5 Ways to Build a Small-Church Dream Team

William Vanderbloemen: “Churches need to find leaders who know how to build teams and develop leaders around them.”

More than 90 percent of churches in the United States have 200 people or fewer, making small churches the heartbeat of Christianity in America. While some might think that staffing and team issues are limited to the larger church, they actually may be even more pronounced in smaller settings.

One bad hire or poorly handled key volunteer has a much larger ripple in a church where everyone knows everyone. As we have helped hundreds of churches (big and small) with their team building, we have gotten to see some key best practices for different ministry settings.

Here are five tips for team building in small churches to make your team the best it can be.

1. Don’t hire until you have to.

Placing an emphasis on quality over quantity is key. It may seem attractive to have a large staff, but I have found that the amount of time given to personnel issues is larger than anyone ever expects. Keep things as small as you can for as long as you can.

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In my experience, people generally hire too quickly, and fire too slowly. That is especially true with smaller churches that are beginning to grow. Keeping staff count low will keep resources flexible and the church in a place of unity. Consider outsourcing some services, such as bookkeeping or administrative help. Smart churches wait to hire until they have to, and then make every effort to ensure that quality always takes precedence over quantity.

2. Hire leaders, not specialists.

Too often, churches look for people who are specialists, but the reality is that churches need to find leaders who know how to build teams, motivate others to action and develop leaders around them.

There are very few specialists needed in church work. Someone needs to be able to preach, and the worship leader needs to be able to carry a tune. Beyond that, hire leaders. They will figure out the specialty skills of children’s ministry, student ministry and other sections of the church’s work. Hiring leaders of leaders will multiply your church’s vision and kingdom impact because they are developing the gifts of those around them. It may take more time and cost more in the short-term, but the long-term payoff is more than worth it.

3. Develop leaders from within.

The most successful small churches see the potential for leadership in their own congregation, and spend time finding and developing those leaders. The great thing about raising people up from your congregation is that you know the cultural alignment piece is already there, and in my estimation, culture trumps competency every time.

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I believe that most skills can be taught, but cultural fit simply cannot be. To measure potential for skill, consider giving a potential hire leadership over a terminal volunteer project to assess his or her capacity for ministry. Depending on the role you’re looking for them to fill, allow them to run a church event, produce an Easter or Christmas service or direct vacation Bible school. By delegating projects to them, you’ll quickly be able to see their leadership potential.

4. Pay competitively (or get stung later).

When you hire from within, you will likely hire someone who is coming to the church from a marketplace position, and more often than not, they are taking a pay cut to join your team. Early hires at small churches come for vision, not money. While nobody in the ministry goes into it for the money, people still have families to take care of. Paying your team salaries that are competitive with market averages is an important part of honoring your staff and cultivating loyalty. And when your church grows and you have to hire from the outside, you’ll be able to compete (yes, it is competitive out there) with other opportunities.

Far too often, I’ve seen a growing church not be able to afford an outside hire because they have been paying cheap labor in the early (and smaller days). Keep up with what’s competitive and pay accordingly. It’s a financial hit up front, but the dividends are well worth it.

5. Pick a niche.

How does a small church recruit staff that rivals the biggest churches out there? Through focus. When a church picks a niche and focuses on it, staff will come who are drawn to and energized by the vision.

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Palmer Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, has a laser focus on feeding the homeless and has become known in the city as the church where anyone in need can receive a free meal. Their team is amazing (particularly given their size), and much of that is due to focus. Their neighboring church, Ecclesia Houston, is focused on providing clean water around the world through their partnership with Living Water. While they are larger now, they have always had a super talented team that came for that vision. Going small with missional focus will yield big-time talent on your team.

If you’re leading a smaller church, keep up the amazing work you’re doing for the kingdom. It’s not easy, but you’re on the frontlines of building the kingdom in America.

Read more from William Vanderbloemen »

William Vanderbloemen is president and CEO of The Vanderbloemen Search Group, and is the co-author (with Warren Bird) of Next: Pastoral Succession That Works. For more information: Vanderbloemen.com