Turnover Is Not Just A Pastry

Turnover is a fact of life on a church staff. We’ve witnessed it. We’ve managed it. We’ve caused it. It need not always be viewed negatively–desperate efforts to prevent people moving on can actually be harmful. Our church staff will probably never arrive at that state of stasis where everyone is in place forever, and we probably don’t want it to.

Churches should be places people want to work for a long time. That has been true of all the churches I’ve served, fortunately. My current congregation celebrates service anniversaries every month, and it is not unusual for people to eclipse 15, 20, even 30 years. That is a terrific sign of health, right?

Advancement within the church makes longevity possible and can work wonders, both for staff and for the congregation. I know people who have worked at the same church for over a decade and whose job there has changed and grown to meet emerging programming needs, as well as expanding skills and experience. What’s not great about that?

And yet lots of people will work at a church for five years or less and then move on. This is particularly common for people responsible for youth and children’s programming. This need not always be seen as a bad thing. Regular turnover in church programming roles can be a sign of health and vitality. Churches can intentionally develop staff with the expectation that they will outgrow their position, and then can bless and celebrate them when they get an opportunity somewhere else with a different, or bigger, role.

That won’t make it easy to watch them go, and it shouldn’t; churches are communities, and “roles” are people we love and care about. Blessing and celebrating involve grieving. A sad staff parting is probably a good sign, confirmation that we did good work together and could yet do more. That we’re choosing not to is both sad and promising at the same time.

For me, it matters a lot that churches invest heavily in developing the capacities of people on our staffs with the expectation that we may be developing them for something else, something we will never see.

Note: all of this to say that I’m saying goodbye to my church’s Senior High Coordinator this week. She was here before me and made my transition here easier in big and small ways. She has been personally generous and professionally excellent, and our staff will be diminished without her. What she is moving on to, though, is going to be amazing. I was introduced to one of her new colleagues last month who said to me, “Thanks for getting her ready of us.” I could only answer, “She was ready before I ever met her.”

Go with God, Shelley

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