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May 18th, 2011

by Craig Groeschel

41 comments (+ Add)

When A Small Staff is Better

Most church leaders believe that if they had more staff members, they could get more done. While that’s occasionally true, it’s often not.

I’ve found that a smaller staff is often better than a larger one.

Based on my experience, when LifeChurch (or a specific campus or team) is slightly overstaffed, forward progress generally slows. When we are slightly understaffed, we usually take more ground.

Here are my theories on why smaller is often better when it comes to staff:

  • When you have more staff members, the roles are often clearly defined and can lead to “That’s-not-my-job” mindsets. Smaller staff teams are forced to work together and innovate creating unity and a spirit of collaboration.
  • Bigger staffs take more time and energy to manage. Smaller staffs move quickly.
  • When more money goes to pay staff, less money goes to expand the ministry.
  • When more people are paid, it’s easier to stop building volunteer leaders, which eventually weakens the foundation of the church.
  • A larger team might unconsciously not work as hard as they would otherwise.

Obviously there are exceptions and being grossly understaffed for a long period of time is not healthy.

Still, given the choice between slightly more than we need and slightly less than we (think) we need, I’m choosing the leaner staff every time.

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  1. May 18, 2011 at 6:11 am

    100% agree with you Ps Craig… I like that in the 80’s, GE, CEO Jack Welch mentioned that if you get 80% of the people to do 100% of the work and pay them 120% as a reward for the increase pressure and commitment…then you will produce a lean, efficient and aggressively focused team. Love it…

  2. 2Aaron Steele
    May 18, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Good points. 37Signals has the saying (which they may have gotten elsewhere), “Don’t hire until it hurts”. But as you said, if you are in that state too long, that can also be unhealthy.

    I’m curious, how do you make the decision that a position is no longer a good fit for a volunteer, and should instead be handled by an actual staff member?

  3. 3AaronS
    May 18, 2011 at 6:18 am

    II’m curious, how do you make the decision that a position is no longer a good fit for a volunteer, and should instead be handled by an actual staff member?

  4. May 18, 2011 at 7:46 am

    I agree that having a small staff gives you greater opportunity for your volunteers if you take the time to organize and invest into them for success.

  5. May 18, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Thanks Craig for the reminder. I have one full time staff member & 3 part timers right now & you’re correct. We can’t hire right now, but when we can, we absolutely know what they are going to do & until then we pouring into volunteers who are growing like weeds.

  6. 7Don
    May 18, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Like David beign fitted with Saul’s armor before going after Goliath, there are times that the armor doesn’t fit and if you try to use it, you are denying God’s ability to move and hindering your own movement.

    Can’t deny Jethro’s advice, but you can’t do it all by yourself.

  7. May 18, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Well, I think it depends.. sometimes when there are more staff they depend each other and forget to do their task thinking the other one will do it. But in terms of finishing a job, it is certainly faster. More hands are better than one.

  8. 9Melissa Wilkens
    May 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

    I would think that running on less staff gives you the ability to reward staff members with greater compensation (bonuses etc), thus making them feel more appreciated. If you have your resources tied up in too many people, it seems that the work ethic might weaken due to the fact that they may not feel that their extra effort will earn them any extra reward. That being said, I also feel that it is beneficial to surround yourself with staff members who do not see monetary compensation as the only “reward” for their efforts. Every time a hand is raised and a life is changed, I feel that your staff has got to feel empowered and engaged to keep on truckin. I had the honor of submitting by testimony via video earlier this year, and watching my own testimony motivates me, can’t imagine what it feels like to be such a motivator in the lives of so many others! Congrats Pastor Craig and LCtv on the continued success in helping to grow God’s church. Our church is proof that God is working all the time! My family (me, hubby, and 4 children) thank God for you and we love you!!!

  9. May 18, 2011 at 8:53 am

    I like this post as well. Our church is full of unpaid volunteer staff. they love it and we love it. we try to give them a laptop, our time, responsibilities in ministries they are fit for (gives them a sense of accomplishment), etc.

