One thing is for certain at each of our churches…we hope for our ministries to grow. However, growing ministries can put a strain on understaffed ministries. That is especially true when the growth in the ministry takes place quickly. Most churches will praise the work, energy, and effort that the staff have put in to growing the ministry, but we often miss how difficult it can be to maintain and sustain the growth or levels of participation that are higher than we are staffed for.
Think about carrying a heavy object. We might be able to lift it and carry it for a distance, but eventually, our arms and legs get tired. We might take a break and set that object down for a bit, before carrying on. We might realize it’s just too heavy to carry. Or, with a deep breath, we’ll lift and give it our all for another short distance until we’re simply exhausted.
Ministry can be quite similar for children’s and youth ministry staff. Many church staff can lead a ministry for a season under the strain of growth or at higher levels than other churches, but one of two things will often happen. These two results are quite predictable. First, the ministry may simply level back out to what would be a normal level of participation. For children’s ministry it is normal for one full-time staff person to sustain the engagement of about 75 children. And for youth ministry one full-time staff person can sustain about 50 youth engaged in the ministry. Or, the staff will get burned out, disengage, or even resign from their current position. It’s typically not a question of IF this will happen, but WHEN will it happen.
The good news is there is a way that leads to better results.
Keeping normal participation levels in mind provides us with a tool to manage and communicate what can reasonably be expected from the ministry, but it also provides us with a way to think and plan strategically for our future staffing needs.
Using these norms, we can build a strategic staffing plan (check out this template). A strategic staffing plan helps us to share with church leaders, pastors, and staff that “this is how it could be” to support the larger number of children and youth the ministry is currently seeing involved. By creating clarity about how many children or youth we can faithfully structure our church staff to support the current and future needs of the ministry. By planning ahead, projecting for growth, and thinking about our future staffing needs we are poised to prepare for the growth of the ministry rather than react to something that has grown out of hand.
A strategic staffing plan also allows us to acknowledge when the church is being the best stewards of the gifts that God has given the church. Certainly, there may be a season in which God gifts the ministry with more children or youth than the church can faithfully sustain. It is in this place, we were are grateful for the work that we are blessed to do, but also, by using the norms above, have conversations with church leaders about healthy expectations the ministry and agree on the number of children and youth that we are prepared to serve.