transition out more quickly, you can pay people out for the month of work and allow them to weigh in on their own transition timeline. Whatever you decide, make sure it goes above and beyond when it comes to honor. 

#3 Be Honoring with Words and Money

Speaking of honor, you can’t have enough of it when it comes to layoff communication and logistics. When performing layoffs of your church staff, always communicate with the affected individual first before telling other church staff. Honor them privately for all they have contributed to the church, and honor them publicly when the announcement is made to the rest of the staff. This should be the case even if the staff member was performing well or was not a good culture fit at your church. While you can and should offer private constructive criticism, your goal should always be to honor. 

It is also important to honor your transitioning staff financially. Offer appropriate severance that will help affected staff land on their feet when they exit. Typical severance pay includes 1-2 weeks of pay for every year someone worked at the company, but church ministry typically isn’t a high-paying gig. Feel free to bless these employees extravagantly for the ways that they have poured into your church. 

#4 Help Your Staff Heal 

In the aftermath of church layoffs, your staff is likely going to be hurting. Church staff is like a family, after all, and losing members of the family due to financial circumstances can be hard to reconcile. Don’t continue with a “business as normal” mentality after layoffs. Give staff adequate opportunity to express their concerns and frustrations, and provide pastoral support and counseling as employees process their emotions. Understand that “survivor guilt” and fear of losing their own jobs will likely be a common thread among your current staff. This is absolutely normal, but it will take clear, consistent communication and intentional rebuilding work to heal your staff culture. Be intentional! 

#5 Remember Your Congregation

Church staff layoffs don’t just affect your church staff. They also will likely affect your congregation. Particularly if transitioning employees were involved in public ministry, they will be missed by church members. Honesty and straightforward communication are key here. While it may be unnecessary to announce all church layoffs to your congregation, use discretion on when and how you should communicate transitions. Offer support and pastoral care to help the church adjust, and don’t feel the need to sugarcoat everything. Layoffs are hard, and we must sit in the tension of this while doing our best to grow together in faith, receiving God’s grace as we navigate the mess. 

Bonus Tip: Pay Attention to Giving Trends 

One of the best ways to avoid church layoffs is to stay one step ahead of the financial crisis by paying attention to giving trends. A church management software like Breeze can be used alongside accounting software systems like Quickbooks and Aplos to generate powerful reports that will help you determine the financial health of your church. You can also use Breeze to offer online giving and text giving in order to increase donations. By paying attention to giving trends and offering simple, straightforward ways for your congregation to donate, you can help stay on track financially and work intentionally to avoid as many layoffs as possible!

To learn more about Breeze’s church management solutions, click here.

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