    For me, there has to be a balance of not taking advantage of unpaid volunteers or taking them for granted and utilizing the dynamic of how the ekklesia is for everyone to get involved. it’s why I encourage pastors to do unpaid volunteer work as well, outside of their immediate ministry. it’s a way to set by example as well as a way to keep it fresh and real for the pastor.

  10. 11Heather
    May 18, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I totally agree. Having worked for for two years, we had a staff of only 8 with attendance weekly at almost 3,000. We definately got things done! We didn’t have time to say “that’s not my job”, you just did what needed to get done. I no longer work for When I had my last son I decided to stay home with my children. When my boys get older I plan on coming back. I’ve never worked harder at a job and I’ve never learned more than when I worked there. Best job I ever had! God is Good!

  11. 12Dean
    May 18, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Seems like the inverse is true for volunteers. I find that when we are lacking enough volunteers in the kids services that the few adults who are there get “worn smooth” very fast. Also, when the campus has fewer paid staff, it is very hard to get some action on certain items. Not everything gets handled and it is easy to get discouraged.

  12. 13AaronS
    May 18, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the response, Craig.

  13. May 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Totally agree with the leaner the better. Churchwide we’re about 1-140 FTE ratio. Our individual campuses are about 1-260. Q- what are your thoughts of many part-timers vs FT? We find it hard to get quality PT, esp in the Arts becuase they usually need FT pay and benefits. We’re about 50/50 FT, PT now.

  14. 15Paul
    May 18, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I am a Campus Pastor at a campus ave 150-175. I am in my third year and the only one on staff. Are there resources out there to look at to help determine when I am “grossly” under staffed. When we started with a third of this it was very manageable. I have an amazing core volunteer team but I have felt pretty overwhelmed over the last year.

  15. May 18, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Great post. Thoroughly enjoyed it. We make room for our pastor to teach and teach only. Our faith community is small but we try to do as much ministering as we can and allow our pastor time to lead and teach us well!

  16. May 18, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I agree, and thank you for the encouragement to those of us functioning with a smaller staff. I went from being on a really big staff at a large church to being a church planter and one of the things I love most about my current staff dynamic is that we’re truly a team and everyone jumps in to do whatever needs to be done (all three of us - 2 FT, 1PT).

    It’s tempting sometimes (okay, often) to want to add staff b/c we’re overwhelmed, but I’m reminded often of how amazing our volunteers are and how motivated they are because they know how much they’re needed.

  17. May 18, 2011 at 10:46 am

    I find this encouraging. Not that our blue-collar town allows us to have a large staff even if we wanted to!

    We lead the congregation of 1,800 - 2,500 depending on the time of year with 11 full time staff and 4 part time children’s staff and 2 part time facility staff. Lean.

    We all wear many hats - some fit better than others! ha ha

    Nevertheless - I agree small is more powerful, more cohesive and works faster.

  18. May 18, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Craig, your idea with utilizing volunteers is actually fantastic way to go. It worked for us too, but you have motivated me to go a mile further. Thanks.

  19. May 18, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Craig–We actually did research last year with Leadership Network on churches with “lean” staffs–those churches that spent 35% or less of their budgets on staff. We learned some interesting things (The free article is here: and a copy of the free report is here:


    Matt Branaugh
    Director of Editorial, Church Management Team
    Christianity Today International
    Twitter: @MattBranaugh

  20. May 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    This is very insightful… and I do agree with your theories, every one.
    Thanks, Dan

  21. May 18, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    This is very insightful… and I do agree with your theories, every one. Do you have a general ratio or just hire from a needs basis?
    Thanks, Dan

  22. 24Pat Pope
    May 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I agree with the point about weakening the congregation. I was part of a church that had a large staff prior to going through a church split and having to downsize due to finances. It was really interesting watching how people reacted to not having as many resources as before. In my mind it showed just how much people had trusted in those resources and took them for granted. As for reliance on the staff, people had been so accustomed to the senior pastor calling the shots, many were immobilized when it came to independent thinking and decision-making. They looked to the staff to make decisions and lead the way and often we’re talking about lay leaders with this mentality, not just those in the pews.

