One of the most difficult aspects of managing church employees is the inevitable reality that there will come a time when someone needs to be terminated. As Christians, we should be even more sensitive to how losing a job can affect an employee and their family.

This is coupled with the political fallout if the employee and their extended family happen to be members of the church. All of these dynamics make the decision, and process of firing church employees, a difficult one.

Here are some tips.

10 Procedures to Follow When Firing Church Staff

1. Hire the Right Candidate

The best way to avoid the need to terminate an employee is to hire the right candidate. Churches often make the mistake of hiring members who have been loyal, committed and trustworthy. While these characteristics are important, these churches often neglect to perform the due diligence necessary to ensure that the employee has the skills and work ethic to get the job done.

There is a saying, hire slow and terminate fast. This is an important lesson when choosing a candidate.  Make sure they have the skills to do the job and the work ethic to pursue through the inevitable challenging times that come with working for a ministry.

2. Set Clear Job Expectations

Churches are notorious for hiring people without providing clear expectations. For instance, the church has grown and has a need for full time custodian. This new employees needs a detailed job description with specific job expectations and measures for success.

It is easy to interpret cleaning the restroom many different ways. Does it mean emptying the trash and restocking paper supplies or scheduled detailed cleaning? Without specific job tasks, cleaning calendar and timelines the church is depending the employee’s interpretation of the meaning of the job.

Make sure all new hires have a detailed job description, a supervisor and all the necessary tools to do their job.

3. Provide Job Training

Hiring a qualified candidate is the first step of the process, however, training the new employee is also important. Make sure the new hire is oriented to the new work environment and trained on specific job tasks.

For instance, we had the cleaning product vendor teach our custodians how to clean a restroom. This not only provided tips for the cleaning process but also insights in how to use cleaning chemicals appropriately.

4. Monitor Performance

Another mistake many organizations make is hiring someone and never observing how the job gets done. It is important to create processes to monitor job expectations and hold employees accountable for job tasks.

For instance, a custodian who is responsible for keeping the restrooms cleaned should have a first level supervisor occasionally check on his work. This does a couple of things.  It gives the employee notice that an inspection will happen and it will also allow the supervisor to observe job tasks and be available to assist if issues arise with policies, practices or cleaning equipment. The goal is to let the employee know that his supervisor is there to assist.

Ok we’ve talked about what to do to make sure you hire the right employee, set expectations and monitor their performance. But what do you do if you’ve done all of that and you realize that the relationship needs to end?

5. Determine the Justification for the Termination

The need to terminate an employee can be for any number of reasons – reduction-in-force, poor performance, breach of policies or illegal acts.  Regardless, documenting the justification for the termination is important.

The decision to terminate an employee should be based on objective facts that are documented  every step along the way.

For instance, if the custodian was given a detailed cleaning list, has been trained on proper cleaning procedures and fails to meet the cleaning standard – document it, provide feedback and recheck. If they continue to fall short of expectations, continue to document and provide feedback. This paper trail will be useful if the decision to terminate needs to be made.

6. Maintain Supporting Documentation

Most terminations are the result of a job performance issue. Make sure you maintain supporting documentation of performance appraisals, completion of employee goals as well as supervisor communication notes. These documents help to justify the termination.

If the termination is made because of an illegal act, or a breach in policy, there should be supporting documentation of the incident and notes on any communications with the employee that were made.

7. Nondiscriminatory Termination

Employment laws are made to protect against discriminatory terminations so the decision to terminate cannot be based on employee age, gender, health status, race or disability.

If there are questions about the justification of a termination it is always wise to seek legal counsel.

8. Timing of Termination

Unless the employee performed an act that requires immediate removal from the church campus, consider the timing of the termination.

For example, if it is known that an employee is no longer performing at expected levels and a termination plan is being developed, think about the time of year, day of week and employee personal situation.

For example, most organizations avoid terminating employees during the holidays because of how it will be perceived by the employee, the employee’s family and other staff members.

I have a friend whose job was eliminated, but the company she worked for waited until after my friend’s daughter’s wedding to tell her about the job elimination so there would not be added stress during the wedding planning.  Using common sense and thinking through the timing can have a huge impact on the response to a termination.

9. Communication of Termination

Delivering the news of a termination is probably one of the most difficult things a manager is required to do.  Regardless of the events leading up to a termination, it is still a life-altering event for an employee and should be treated as such.

The conversation should be delivered by the most appropriate level of leadership available and should provide the answers to any questions the employee might have.  For example, the employee should be told when they can expect their last paycheck, unpaid vacation time, if they are eligible for COBRA, when insurance lapses, etc.

Take the time to anticipate questions and make sure the answers are available for the employee.  In some situations, because most church employees are not eligible for unemployment benefits, an employee may be offered outplacement services to help them through the employment transition.

After the employee is told of the termination it is important to announce the termination to the rest of the church staff.  Depending on the position of the employee, this can be done either by an electronic communication or it may warrant calling a quick staff meeting so employees have the opportunity to ask questions and be given leadership reassurance on the situation. Control the rumor mill by being proactive in communication.

Some church positions may warrant communicating with church members if the absence of the employee will affect the congregational experience.

For example, if the volunteer coordinator leaves employment it may warrant a communication to the people he interacted with.  Again, thinking through who needs to know is an important step in the process.

10. Lessons Learned

Very often there are lessons learned when an employee is terminated. Take the time to debrief with leadership about what in the process or management failed for the employee.  Questions to ask:

  • Was it a training issues?
  • Was it a policy compliance issue?
  • Was it a personality issue?
  • Was it a productivity issue?
  • Was it a candidate selection issue?

Debrief with the leadership team and evaluate whether a change in interviewing, training or management practice could help avoid a similar termination. This is time well spent.

The best way to avoid the need to terminate church staff is to have a great applicant screening process, good communication processes, clear job expectations and a structured performance management process.  Batting a thousand with hires is not likely but providing the best environment for managing and monitoring employee performance is a great first step.

About The Author

Patricia Lotich is the founder of Smart Church Management, a site devoted to providing free articles, tools and resources for those managing a church operation. Patricia has ten years of Business Administration and Church Operations experience and has a driving passion to help churches fulfill their call by managing the resources God has given them – people, time and money. Follow Patricia on Twitter and Facebook

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