When Raises Aren't Possible

The economy is still in a hard place; and so are some churches.  So what do you do when you have valuable staff, but you’re not able to show your appreciation with a raise in salary?

Liz Ryan has worked in corporate HR for over 20 years.  Recently, Matt Branaugh from Managing Your Church sat down with her and asked:

What is one immediate thing many churches can do to reward staff, absent of a pay raise or a new health benefit, but might overlook?

Here is her response:

“We tend to think of churches or nonprofit organizations and assume they have a special burden because they don’t necessarily have the cash or fancy stuff to throw around. But even in the big corporations and organizations that you’d expect to have the cash and fancy stuff to throw around, the biggest issue is recognition and the value of employee contributions.

This can come a variety of ways. For instance, it can be as simple as making it a habit to ask the front desk receptionist how to do things better in the church office.

Leadership is free. Management is expensive. Having to watch people on (the management) side of the equation, making sure they don’t do the wrong thing, writing the policies—that’s expensive and time consuming. Leading people the way they’d like to be led, giving them latitude, and really recognizing their contributions—that’s pretty cheap. That’s free.

People know the state of finances. But senior pastors need to understand their situation is no different than any other leader [who is] responsible for people. They say, ‘I’m a senior pastor and I have such limited chips. I’ve got so little cash, it’s hard to talk about. It’s painful.’ And they assume it’s maybe best to put everything under wraps and not talk at all. That’s the last thing they should be doing. Once a month, they should say ‘Hey Jack, you’re a great youth pastor and I hope I tell you that enough. I would pay you more. You know our finances and know we’re not in a position to do it, but I would if I could because you deserve that. Your contribution is massive.’

That’s the conversation you can have when you don’t have the cash. For many people, when it’s sincere, that’s as meaningful as the cash. If people are motivated by soul energy, give it to them!

She also has some other advise for things churches can do for staff when cash is low.  They are good suggestions you should check out.

Has your church ever been in this situation?  How did you handle it?


  • Terry Lange January 14, 2012 Reply

    How about the fact that for the last two years churches are not hiring at all? That would be an interesting read. I know this from personal experience because ever since I graduated from seminary in 2010, I have sent out over 30 resumes with no interviews. I think as the seminaries keep turning out graduates and coupled with the fact that churches are not hiring is going to only get worse. It will be harder for these folks to find suitable employment until something comes up in vocational ministry.

    • steve miller January 16, 2012 Reply

      Have you thought about planting?

      • Terry Lange January 16, 2012 Reply

        I have thought about it, but I am not necessarily wired that way. Some guys can go out and do a great job planting, but I think tat it takes a special person who has been gifted by God in that manner. Seen too many casualties of guys that went out to plant because nothing was available and watched hem crash and burn badly, a couple of them are out of the ministry completely because of theiir experience and disillusionment.

    • Tony Myles January 17, 2012 Reply

      Terry – I’m not sure it’s that churches aren’t hiring, but that (1) They may have the luxury of picking from more candidates than the candidates do to pick from churches (i.e. a “seller’s market” vs a “buyer’s market”), and/or (2) God may want to do something in you through this frustration that will make you a more effective pastor. I’m not riffing on this either… it’s exactly what happened to me. I looked for 2-3 years, and a lot got squeezed out of me. Had it not I wouldn’t be in a healthy place pastoring today. I know that doesn’t provide an answer, but there may be more going on than the answer. In fact, for me I changed the question – instead of “What church will I end up at?” I started asking, “Without a title, office, or church how can I be a pastor to anyone I bump into today? God, how can I please You by loving others today?”

  • steve miller January 15, 2012 Reply

    Wish I had an answer, but all I know is I’m totally stealing the “Leadership is free. Management is expensive” line. Conveys so much of what it takes me usually 150 words to communicate to leaders.

  • Pastor Shane January 16, 2012 Reply

    Bottom line (my opinion) the system is broken. No, I’m not talking politics. I’m talking about our brother with 7+ years of college & seminary to pay for…. and most churches needing a pastor are lucky to pay a couple thousand a month ( with no benefits). Or better yet, churches of 100 people looking to hire our highly trained brother…. knowing he will use them as a stepping stone to a larger church as soon as he has a resume with experience. Can’t blame him because he is so far in debt with school loans. What a mess…..

    • Terry Lange January 16, 2012 Reply

      Glad that I did not have any school loans for college or seminary, but I paid about $30k over eight years to get an M.A. & M.Div.

    • Dennis January 17, 2012 Reply

      So True Shane! The system is badly flawed.

  • Art January 16, 2012 Reply

    On the practical side, I think that churches that can’t offer cash raises due to financial troubles can offer other things as “raises:”

    – More paid time off (doesn’t cost anymore than what a person is already being paid)
    – More Sundays away (if a staff person gets one or two a year, give them a third)
    – More time off during the week (give an extra half day off a week in lieu of a cash raise)

    Churches need to think outside the box, and offer something even if they can’t give cash to show appreciation to their employees.

    • Lori January 16, 2012 Reply

      Amen Art!

      Our church has taken a hit in the economy like many others. But I have only had one Sunday off in two years and haven’t gone home (family is 2000 miles away) for the holidays in four. I would love the pastor to ask me when I was planning my next time away, and then make me go without guilt!

  • Adam February 24, 2012 Reply

    I agee that extra time off is something that does not cost the church much, if anything, financially. If churches cannot afford a raise, they could consider a one time bonus. Since the salary itself does not adjust, the church is not adding to its staffing budget permanently with an amount that compounds on a percentage basis for future years.

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