Why Nobody Wants to Work at a Church Anymore: Toxic Culture, Low Pay, and the Next Generation of Church Leaders

0
7

There’s a crisis brewing in the church that almost no one is talking about: Nobody wants to work at a church anymore.

Very few next-gen people want your job, church leader.

Not only are many young adults walking away from their faith, but those staying aren’t signing up for jobs at churches in nearly the numbers that the ministry requires. There’s a crisis brewing in the church that almost no one is talking about: Nobody wants to work at a church anymore.CLICK TO TWEET

The same reasons that caused up to 42% of pastors to seriously think about leaving ministry are some of the same reasons people aren’t anxious to join ministry.

When you combine the pressures of ministry with church hurt, the hypocrisy we’ve seen too often in church leadership, and the unprecedented access to other work options thanks to the internet, it’s no wonder that the next generation isn’t signing up in record numbers to enter into full-time vocational ministry. 

But in addition to the more obvious issues listed above, two more issues are lurking under the surface that need to be addressed: toxic culture and low pay. 

Even if a teenager or young adult felt called to ministry, the prospect of working in a toxic culture and/or doing so for truly sub-standard wages is a deal-breaker for many. Even if a teenager or young adult felt called to ministry, the prospect of working in a toxic culture and doing so for truly sub-standard wages is a deal-breaker for many. CLICK TO TWEET

As a result, if you don’t at least have a healthy culture and fair wages, the likelihood of attracting and keeping next-gen leaders diminishes greatly. 

There’s no doubt that Gen Z who have decided to follow Jesus are passionate about the church and about ministry, but that doesn’t automatically mean they’ll sign up to work with you beyond an internship. 

Here’s why.

Gen Z is Already Saying ‘No’ to Toxic Culture

Toxic culture has been a problem not just in corporate workplaces but also in churches (here are 7 signs your church culture is toxic). 

According to a recent study about corporate workplaces, 79% of Gen Xers said they had faced toxicity at work, but only 22% of Gen X said they tried to leave that situation. 

Fast forward to Gen Z. While only 44% of Gen Z said they had faced a toxic situation at work (they’re still young), fully 27% reported trying to leave it.

In other words, their tolerance for toxicity is lower than any other generation. Millennials have a slightly higher tolerance for toxic workplaces, but their tolerance is meaningfully lower than Gen Xers and Boomers. 

And so it should be. 

The church should be the healthiest place on earth. Unfortunately, we’re not. The church should be the healthiest place on earth. Unfortunately, we’re not. CLICK TO TWEET

What that means, though, is that it’s far more likely unlikely that young leaders are going to join a church staff team or stay on one, especially if there’s even a whiff of toxicity among the leadership. 

While the necessary clean-up in church culture is long overdue and deeply welcome, what that presents is a potential crisis in our ability to recruit and keep young leaders.

For reasons entirely unrelated to recruiting staff, pastors and church leaders need to get their act together when it comes to creating a healthy, vibrant, flourishing culture. 

No healthy culture is complete without addressing the other issue no one is talking about: pay.

Gen Z Will Say ‘No’ to Low Pay

It’s funny. When you talk about church salary, almost immediately, the dialogue goes to how grossly overpaid pastors are.

I could point you to some comment threads on social where people are calling for heads to roll because of how egregiously large pastors’ salaries are.

You know what?

I think that’s true for about .1% of all pastors. 

I’m not a fan of pastors being overpaid for their work. That kind of largess on donated money is irresponsible and unfair to the people who donated the money, not to mention an affront to the church’s reputation with unchurched people. 

But move beyond the headline and the stereotypes, and here’s what you’ll discover: many pastors are underpaid.

Sometimes, that happens because the staff member has been there a long time, and the church never kept up with inflation or the times. At other times, broke-thinking among the church board or a lack of resources unthinkingly results in very low pay. 

