How Important Is Staff Morale?

(Ways to Keep Staff Inspired, Motivated, and Team Players)

by Danny Von Kanel

Church staff across America are experiencing morale problems. “In a recent report of the issues involved in redirecting churches for effective ministry, churches who had experienced a turnaround in attendance, finances, purpose, and/or spirit were asked about issues that required a turn-a-round. Thirty-two percent of 761 responses involved morale.1 Though this is related to congregations in general, staff morale is closely related and is equally menacing.

Yet, the issue is probably more severe with staff members than this survey suggests. Staff members are less likely to mention their low morale unless they can do so without fear or without feeling their senior leader will view them as a spoilsport or an unappreciative staff member.

Why is staff morale in many churches so devastatingly low? It is related to one or more of the following: ministry control, money gaps, and congregational silence.

Ministry Control

Many staff members feel they do not have freedom to lead their ministry as God leads. Invariably — as they naturally should pass everything they do by the senior pastor — if it does not fit in his vision, he alters it or scraps it altogether. Some pastors will not kill the idea initially but will simply not assist staff members in promoting the idea. Staff members understand that unless the pastor gets behind something, it will not fly with the congregation. When a staff person does implement the ministry idea and it fails, his morale sinks.

John wanted his church to be the host for a contemporary Christian concert. Approaching his pastor he thought it would be an easy sell — its cost were minimal and the calendar was free. To his surprise, his pastor said he really did not see the benefit of a Christian concert to the spiritual growth of teens and said no. John left his office devastated. Morale took a nosedive.

Staff persons can experience tension regarding the senior pastor: on the one hand they know they should and are expected to follow his or her leadership. On the other hand, they may sense God’s leading to do ministry that may or may not fit into stated pastoral goals or views of ministry. This frustration impacts staff spirits.

What to do … if you are a staff member

Astaff member who deals with ministry control has several options:

1. Put the frustration behind and start nurturing a relationship with the senior pastor. The closer the relationship, the greater chance he will allow you to do what you sense as God’s leading.

2. Go overboard in supporting your pastor’s vision. His vision may indeed be what God desires. God is not going to lead two church leaders in the same church to have opposite dreams for ministry.

3. Leave. If you cannot live with your pastor’s decisions, make plans to find another place of service. To stay and fight is suicide. It is a lose-lose situation — for your church and you.

What to do … if you are a senior pastor

A pastor who senses a drop in morale among staff should:

1. Find out why. Schedule a meeting with staff and ask. Assure them of no repercussions for their honesty. Address their concerns.

2. If your vision is different from your staff, reiterate why you feel as strongly as you do. If it is something you can live with, allow your staff to pursue their dreams for ministry. Better yet, help them promote their dreams from the pulpit and with hands-on help.

3. If you and your staff are diametrical opposed to the direction the church is going, help them see why you differ and explain that you cannot continue to pull against each other. Help them make the transition to a new place of ministry, giving your blessing and recommendation. Avoid, if at all possible, dismissing a staff member. No church has ever escaped the negative windfall that comes from firing a staff member.

Money Gaps

Money becomes a demoralizing agent when staff members perceive that the church is not meeting their needs financially and is simultaneously paying the pastor exorbitantly. Most churches pay their pastor anywhere from $13,000.00 to $50,000.00 more than other staff. This is particularly upsetting when a staff member serves over and above what’s expected during an interim period without a pastor, and when a new pastor comes, he comes in with a substantial increase over the previous pastor’s package. Added to this is the practice in many churches of giving percentage raises. Such raises only widen the gap between a pastor’s salary and other staff members.

Staff members are usually silent in this area because to say anything is to come across looking like an ingrate, unappreciative, and only interested in money.

David, in his late 40s, experienced these feelings when he did all of the pastor’s duties during an interim period — preaching, visiting hospitals, and administrating the office, without any additional pay. When a new pastor came, who was less than half David’s age, the pastor’s package jumped from $66,000 a year to $72,000, over $30,000 more than David was making. Morale plummeted for David.

What to do … if you are a staff member

1. Make sure you are happy with the salary package you are paid before accepting the position. You come across looking like sour grapes otherwise. Jesus even had words to say about this (Matthew 20:1–16).

2. Request a raise. Do your homework and point out how you have impacted the work of the church. Your pastor will need to be your advocate and mouthpiece so the better your relationship the better your chances of a raise.

3. Money is not everything. Take time to write down all of your ministry successes and reflect on them — celebrating God’s blessing on your work. Remind yourself that you are rich when considering all that God has done for you.

4. Leave. If you cannot deal with the discrepancies in salary packages, it would be best you find somewhere else to serve. But know, that no matter where you go, the senior pastor will always be paid more.

What to do … if you are the senior pastor

1. Your staff will never tell you they think you make too much more than them. Just know that if your total package is $25,000 or more above staff members, it could become an issue with them. Recognize this possibility.

2. If your church gives percentage raises, seek to end that practice. Instead, lead the church to embrace merit raises. Work for staff raises.

3. Become knowledgeable of staff financial needs. Hospital bills, doctor visits, and unexpected expenses can add up and devastate a staff member’s budget. Also, if money is tight with you, what do you think it is with your staff?

Congregational Silence

Congregations vary in how well they complement their staff. The pastor sets the pace and example for this to happen. When a staff worker works tirelessly serving the congregation but seldom gets affirmed publically or privately, and is constantly criticized, morale drops.

Some churches, unfortunately, see church staff as hired help and not God-called ministers. That being the case, you are paid to do what you do. The laity are volunteers and are quick to affirm each other. Staff members have no such luxury.

Debbie worked well with our children. Many unique and successful children’s activities had happened under her leadership. Yet, she confided in me that not a single person had ever thanked her or told her she was doing a good job. The congregation was silent on her work. Her motivation for continued service was at an all-time low.

What to do … if you are a staff member

1. Recognize that churches may or may not affirm your work. Accept that and understand that God’s approval is present and that your reward is being earned in heaven.

2. Set the example by affirming publicly all who work under you in ministry. What goes around comes around.

What to do … if you are the senior pastor

1. Churches take on the personality of their senior pastor. If you publically and privately compliment your staff, the congregation will begin to affirm them also.

2. Though staff recognize they do not do what they do because of the applause of people; they do deeply appreciate a sincere word from their pastor. Go into their office on occasion, look sincerely in their eyes, and tell them how much they mean to you. They will go to the ends of the earth to please their pastor when you show how deeply you care about them.

Low staff morale is a very important issue that needs a turn-around. Ministry control can become ministry freedom; money gaps can become money fairness; and congregational silence can become church affirmation. Each will greatly impact the morale of the staff. A happy and contented staff is a highly inspired, motivated, and committed instrument for superior church work.

Danny Renard Von Kanel, minister of music/outreach, Memorial Baptist Church, Bogalusa, Louisiana


1. Skye Jethani,“Back from the Brink: A Leadership Special Report” Leadership, Fall 2005. Accessed 3/26/2010