Adding workers to your team -who to look for

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I was reflecting further on the conversation from the other day about staff wages, in particular Youth workers and wondered if there was a little bit more to say here, not so much about the salaries themselves but about what they may be saying about other issues in terms of recruitment.

The point was crystalised for me when I was surprised to hear those involved at a professional level in Youth work that in most cases, they wouldn’t necessarily be encouraging a church to appoint a full time Youth Worker.  I was surprised because I would say the same but was worried that this was coming from the someone entering the grumpy curmudgeon stage of life.  My personal perspective, if I’m honest is that most churches would struggle to know exactly what to do with a Youth Worker.  Primarily the focus is on running a couple of youth groups each week, dependent upon the availability of volunteers.  So, you might want to set aside a day for preparation.  There may also be some time to visit families and to facilitate some 1-1 discipleship but should that be on the head of a staff worker or do we want to encourage parents to be discipling their teens? 

Now, I’m not saying that this is how church youth work has to be and so this isn’t intended as a slight on church youth workers. However, I suspect it is the dominant perception and I think most church leaders would therefore struggle to identify how they would gainfully and reasonably use a youth worker through the week. And so, I suspect that if churches are offering lower salaries to Youth workers that one risk is that even if they are offering it as a full-time job, they don’t actually, in their thinking envision it being full time.  They are primarily looking for someone to be available to run something for a few hours each week. The salary, bluntly is a kind of retainer to guarantee their availability.

There is, I think one exception to this and that’s where a Youth worker is primarily a missional worker, an evangelistic with a generational focus.  In those cases, such an outreach worker would in the past have given their time to doing things like going into schools as well as identifying when and where young people tended to congregate during the week and identified ways to connect for the Gospel. These might include functioning in a Street Pastor type role, opening up additional youth activities, using the church building as a kind of community/youth centre on evenings during the week, running sports type activities in the park on a Saturday/Sunday.  Even with such a role, there is still the question of needing more than one person involved.  For those reasons, I suspect that those in those kinds of roles today tend to be linked to specific charities/missions rather than attached to one church.

One thing that came up in discussions was that whilst a salary of £23k might be on the low end but not that far off what is being offered to graduates in their 20s, the difference is that a graduate engineer, teacher or junior doctor is unlikely to stay on that salary. They will progress up the pay scale.  It’s important then for both church and potential employee to talk not just about the starting salary but reviews and pay-scales. 

It also means that if a church says that it is aligning itself with, for example, the teaching pay-scale, then it needs to make sure that it is doing that, aligning to the main-scale, not just aligning to entry level salary.  However, what tends to happen is that the youth worker gets taken on at a certain salary and stays roughly at that level for the foreseeable future. This doesn’t help with longevity because what supports a 22 year old doesn’t necessarily support a 35 year old with kids.

I suspect that part of the reason for this is that when churches recruit youth workers, it is actually a young worker that they want. In other words, it’s partly because they think that the older leaders in the church can’t relate to young people and partly because they simply want an extra body with some energy to be around.  They don’t expect the person to stay in post as a youth worker for more than a few years before moving on to other things. 

Coming back to the responses of youth work professionals, one person suggested that instead of a youth worker, they’d encourage churches to appoint a “families worker.”  This raises other questions for me. Isn’t the pastor a families worker? Shouldn’t his concern be with all generations in the church, shouldn’t he be spending time with parents helping them to know how to disciple their children? Isn’t he likely to be asked to go into schools to take RE lessons and assemblies or serve as a Governor?  Whisper it quietly but I can’t help thinking that what we mean when we say “appoint a families worker” is (in complementarian speak), the church would benefit from having women on its full time staff team. I have no problem with this but I think we should be open about that.

This leads me into my views on appointing staff. I’ve already mentioned in previous articles that I believe that churches best appoint workers relationally,  They do well to appoint people who are known to them because they are members of the church already or are recommended by other rusted church leaders.  This means that we start not with the role but with the person.

There is a good, common grace principle here. Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” argues that you should get the people you want on the bus first and then work out where to sit them. In other words, we decide whether a person’s gifts mean that we should be calling them into full time church work, if we should be finding ways to free them up from other pressures. Then we should respond as a team to specific needs and gaps looking on a case by case basis at whose gifts, experience and temperament best fit them to that need.

There are two implications to this. First, I wouldn’t start by attempting to over define the need. In fact, whilst there are models about staff to member ratio, I’m not even convinced that we even wait for a perceived need. Indeed, growth focused recruitment means we’ll be responding because we recognise that this or that person should be freed up for particular service.

Secondly, we keep job descriptions for recruitment reasonably wide and generic.  We don’t look for specialists. That’s partly because most churches don’t have the luxury of employing specialists, they need people who can roll up their sleeves and get involved where needed. It’s also because, in my opinion, we don’t sub-contract ministries to staff. We want the church body to be serving in ministry.  So, the job of the worker is primarily to help envision, equip and multiply workers, whether that’s into youth work, seniors ministry, community projects or whatever.

So, the questions are

  1. Is there someone in your church who should be serving in full time, church based Gospel work?
  2. How can you make that possible?
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