  23. May 19, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Yes, Yes, Yes! After planting Activate church 5 years ago and seeing it grow quite quickly, we made the mistake of spreading ourselves too thin with 13 paid staff. We have changed our philosophy and aligned our budget and focus with what Ps Craig is outlining here and it has been the catalyst to greater productivity and fruitfulness. We have less paid staff but better results than ever before.

  24. 27Allen
    May 19, 2011 at 8:41 am

    I find that a larger staff becomes a lazy staff to the members of the church. I hear all the time “just what is it that they do all day?” I follow our staff on twitter, facebook, etc… and they spend a great deal of time there conversing about the mundane.

  25. 28Cathi Linch
    May 19, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Another advantage of keeping a leaner staff is that it allows tremendous leadership development opportunities for the staff you do have. Especially if you utilize volunteers effectively. In’s Financial Operations Group, we have a team of about 10 very part-time volunteers who serve each week, in a variety of ways. It allows the volunteers to use their gifts in a unique form of service, and it allows my team members more opportunity to identify, “hire,” and lead volunteers - an opportunity they might not have if our very part-time volunteer roles were filled by full-time staff.

  26. May 19, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    [...] – Perry Noble How to Follow Jesus…Without Being Shane Claiborne – Rachel Held Evans When a Small Staff is Better – Craig Groeschel God Behaving Badly 1 – Scot McKnight Are People Talking About Your [...]

  27. May 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

    So true Craig… I’ve worked in both environments - large staff (previous) and small staff (currently). Volunteers step forward much sooner in my current situation and I truly believe that there is a greater sense of ownership and empowerment for the church community when you have a lean staff…

  28. May 25, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Craig–You are welcome!



  29. May 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Regarding whether to choose a small or large staff, my thoughts would be rather, which parts of the Body has God given you to use in the various staffing positions. If He has given people who are anointed in administration… Ask where best to utilize EACH one, if He has given team members with the Helper anointing… He would also have rolls appointed for them to step into… the same goes for the craftsmen, the givers, the shepherds, the healers, the miracle workers, those gifted with mercy, teaching, or apostleship,… etc. As far as money is concerned, good stewardship is valid, however remembering that God is our Provider, if He chooses to bring gifted people into the Church, He also would have a way of providing for them if they were called to work there… and He would provide for any extra ministry He would call you to as well. God bless! Debbie <

  30. 33Mick
    May 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I agree with this to the extent that many churches have poor leaders as the senior minister hence small teams in the absence of conscious structured and deliberate leadership is the only way for a church to function.

  31. 34Joshua
    May 29, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Does anyone know what percentage of a budget is normal for a church to spend on staffing?

  32. May 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    Great article! I agree that leaner and more intimate teams get more done and efficiently. I think the US gov’t should take note of this article.

    To the above commenter: 35% of your budget is considered lean. And avg is 45% according to an article link above.

  33. Jun 3, 2011 at 8:03 am

    [...] When A Small Staff Is Better – Interesting [...]

  34. 37StephenGrady
    Jan 30, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    I’ve always had an issue with Churches whose staff is big enough that they are in need of a Human Resources department. If a church staff is big enough that it requires a separate department to take care internally. Then how does it expect to be able to express itself Externally.

  35. Feb 1, 2012 at 7:59 am

    At this point in my ministry, I can only speak towards the function of a house church staff structure, but the level of intimacy with all, or most, hands on deck is amazing and strengthens our overall structure. If God blesses us with growth, or an eventual church plant, I can only pray that the intimacy will hold.

  36. Feb 1, 2012 at 8:25 am

    [...] Craig Groeschel is the founding and senior pastor of This post is adapted from his post on the church’s blog, Swerve. [...]

  37. 40Mark Q
    Feb 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Great points ! Often what happens with larger a large staff is the SILO effect, when the mind set staff wise remains “lean and mean” the mentality of “team” is more prevalent.
    At our church (church plant) one of things that can be attributed to our growth is the margin we have financially to meet needs in the community, this is a result of keeping the staff small and all wearing several “hats”, maybe the new normal huh? who woulda thunk it

  38. Nov 11, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Some great points, we have struggled at times to build a staff (due to having only enough for part time) but the church has continued to move forward.