puzzle dollar

Let me be clear at the outset that I’m a huge fan of using money to pay staff. By all means, pay people well if you can. Do it. Do it. Do it.

However… that’s not always possible.

When we started New Vintage Church, saying we had no money to do so was being kind. Someday, perhaps, I’ll be able to tell the whole story of how poor our church has been. For now, just take my word for it. For a number of reasons, we began with four full-time staff…and virtually no money. When you have no money with which to pay four full-time people, you have to get really creative and prepare for the potential of stormy waters. Indeed, the waters have been rough at times–but our team survived–and still loves each other–by God’s grace. I attribute this fully to God–His provision and His work in the hearts of people willing to lay it on the line for His vision.

Because many churches are having difficult times financially, some staff have been without raises for years. Many have taken major pay cuts or been laid off. I’d like to submit the following practices as ways to pay your staff without using money. When there isn’t enough money to go around, when there can’t be raises this year, etc.

There were some practices that have allowed us to not only survive but maintain a generally happy atmosphere of ministry for nearly 18 months now. These practices were not forced. They were part of our ministry philosophy that came in hand and were emphasized when circumstances dictated such. There are others, but there are two primary: Freedom in ministry and flexibility.

Freedom in Ministry. For most ministers, this is the Holy Grail. Providing an environment in which the minister can truly use their gifts to the full is crucial to a church’s success. Such an environment maximizes the capacity of contribution for each minister. However, it also adds to high morale and staff continuity. It provides a framework for thriving. This raises the inevitable question, “What about accountability?”

Most churches I know spend a lot of time worrying about how to hold staff accountable and very little worrying about how to provide a culture of ministerial freedom in which the staff can really thrive. Providing accountability is so much easier than providing a healthy staff climate it’s disgusting. It’s an important question I discuss below, but don’t start there. Start with a foundation of freedom.

Most pastors would trade a little less money for more freedom. How about money and freedom? 🙂 Well, when money runs short, freedom keeps staff morale high. In my experience, there isn’t enough money you can pay to make staff thrilled to be in a stifling ministry environment. If you find someone purchasable for such an environment, fire them before you hire them. Look for those in it for God’s fame and the love of the game.

Flexibility. 8-5 hours may still be beneficial in many ministry contexts, however, having some degree of flexibility also matters a lot to ministers. At New Vintage Church, ministers are more leaders than doers, and thus their “work product” is more the conception and delivery of projects than the doing of the project itself (though it includes some of that, as well). This work style doesn’t require being in an office, which is good for us–since we have had none, until last week.

The best way to hold people accountable for work product is to make sure everyone has some fixed projects that occur every week and workflow is rapid enough. Also, there should be regular meetings for syncing up and updating progress on projects communally. We had 2, 2-hour meetings per week (Monday and Thursday), and Sunday, we are all together for roughly four hours. That’s eight hours a week concrete. Other than that, the rest all happened ad hoc and on the go. There was a lot of twittering, a lot of emails, a lot of text messaging. This allowed for a lot of flexibility for staff to do their work at times convenient for they and their families. When the money gets tight, allowing people to keep family life strong through accessibility is huge.

How did the work get done? In our ultra-flexible days, work product was enforced by forced deadlines (like Sunday at 10am), communal deadlines (we need that by next Monday) and status updates we call “the rounds” at our twice-a-week meetings. As we’ve gotten larger, we’ve increased our structure a hair. We meet more regularly, and have set some basic but lean office hours. We want to stay non-facility focused, and keep some freedom and flexibility to our staff culture.

If you think this is crazy, check out EastLake Church. They are a church of over 5,000 that has no church office and no phone number.

If your staff is tech-savvy, intrinsically motivated, and likes each other…flexibility is a great way to pay your staff without using money. It’s also the way the world is heading.

Freedom…well, it’s just right.

Thoughts? Any thoughts or questions on freedom and flexibility?