The Value of the Attendance to Staff Ratio

One financial metric churches are well aware of is “Percent Salaries and Benefits”. They are also well aware of where they stand in relation to national or denominational averages – and so do informed church members.

Generally, the accepted normal average is about 50%. But, there are so many variables involved, this metric can be misleading.

Consider these variables that influence salary and benefit dollars:

The size of the church.
Geographic location – Cost of living, city, urban, rural.
Differing compensation philosophies.
Varying benefits offered.
Education and experience levels.
Different components in the overall budget – some have debt in, some don’t.
Different utilization of volunteers.

In reality, churches fall in the range of 35 to 65% of their budget going toward salaries and benefits.

There’s another metric that’s better suited for churches. It’s the Attendance to Staff Ratio.

The Attendance to Staff Ratio:

The Attendance to Staff Ratio is simply the Ratio of Average Attendance to each Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) Staff Member. (Ministerial and support staff). This is an apples to apples metric because it’s based upon hours worked instead of dollars that come with the variables I’ve mentioned.

It answers how many you should have, not so much how much is being paid. This is an important metric because it measures volunteer recruitment and retention. It’s indicative of who’s doing ministry – staff and a few “saints” or staff and many “saints”.

The Average Attendance to Staff Ratio I’ve read by the likes of Thom Rainer, Tony Morgan and The Vanderbloemen Group is around 77:1. Meaning, for every FTE, there are 77 attendees. Based on data from 200 churches Tony Morgan and The Unstuck Group has worked with, here’s what they discovered:

Churches in Top 10% – Ratio is 121:1 and above (was 100:1 just 3 years ago)
Above Average – range of 85:1 to 120:1
Average – range of 69:1 to 84:1
Below Average – range of 42:1 to 68:1
Bottom 10% – below 42:1

These provide great benchmarks. Where does your church stand? This info and more are available in an e-book here.

A related metric is Volunteers per Staff Member or FTE. Based on a survey “Next Level Teams” I read by Tony Morgan and The Vanderbloemen Group,┬áthis ratio is 16:1 in small churches and 56:1 in mega-churches. I think the point is, as you grow, use more volunteers in relation to staff. I’d encourage you to track in your church. You could even track by department.

The Financial Value:

From a financial perspective, the value of these two metrics I’ve mentioned is this – when the two oldest living generations begin diminishing as a percent of your congregation and eventually die out altogether, (as well as transition to retirement) – conventional wisdom held by some way smarter than me, says there will be significantly less dollars available for ministry as result. See this post.

If your congregational makeup is a significant percentage of the two oldest generations, you had better begin focusing on bringing this ratio up. Churches with ratios of 100:1 will be in a better position for the future, but I think churches should be thinking even higher – like 125:1

Ideas on How to Improve Your Ratio:

#1. Change church mindset to be volunteer-led vs. staff-led.
#2. Recruit volunteers to your Vision, not just to a task that needs doing. Provide them with a job description.
#3. Train existing staff on volunteer recruitment, the leading and pastoring of volunteer leaders who then recruit and lead, and so on.
#4. When you must hire, hire those with a high capacity to recruit, lead and pastor volunteers.
#5. Don’t automatically replace staff when they leave. Analyze if volunteer teams can do it.
#6. Outsource some of your functions – such as facilities, bookkeeping and/or some of the higher finance activities, computer networking and graphics. Or enlist volunteers if you have people with those skill sets and time availability.
#7. Build volunteer teams instead of hiring ahead of the growth curve.
#8. Eliminate ineffective ministries
#9. Find and learn from churches who were already at a 100:1 ratio or above.

In closing, if you’re currently not tracking these two metrics, I would suggest you begin to do so. An additional benefit of having fewer staff is you may be able to pay your “leaner” staff better

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