Ratchet that down a level in the org chart, and once you get below the executive pastor level, many staff are even more systematically underpaid. 

Worship leaders, creative arts people, children’s pastors, student pastors, next-gen leaders, small group coordinators, and administrators are often poorly paid at churches. 

This happens for several reasons. 

  1. Their work isn’t valued for what it is. Many of those jobs are complex and require high skill (have you tried recruiting and leading hundreds of volunteers?) People underestimate the skill set needed for many of these jobs.
  2. Many of the people who take on these jobs are women, and women are often egregiously undervalued and underpaid in church settings. Just because a woman ‘used to volunteer’ or is looking for a part-time role as she raises her kids doesn’t mean you should pay her poorly when you hire her.
  3. Some church staff have spouses who work or make a high income, so the church board thinks it should be able to get away with paying them less. No other employer on earth thinks this way.

Women are often egregiously undervalued and underpaid in church settings. Just because a woman ‘used to volunteer’ or is looking for a part-time role as she raises her kids doesn’t mean you should pay her poorly when you hire her.CLICK TO TWEET

Toward a Living Wage

I’ve long been an advocate for a living wage for church workers.

What’s a ‘living wage’ these days? Well, it varies by Zip Code or Postal Code, but essentially, a living wage is a wage that allows team members to have a reasonable standard of living. 

That means a wage that would ensure that no more than 50-60% of your salary goes to fixed costs (housing, groceries, transportation, etc.), with money left over to save for retirement and other expenses. 

If you want to see how much a living wage is in your area, check out this M.I.T. living wage calculator, which updates yearly. 

Poor pay doesn’t just impact who you’re able to recruit next; it also affects the morale and performance of the current staff, adding stress, frustration, and demoralization to your existing team. 

If your staff is chronically underpaid, chances are your current team doesn’t have the best team members either. You’ve settled for who’s available, not who’s best. If your staff is chronically underpaid, chances are your current team doesn’t have the best team members either. You’ve settled for who’s available, not who’s best. CLICK TO TWEET

If you’re struggling with this line of thinking, please rewatch Dan Pallotta’s fantastic TED Talk on why the way people think about funding charity is dead wrong.

While Gen Z is a cause-driven generation, they also realize the odds are stacked against them financially. 

Many have student debt, and housing has become a challenge for most. Their response? They’re financially motivated. 

Many Gen Z have a side hustle, and even more imagine working for themselves one day. Again, I can see church leaders using that against Gen Z (hey, you can earn money on the side) rather than stepping up to the table.

Another Test (That Might Shock You)

Please do the living wage calculations, but if you want another simple test to see whether your current staff is being adequately compensated, ask yourself, “If this person left today, how much would we need to pay their replacement?” 

The answer to that question can be a harsh wake-up call. 

This is a helpful test for people you hired part-time from the inside or for long-serving staff who may have started a few decades ago when $30,000 paid the bills. 

“Replacement value” is a great way to consider how to value your current staff and prepare for the day when your team members ultimately step back. If you want a simple test to see whether your current staff is being adequately compensated, ask yourself, “If they left today, how much would we need to pay their replacement?” CLICK TO TWEET

So… What To Do?

The first thing you can do as a church leader is to clean up your culture.

In the church, that shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s often just a matter of living up to what we believe and the values we say we’re about. 

The Art of Team Leadership course is a complete strategy to get your culture and team performance where it needs to be. 

And, when it comes to pay, opening up a conversation on moving toward a living wage is a great first step in the right direction—not just for the senior pastor but for the entire team. 

While you might not be able to move everyone there overnight, it’s amazing what you can accomplish over a few years if you decide to start paying fairly. 

(And my course, The Art of Building a Generous Congregation, can help you get there as a church financially). 

Once you have a healthy culture and a healthy pay scale, your chances of attracting and keeping the next generation of leaders will go up dramatically. The church should be a vibrant, healthy place. The next generation would run toward it if we embraced that. 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here