HR 101 what I didn’t learn in seminary

Date Posted: 11/11/2021

By Lindsay Peyton
Churches are a far cry from a corporation in many ways. Nonetheless, just like in any business, churches rely on employees to function. That means they must have human resource (HR) management for finding, recruiting, training and retaining employees, as well as administering payroll and benefits.
“Certain principles apply, whether it’s a church or not,” Gary Buck, vice president of HR at Cimarron Energy, explained. “You still have performance issues and face growth as an organization.”
Buck has spent more than three decades in the field, working with both high tech and oil and gas companies. He is also a longtime member of Faithbridge Church in Spring, Texas and has seen how that congregation’s strong focus on HR has benefitted the church.
When it comes to HR, however, some churches are yet to realize the many advantages of a well-organized human resources program. “You manage a church a little differently, but at the end of the day, people problems are people problems,  no matter what,” Buck said.
Some congregations may be too small to add a full-time HR employee to the budget. Still, every church employee still must be paid on time and understand their benefits.
That’s when an executive assistant or a member of the leadership team can do double duty and add HR to their job description, Buck said. “It’s about making sure the team has the support they need so they can do their job,” he added.
Then, as a congregation grows, a part-time HR person or HR consultant can be added. The question becomes if it’s better to do in house or hire some help, Buck explained. “But doing nothing is not an option,” he cautioned. “You can’t afford to risk not having someone.”
Teams change and expand
He explained that spending time visioning is key. “You always have to rethink your strategy and end goal,” he said. “You’ve got to know where you want to go and how you’ll get there.”
Teams change; facilities expand. A church philosophy serves as a guiding light – and becomes a strong foundation as the congregation grows.
A policy, however, can become outdated by the time it is written, Buck added. “You won’t have a manual, but you will have processes,” he said.
He recommends keeping records electronically -- with a version date.  He explained, “Each year or so, you can review everything and ask yourself, does that work now?”
Church policies can cover leave, reviews, hiring, placement and termination. Compliance policies that adhere to state and federal rules can also be handled by an HR employee for the congregation.
Write good job descriptions
Three words guide Buck: “simple, scalable and sustainable.” He said that these concepts are essential to putting in place polices that work – and last.  
Regular reviews of policies create sustainability, he added. Small churches might schedule annual reviews, while faster-growing congregations should consider a quarterly review.
“Write good job descriptions, explain to people what their job is when they get onboard,” Buck said. “Otherwise, they tend to drift into what they like to do and not what you hired them to do. Appropriate onboarding is incredibly important at a church.”
Develop both a hiring process and one for job elimination. When churches reorganize, certain positions may no longer be required.
In addition to creating policies and procedures, church leaders should spend time evaluating all employees to offer guidance and recognize outstanding performance. Rewards do not have to be monetary. A verbal affirmation can be especially meaningful. “People who work for churches want to be recognized for the good work they are doing,” Buck said.
Thanking employees for their hard work can help retain them. Pastors, too, have to take time to set boundaries and protect themselves from burn-out, Buck said.
People problems
Clergy also face a “people problem” that companies do not – recruiting and managing volunteers. “It’s a whole different ballgame,” Buck said. “Each volunteer comes for a different reason, and very few people treat it like a job.” Creating guidelines can help, he added.
“Working in ministry is the most difficult job there is,” Buck said.
Pastors are expected to be both spiritual and have business savvy. An HR process can help, whether that’s looking for internal resources, hiring a professional or even reaching out to other successful churches to ask for advice.
“Churches can fall apart quickly, if they don’t do these types of things,” Buck said. “It’s basic blocking and tackling.”