Recent Research Quantifies the Nature and Scope of Lay Staff Ministry

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The growth of lay staff in congregations across denominations is a significant trend shaping the way churches engage in ministry and the way people experience church on the front lines of local ministry. In order to understand this development more fully, Dr. Ann A. Michel, associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, set out to answer two questions within her denominational context: “How many lay staff work in United Methodist congregations?” and “What do they do?” Although more research is needed to understand this trend fully, this research revealed important aspects of the changing profile of church staffing.

The percentage of total church expenditures spent on non-clergy compensation has grown consistently over the past two decades.

  • Many lay staff serve the church. It is likely that there are at least 40,000 part-time and full-time lay personnel in United Methodist churches.
  • The numbers are growing. Denomination-wide, the percentage of total church expenditures spent on non-clergy compensation has grown consistently over the past two decades. In 2009, the denominational average was 19.6 percent. In every size category studied, and in the denomination as a whole, that percentage had grown consistently since 1989 when records were first kept and the percentage was 14.6 percent.
  • They serve in churches across a wide size range. While it is true that very large churches tend to have very large staffs, the lay employees of churches with attendance over 1,000 account for only about 12 percent of lay employees denomination-wide. These very large churches actually have fewer lay staff (and fewer clergy) per worshiper than in other size categories studied. About half of lay staff work in churches with attendance of 350 or more and half in smaller churches.
  • Most lay staff work in program areas. While church administrative and support services account for 35 to 39 percent of lay staff in the churches studied, a larger group of lay staff serve in program ministries. Five specific categories of ministry generally account for the highest percentage of lay workers – children’s ministry, office administration, music, facilities, and youth. In churches with more than 500 attendance, children’s ministry and office administration top the list, each accounting for just under 20 percent of total staff. In smaller churches, music personnel are usually the largest category.
  • Lay staff are predominantly part-time except in very large churches. One notable difference in churches with attendance over 1,000 is the percentage of staff working full-time. Based on survey responses, 74 percent of staff are full-time in the largest churches compared to around 45 to 50 percent in other churches with attendance above 350 but less than 1,000. Women are much more likely than men to work part-time, particularly in larger churches.
  • Lay staff are predominantly female. Women make up about 70 percent of lay staff.
  • Lay staff tend to come from the congregation they serve. About 60 percent of lay staff were members of the congregation they served before being hired.
  • Most lay staff do not have formal theological education.
  • Salaries for lay staff are notably higher in larger churches. The salaries of most full-time lay staff surveyed in 2010 fell in the range of $30,000 to $50,000 a year. The pay scale is notably higher in churches with average attendance above 1,000 where 31 percent made more than $50,000.

To view or download the full report LayStaff_2011Report

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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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