How to Keep Your Best Church Staff

Ever thought about church staff retention? Don’t wait until one of your best leaves to take action.

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Have you ever lost a good one–someone you thought might be the future of a particular ministry or even the next senior pastor? Ugh. It hurts to see gifted people leave your church.  

It’s particularly difficult to hire great people right now. So, it’s all the more important to retain your best staff. How exactly do you do that? Here are a few strategies I’ve learned along the way.  

Tell Them 

Keeping your best people starts with telling them that they’re your best people.  

A few years ago, I was undecided about the future direction of my ministry career. Right around that time, my boss pulled me aside and said something like, 

I know you’re getting offers to go elsewhere. Look, we can’t lose you! We need you around here. We want you on the team and we have a spot for you in the future.  

I’m telling you, I’ll never forget that conversation. It deeply impacted me and, well, I’m still at the same church and I have no plans to leave. One of the big reasons I’ve remained is that I feel valued and appreciated.  

If you want to keep your best people, whether they are employees or volunteers, make sure you tell them that they are your best people.  


Ask Them

The second strategy is to ask your best people what they want. Here are two questions I ask:

What do you want to be doing in five years? How can I help you get there?  

People want to feel valued but they also want to be invested in. This is especially true of the younger generations. I’ve come to see the value in investing in my staff and their future career goals, whether that means they are part of my church or not.

It’s an investment in the kingdom.  My hope is that every person who worked for me would look back on their time at my church as a season in which they were poured into.

Recently, I asked this “five year” question to one of my best people and they responded by telling me that they wanted my job. Whoa. I was like, “Is that a threat?!” 

I actually took this to be a good sign. My desire is that our organizational culture would be less about competition and more about investment and development.

The bottom line is: If you want to keep your best people, develop them. Ask them what they want to be doing in five years and help them get there.  


Share With Them

There’s something inside of all of us that wants to know what’s going on. We love inside information.

Honestly, it just feels really good to be in the “know.” It makes us feel important.  When it comes to keeping your best people, there is a simple strategy: Share privileged information with them first. 

Here’s what I mean: When you are about to share an announcement with your staff, not everyone should find out at the same time.

It’s the same strategy we use with family or friend news. When you announced your engagement or pregnancy, your parents didn’t find out on Facebook. You told them personally because, well, their relationship is more important.

The order in which we share important information is strategic. Have you ever been in a staff meeting in which an announcement was made, but you already knew the details because your boss shared it with you beforehand?

This is exactly what I’m talking about. In that moment, you felt like an insider. You felt privileged.  Your boss was smart. The way we share information can communicate value to the people who receive it.  

The next time you have an important announcement, consider the order in which you share that information. Your best people should receive the information before everyone else. 


Invite Them 

People want to have a voice. We all long to be heard. When people listen to us, we feel valued and appreciated. If you want to keep your best people, invite their voice into important conversations.  

A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a three day strategic planning off-site with our highest level leadership team. I’m telling you, I felt like a million bucks when I received that invitation.  

Here’s the thing. We often wait too long to invite emerging leaders into key conversations. We say things like, 

They have to earn it.


They aren’t ready. 

Look, if you want them around, invite them in! Who cares if they don’t contribute much value early on? They’ll learn. In fact, they’ll grow in wisdom faster if you invite them into conversations with the wisest leaders of the church.   

If you want to keep your best people, show them value by inviting them into important conversations and decisions. This strategy works very well with key volunteers. The next time your team has a strategic offsite, consider inviting one or two volunteers. 


Give Opportunities

It’s been a few years, but if you haven’t read Growing Young by the good people at Fuller Youth Institute, you should check it out. It’s an important book based on years of research around Christian high school students and their transition into adulthood.

One of the key findings of the research is that students who stick with faith and church in the years after youth group are often students who were given significant serving and leadership opportunities. I believe this phenomenon is true with students and with staff as well.  

If you want to keep your best people, give them significant work to do. Pull them into important initiatives and assign them projects that will stretch and grow them.

People need to feel valued, invested in and also challenged.  Staff who are bored often go looking for something new. If you are interested in keeping your best people around, give them challenging opportunities.  


Pay Them Well

Alright, I saved the best for last. If you want to keep your best people, you have to pay them fairly. When it comes to church and ministry, the compensation package usually isn’t the motivation for accepting a role, but it is often a factor in leaving.

None of us are in this work for the big money, but we have to pay the bills, feed our kids and put tires on the van.  

I don’t believe it does anyone any good to overpay, but I do think it is wise to compare compensation packages with other churches in your area as well as businesses with similar roles.    

Also, when it comes to the topic of money, when’s the last time you gave your best people a performance-based bonus? Do you remember the last time you received a bonus? It feels amazing!

If you want to keep your best people, pay them fairly and throw in bonuses to make sure they know they are appreciated.  

Wrap Up

So, how do you keep your best people on the team?  You tell them how valuable they are, ask them how they’d like to be invested in, share important information with them first, invite their voice, challenge them with meaningful opportunities, and pay them well.  I hope this helps you retain your best people.  

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