Downsizing staff without destroying your congregation

Have you ever been downsized? It hurts, doesn’t it? It hurts the person who is downsized. It hurts their family. It hurts other employees. It even hurts bosses who have a deep, compassionate spirit.

Just think what happens when you add in one more element—a congregation. In this case it also hurts the personal and professional support groups of the staff person. It damages the health and well-being of the congregation. It wounds the image and witness of the congregation in its community context.

When your congregational budget becomes a straitjacket, and it is out of balance, one thing you confront is the possibility of downsizing staff.

Staff downsizing can happen for various reasons. This post focuses on two—economic necessity, and membership and attendance decline. Staff downsizing in these cases happens when unbalanced congregational finances seem to leave no choice but to downsize staff.

Wading into the pool of staff downsizing is stepping into a body of water full of sharks, or a highway in a worn-torn country full of IED’s. There are so many things that can eat you and blow up.

One difficulty is the obvious and not so obvious motives various influential people in a congregation have for downsizing specific staff persons. Typically the staff person they want to downsize is one who is not their favorite.

Staff persons who are the favorite of various groups are often untouchable. Their support groups see no rationale for downsizing them. Staff persons who are the least favorite of individuals and groups are seen as expendable and good candidates for downsizing.

It is difficult to downsize staff on strategic principles and logical explanations; much less on the basis of spiritual discernment. It is almost always based on subjective perceptions and the personality of staff persons, and how large and passionate are their support groups.

Then there is the situation of the staff persons themselves. Their life and ministry issues impact their personal openness to downsizing efforts. This has a direct impact on whether they go quietly or seek to disrupt the fellowship of the congregation based on personal goals and perspectives.

Think through the following questions about staff persons you are prepared to downsize. How old are the staff persons? How long have they been on staff? How vital is their role to the ministry and fellowship of the congregation? Can anyone else fulfill their role? How spiritually and emotionally mature are the staff persons? How co-dependent are the staff persons on their role in their congregation for personal value in life? How deep is their sense of entitlement that leads them to believe they have a right to their ministry position? What is going on in their personal lives that may be negatively impacted by downsizing?

What is the needed and long-term financial situation of the staff persons? Do they have any other sources for various insurance coverages? How spiritually and emotionally mature are the support groups of the staff persons?

Warning! A lot of the thoughts that go through your mind may not be legitimate, legal criteria for who is downsized. Please consult with legal and human resource professionals.

Downsizing in congregations, because they are organisms and not organizations, needs to be done different than it would be in an organization. In organizations secrecy, surprise, and swiftness are too often three tools of the process. Legal and human resource advisors may recommend this methodology.

In organisms openness, trust, and healthy transition are three tools of the process. Healthy ministry demands a process of unconditional love. When a congregation must downsize staff, a process for doing this must be designed, shared with the staff first, then with the congregation, and voted on as needed.

Therefore, everyone knows what process is being followed and what the steps are for the process. If participants are emotionally and spiritually mature, this will work. If participants are not emotionally and spiritually mature, or congregations have a conflict intensity that is unhealthy, this may not work.

If participants are emotionally and spiritually mature congregations will deepen spiritually and grow more Christ-like through staff downsizing. If participants are not emotionally and spiritually mature congregations will reject spiritual discernment during the season of staff downsizing and focus on unhealthy patterns of relationship that demand their way or the highway.

Next: Staff your congregation with 22-44 ministry mobilizers

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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