The Outsourced Church

With all the struggling churches out there, it is likely that some of you are asking yourselves: how much can we cut from our budget in staff expenses, and still be seen as a respectable church?

For example, what happens if your church is unable to afford a preacher? Can you still worship together?  Well, you might turn to “A Sermon for Every Sunday”, a lectionary based resource that offers videotaped sermons by the likes of Brian Blount and MaryAnn McKibben Dana, among others.  For $4.99 each, you can pop one of these babies in the DVD player and project a thoughtful, intelligent sermon drawn from the scriptures for the week.

Or what if your wonderful organist injures her foot?  (This has happened to me twice!).  Everyone knows how hard it is to find a good organist these days.  Well, search no more!  The UCC has in existence a collection of recorded organ accompaniments on CD, covering every hymn in the New Century Hymnal.  Any congregation with a decent sound system can sing hymns accompanied by a world class organist.

When it comes to governance, a lay Moderator runs the governing boards of UCC churches; no pastor needed!  In the Presbyterian Church (USA), a pastor is required to moderate a Session meeting.  But if there is a pastoral vacancy, provisions can be made for a pastor from another congregation to moderate a Session meeting.  In other words, you can “rent” a pastor to govern your Board.

Deacons may be trained to visit and serve communion to the home-bound.  Lay ministers can be licensed to baptize and bury the dead.  These people, while not ordained, may still have authentic spiritual gifts for ministry.

Of course, if you really need an ordained minister, anyone can get a certificate of ordination that authorizes them to perform weddings or other pastoral functions.  If Conan O’Brien can do it, you can too!

Staffing is often the biggest piece of a church’s budget, and many people assume the success of a church hinges on its having a qualified pastor.  Yet, we live in a world where MOOCS* are intruding on traditional education and knee replacements are being outsourced to India.  Churches I observe are moving from two pastors to one, from full time to half time, from ordained to licensed, and from Christian educators to volunteers, all in an effort to lower their costs.

This trend may be both perilous and full of potential.  Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness churches have functioned without paid clergy for many years, relying instead on lay leaders.  Eugene Peterson, in his latest book, The Pastor, tells of his church appointing a cadre of women who took turns volunteering in the church office (in the 70’s).    These models seem antiquated at a time when many households are chronically over-scheduled.  But I wonder if there is anything for us to learn from them.

Progressive Protestant churches want educated preachers and teachers, patient, mature youth leaders, qualified administrators, musicians and custodians.  But how do we attract these human resources if we can’t pay them very much or anything at all?  Should we be “outsourcing” our sermons?  Delegating more tasks to already exhausted volunteers?  Sharing staff with other churches?  Narrowing the range of ministries we provide? Asking professionals to work for free?

What do you think?

 * Massive Open Online Courses

5 responses to “The Outsourced Church

  1. Thank you, Gail, for this insightful article. It is interesting to me that in our little clergy cluster, all but one of the clergy is part-time. The full –time person is Ted Drewsen from Pilgrim where they are cutting other staff time. I think that part-time clergy is definitely the future norm. Jim and I are each ¾ time (supposedly). I anticipate that when we leave Church of Peace, they will go to one full-time ordained pastor with some additional part-time staff. Your article was helpful. Thank you! Jenny

    • Thanks for reading, Jenny. As painful as it is to cut staff, it does compel us to ask: what is most important to be staffing for? Are we focusing on outreach and mission? Education? Are we the only church in town with a choir or a VBS? It might also compel us to talk to our neighbor churches and honor each other’s resources more.

  2. I do think churches have to seriously consider what they hire staff for. If it is to do the work of the church because the members are too busy, or if the staff exists solely to serve the members, then maybe they shouldn’t bother being a church. If on the other hand staff is equipping folks to do ministry, and/or finding ministry opportunities, then their money is well spent.

  3. Good comment, Kathy. I’m in a program style church right now and I will think about that: am I serving the members or equipping the members to do ministry? Most clergy of my generation were trained primarily to serve the members but that approach is not serving us well as membership declines.

  4. This discussion helps many of us in churches where, as Oscar Wilde once observed, “cynics know the cost of everything and the value of nothing”. Granted, clergy and lay staff are not here to serve members and be served; we are not to do ministry in place of baptized Christians in our churches. I’m currently working with my moderate-sized church on engaging with our mission field, where so many of the desired demographic of younger and more diverse families live. If our members won’t do it, our small staff can’t do it.

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