5 Costs Of Having A Vacant Position On Your Church Staff


We say it all the time: “The most costly hire you will ever make is the wrong hire.” However, a very close second is when a church leader waits too long to make a hire or simply doesn't do it at all.

There are many reasons that can add to delays in making a needed hire, like financial issues, vision or leadership shift, a lack of a “talent pool,” or even difficulty that arises because of the time of year. However, amidst these uncertainties there is one fundamental certainty: having a vacant spot on your team is costly to your church.

Here are the 5 biggest costs to leaving that seat on your team empty.

1. Loss Of Momentum 

One of the biggest drivers of continued church growth is previous church growth.Tweet: One of the biggest drivers of continued church growth is previous church growth. http://bit.ly/2bcJUAZ via @VanderbloemenSG

There is something to be said for having a certain amount of critical mass to a movement. Think of the old metaphor of the "snowball effect." As it rolls downhill, it continues to get larger and faster. Church ministry is no different.

There are countless examples of church tribes or movements that have seen significant rapid growth that is suddenly halted or even reversed because of an empty chair. This can be caused by burnout, promotions, transitions, or even through moral failures. Bottom line: churches risk a loss of momentum when there is a key spot on the team that remains unfilled.

Also, smart church leaders should always be asking themselves, what would my ministry look like if I were to die tomorrow? The succession conversation starts internally and requires a strong self-awareness for the leadership team. It also requires a selflessness that allows them to train and build the next generation to lead their ministry. Some of the smartest churches we know are already doing this as part of their weekly ministry goals.

2. Decline In Giving

Some churches hate to have conversations about money, but let's face the truth: we are called to serve in a world where money is a tool and a necessity to do ministry. While you may be saving money on your staffing costs in the short-term by not making a needed hire, the potential financial cost of your empty chair’s salary is unavoidable, especially if the vacancy is in a growth engine ministry of the church.

Take a vacancy in Children’s Ministry, for example. Families won't keep going to a church if they don't feel that their kids are safe, comfortable, cared for, and being fed spiritually. Parents will even make sacrifices on their own preferences on worship and teaching as long as they see and feel that their kids are growing from a spiritual standpoint. All of this equates to growth for the church: if the parents buy in, they will tithe, invite their friends with kids, etc. Bottom line, your church will grow and gain more resources for outreach, building projects, missions, and new ministry initiatives. This is all because you had an awesome Family Ministry with all the right people on your KidMin staff.

3. Loss Of Volunteer Buy-In

With empty chairs on the staff, volunteer buy-in will drop significantly. This eventually will burn out some of your best volunteers. Volunteers have full-time jobs and families that are at the top of their priority list. It's hard to support the church in a season without clear leadership, vision, and direction to the ministry.

4. Staff Burnout

In order for the ship to continue to move forward during a time of a vacancy, the staff members have to take on additional responsibilities or hybrid roles. This usually requires staff to operate for a time in a capacity that is possibly outside of their giftings and passion. While we always encourage pushing staff beyond their self-limiting perceptions (this is where personal growth happens), this can become a huge issue if sustained for too long.

When people are asked to live outside their natural wiring for too long, stress takes over. If you look at almost any major failure - both personal or moral - it always points back to a tired staff member. These seasons of shared duties will always be present in growing churches and ministries. However, when you find yourself in such a time, acknowledge what your team is doing and celebrate how they are joining with you during this hardship to carry the burden of pushing the vision forward. Don't let a vacany go on too long or your staff will get burnt out.

5. Decline In Kingdom Impact

This one is last because it is obviously the most important. The Great Commission and the Great Commandment is why we serve. When we aren’t surrounding ourselves with a team that will effectively help us carry out this task, we are falling short of what Christ called us to do.

Without a clear leader in a role, ministries lag and decline, and it translates to less people hearing about the grace of God. To prevent this, being prepared in case of a staff vacancy should be something that every ministry is always focused on. This can look several different ways: consistently training up a #2 on staff or a key volunteer, writing a clear emergency succession plan, or even writing out a clear step-by-step hiring process. This should be built into all leadership’s job descriptions in some way. Smart churches are developing all three of these processes, and I feel that the calling to ministry is too important to neglect these realities. 

While these five costs are all important to keep in mind when you find yourself with a vacant seat on your team, you certainly don’t ever want to hire an individual too hastily. The burden of leadership requires the responsibility of balancing the costs of these five items against the costs of hiring the wrong person. The wrong hire is a far more costly situation, where you will not only incur these five costs, but also staffing and payroll costs, and potentially your influence as a leader - which is a cost that sometimes can be impossible to recoup.

We always encourage leaders to truly spend time in prayer throughout the hiring phase, seeking God’s Word in the process. If a hire is truly ordained by God, it is impossible for it to end with a poor result.

What are some costs that you have incurred by having an empty seat on your team?

how much could a hiring mistake cost your church