Typically when people hear the word perfect, it conjures up positive, ideal, and even flawless notions. But, in 1991, the Massachusetts fishing boat the Andrea Gail found itself caught in an extratropical cyclone – or more commonly known as a nor’easter. Upon hearing of the plight of the ship and its crew, author Sebastian Junger began gathering research for a book about the incident. Junger interviewed Bob Case, the deputy meteorologist in Boston, who described the convergence of several weather patterns to create the perfect situation the Andrea Gail found itself in. His book and subsequent movie, “The Perfect Storm,” documents the events and the crew of this fateful journey.
Just like the Andrea Gail heading into a nor’easter, churches can find themselves in a perfect storm. Maybe the convergence of a political stance (or lack of one) during the pandemic caused ripples in the church. Perhaps a moral failing by a staff member, like infidelity or embezzlement, or even seemingly non-controversial decisions like song choices or facility renovations. When the combination of these choices hits just right (or wrong), it can result in reduced finances for the church.
Like any other organization, churches exist to fulfill their mission. Yet, despite prayer and planning, they sometimes find themselves in this unenviable position, and despite every cost-cutting effort, a reduction in staffing is necessary. Churches that need to terminate staff members due to budget reductions may find these tips valuable as they navigate the process.
The New Testament refers to the Church as the body of Christ. Using the illustration of a body provides a beautiful picture of various members with different functions, all working together. Church staff members are so much more than replaceable cogs in a machine; they are part of something bigger. Each church staff member contributes to fulfilling the church’s mission. When terminating an employee, take the time to appreciate their specific contributions to the church and treat them respectfully.
As difficult as it is for church leaders to terminate an employee due to financial constraints, it’s even more challenging for the terminated employee. Remember, this isn’t a termination due to a performance issue; this is related to budget reductions. Be as generous as is reasonable under the circumstances when determining a severance package. Leadership needs to balance the church’s financial situation with demonstrating care for a valued member of the staff. Calculating the employee’s final pay includes all unpaid hours, unused vacation, and sick time; this is not severance. Do not combine the two when providing the exit pay. While severance pay is not an FLSA requirement, some states may require it. Always check with a human resources expert when determining final pay.
Termination due to budget cuts gives the church, or any employer for that matter, some flexibility on the timing. Avoid terminating an employee before a holiday or significant life event whenever possible. For example, if the employee or their children have wedding plans coming up in the near future, postpone the termination until after the event. And it’s rarely a good idea to terminate a church employee in December, especially if it’s not performance related.
There are very few good ways to present the news of staff reductions due to budget cuts. The best advice is to avoid revealing anything confidential regarding the employee, their final pay, or severance package. Stick to the facts of the matter. For example, Our financial situation is not changing as fast as we planned, and even after making as many strategic cuts as possible while still allowing our church to pursue its mission, the ongoing financial constraints necessitate a reduction in staff, impacting this person (or people) as of this date. As part of the communication, include the many excellent contributions by the exiting employees during their time on staff and pray for them.short url: