Churches Continue to Increase Lay Staff


How might staffing trends impact the ministry of your congregation? Lovett Weems reports on the increasing amount of personnel spending on lay staff in United Methodist congregations.

As congregations seek to carry out their missions faithfully, they will want to assess their spending on personnel. In that process, they need to address spending that includes both clergy and lay staff. The Lewis Center has been seeking to learn the proportions of church budgets spent on paid clergy personnel compared to paid lay personnel, and we have discovered there is limited information available to make that comparison. Even denominational reports that provide personnel expenditures seldom distinguish spending between clergy and non-clergy staff. However, there is one denomination, the United Methodist Church, that provides sufficient data to track proportional spending by congregations on clergy personnel and lay personnel, beginning in 1989. Clergy includes the lead pastor and any other paid clergy who may serve at the church. Lay staff includes any paid personnel other than clergy, both professional staff and support staff. Both full-time and part-time staff are included.

Proportionate spending on clergy and lay staff

We can see the expansion of lay staff positions in United Methodist congregations by examining how much of total personnel spending goes toward clergy and lay respectively. Spending for clergy went from 72 percent of all personnel spending in 1989 to 53 percent in 2019. Spending for lay staff went from 28 percent of personnel spending in 1989 to 47 percent in 2019. Most personnel spending in 1989 was for clergy, but by 2019 expenditures for clergy and lay staff were much closer to each other.

Proportion of Personnel Spending for Clergy and Lay Staff, 1989‒2019 graph

Proportionate spending on clergy and lay staff by church size

This growth in proportionate spending on lay staff has occurred in all sizes of churches, but the resources devoted to lay staff compared to clergy are a function of the size of the congregation. This chart shows the percentages of personnel spending devoted to clergy and lay staff in the United Methodist Church in 2019 based on the worship attendance of the congregations.

Clergy/Staff Proportions of Personnel Spending 2019 graph

As you can see, size makes such a difference for the utilization of paid lay staff that the averages for all churches mean little for most churches. These averages by church size should be more useful as you consider your own congregation’s situation. You may also want to track some of your spending trends on personnel over the past three to five years to see if there are changes that may have implications for your planning.

Always keep in mind that all the resources of a congregation are there for one purpose alone — to fulfill your church’s mission. All decisions must be made in light of that standard

Related Resources


About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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