In the church, there seems to be an expectation that the bigger you are the more staff you need. It seems obvious enough, doesn’t it? More people equals more work ipso facto we need more staff. It’s just obvious, isn’t it?
Well, at the risk of upsetting yet another tranche of Christendom, I am here to say not. Not only do larger churches not need more staff, they are specifically the churches that need fewer. In fact, if your large church insists it needs lots of staff because it is large, it is not a sign of great success but abject failure.
There is something called the Inverse Care Law that I have mentioned before. It says there is a disparity in health needs between deprived and affluent communities whereby deprived communities need more doctors to address the deeper set health needs. However, time and again, well-paid middle-class doctors go to affluent places so that the places with fewest medical needs get the greatest number of doctors whilst the places with the deepest and most ingrained medical needs get fewest of all. The principle ought to be that most doctors go to the places of greatest need, but they routinely go in large numbers to where there are the least because it is where they would prefer to live and work leaving deprived places to languish further.
I have explained before how the church mirrors this situations almost exactly. John Benton recently argued that something similar is happening with the dearth of pastors being trained for local church ministry. Fewer people are going into ministry and those that do are tending to go to larger churches who are making room for two, three or more pastoral roles alongside an ever growing number of staff. These are, after all, the churches that can afford to take them on.
But here is the thing. Appointing staff to do a role is an admission that you have nobody within your congregation to do it. Now, if your church has 10 or 20 members in a deprived community, it is highly probable that you don’t have people to do certain things. You have a greater number of needs on your doorstep, a greater number of pastoral issues to address, and far fewer people within your church who could take them on. It seems to me a reasonable admission from a small church that we don’t have the people to address the need within the community, to take advantage of the evangelistic opportunities, to disciple effectively those within the church and so they may well need a staff team of three or four people to meaningfully do these things. This is especially true in matriarchal working class communities and in ethnically diverse settings – particularly those with high numbers of South Asian Muslims – where the male pastor is simply unable to engage with the women who are available in the community and are the gateway to family and community life. A pastor and a women’s worker are hardly luxury items.
But a church of 200 or 300 members appointing staff is simply admitting that they have nobody within their congregation who can do any of these things. But what does that say about either the health of your massive membership or the value of your training as a church? If, out of 300 people, you can’t scare up an elder, what on earth are you doing? If, out of 300 people, nobody is engaging with your community, why not? If, out of 300 people, no women are capable of talking to other women pastorally, it begs a whole host of questions none of which reflect well on your church.
What we are saying is our church has nobody suitable in its ranks. If you are a small church, that is not unreasonable. Maybe you don’t because you simply lack people. But if you are a larger church, you are still saying you have nobody suitable amongst your 300 people so that you must employ someone externally. Which begs the question, why have none of your 300 people managed to engage people in your community, why are none suitable for ministry or any kind, why do they not want to do it, why has your training not got anybody to a rudimentary standard of reaching out and basic levels of teaching the Bible?
If you are a larger church who is aware that your people are capable of doing such things, what exactly do you need extra staff for? If you have two services on a Sunday, for example (and you don’t have to do), if your pastor is preaching one, can’t other people in the church preach? Indeed, isn’t the second service (if you have one) a good opportunity to train people to preach such that you don’t need to bring in staff for that purpose? If you have godly women in your congregation already, who are able to disciple other women, what do you need a paid women’s pastor for? The same, incidentally, goes for second pastors who will take up pastoral strain from the main teaching pastor if other men in the church are actually discipling other men. The same goes for pretty much any other area of church life. The question is this: what are your members doing? If they’re all incapable, why hasn’t your church trained any of them to do it? If they are capable and are doing it, why do you need more staff?
In the end, if staff are appointed to do everything, what are the members doing? That isn’t to say there are no full-time roles there for people to do. That isn’t to say having staff is wrong or bad of itself. But it is to say, smaller churches with fewer members are likely more in need of staff than big churches with many members. Smaller churches in deprived communities, with deeper material and spiritual needs amongst them than many larger more affluent churches, may well be in need of more hands on the ground to get going. Appointing staff is an admission that the church cannot, amongst themselves, fulfil a role. That, of itself, is not wrong or bad. But the reason the church cannot fulfil the function amongst its members might be. The bigger our church, the greater number we have among our members, the more significant those questions become. What are our members doing and why are none of them capable?