As difficult as it is for congregations to RightSize staff, it is nothing compared to trying to blow up a building. I have helped congregations and other Christian ministry organizations RightSize their staff, or to deal with what happens after they RightSize their staff and it goes badly.
At best RightSizing staff can create a season of incredible pain. At worse it blows up any sense of unity, spiritual direction, and effective strategies. But, it does not blow up buildings. That is even harder to do. RightSizing staff, if handled badly or involves emotionally unstable staff in the midst of an emotionally unstable congregation, can do permanent damage to churches. Yet, blowing up a building is harder.
Why is this important to know?
In my previous article on this subject—The Essential S’s for Your Next Church Building—I talked about the necessity of addressing Strategy then Staffing then Structure in a journey towards excellent new or renewed programs, ministries, and activities. A key point was that in almost every situation a new or renewed program needs to be addressed in the order of these S’s, with a facility to house it coming last.
Whether you blow it up with an explosive compound, set it on fire, or take a wrecking ball to it, getting rid of a building that people in a congregation gave sacrificially to pay for it is harder than RightSizing staff. Therefore, think carefully before making a capital investment.
I can picture a group of senior adults laying down on the ground or blocking the entrance to a building that is about to be torn down. Phrases like “over my dead body” come to mind. They participated in the original raising or construction of the building, and they know that the same word—“raise”—is also used when removing a building. They are not about to let that happen. There are too many memories associated with that building.
Why Is All of This Important?
First, many congregations have first unit buildings or buildings constructed to meet short-term goals. In many cases they always thought these buildings would not be permanent. Yet somehow they make it onto the list of those buildings which are untouchable. If you have a couple of part-time temporary staff and it is time to step up to a full-time permanent staff person, then RightSizing can be accomplished relatively easy. Eliminating a temporary building is not so easy.
Second, once a new foundation or footprint for a building is initiated, and the building is constructed and occupied, you have it. You cannot fire it. You cannot RightSize it. You cannot underfund it without causing long-term maintenance challenges that create a “pay me now or pay me later” situation. Yet, you can RightSize staff if you no longer need a full-time permanent staff person in this area. Many part-time, even temporary, choices exist.
Third, if built for a single purpose rather than multiple purposes, a new or significantly renovated building loses the flexibility you need as times change, education philosophy modulates to new approaches, and you need the use the building in a different way. Thousands of church buildings still exist that have the post-World War II educational space of an assembly room with small postage stamp classrooms around it that are now primarily used for offices and storage.
If you need a different kind of staff person, that can happen. If you need to retrain a staff person, that can happen. If they cannot fit with the new position requirements, you can replace them. It is not as easy to change a building.
Fourth, unless you are like 20 percent or less of all congregations, instead of like 80 percent or more of all congregations, you are going to reach the point that you have too much square footage under roof, and are having a hard time keeping it up. Membership and attendance decline. Age demographics change. The cost of keeping up oversized facilities drains financial resources, and becomes the focus of your congregation more than spiritual formation and missional engagement.
If you need to go through the painful process of RightSizing staff in the direction of downsizing staff, you can do this. Painful? Yes. Impossible? No. Explosive? It depends. It is best if it follows a new or renewed S that involves a different journey that is strategic in nature for the congregation.
But, you cannot blow up a building.