June 20, 2024

Think You Want to Call a Part-Time Rector? Read this first.

Every so often, I get an inquiry from a senior leader or search committee chair of a small congregation asking for tips on how to call a part-time rector. The reason given is often financial: the church is growing smaller and income is shrinking, part-time seems like the only possibility, and they want to know how to make it work. So I thought it might be helpful to consolidate the various ideas I’ve shared with them.

Don’t short-cut the process. Even if it seems obvious that you can’t afford a full-time rector, do not allow that to become the focal point of your search, leading you to decide what you will “settle for” before you explore the qualities your congregation needs in a rector. It may also hold you back from exploring creative options. Decide not to decide this until later in the process.

Study the canons of your about rector search. Understand the process you have to follow. Separate out the hard and fast rules from the recommendations, in order to get a sense of where you can be creative, if needed.

Clarify your vision and mission statements. Are they current? Does your vision really describe what your congregation feels called to be? Does your mission statement describe what your congregation feels called to do? These can be your “North Star” in the process, and you may find they need refining as you navigate your search process.

Conduct a Missional Assessment. Don’t assume that you know all there is to know about the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation and the opportunities and challenges. Rather, take a closer look at both, so you can ground prayerful discernment in data. When FaithX works with a congregation in transition, we encourage the congregation to study themselves with the Congregational Vitality Assessment and their neighborhoods with a Neighborhood Insights Report. The results of these assessments will help you write an effective congregational profile.

Write an honest Congregational Profile. Resist the temptation to generalize or “Zhuzh It Up” to make your congregation or the community it serves seem more attractive. Ultimately, you are not trying to attract every possible candidate. Rather, you are trying to find the one candidate God has in store for you, with the qualities and skills that best match who you really are as a congregation and what the community you serve is really like. Don’t be the “Lake Wobegon” congregation (or community) in which “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Explore all the options open to you – be open to creative alternatives. A part-time clergy for part-time pay is one option. Are you willing to provide more hours if the candidate helps you grow the congregation? You could include that as part of the letter of agreement as an incentive. Another option could be a bi-vocational clergy (part-time as rector, part-time pursuing a separate vocation). Another option some clergy might find attractive is a lower part-time cash salary in exchange for a larger contribution to pension (perhaps even the equivalent of a full-time contribution). Are there other nearby congregations in the same financial “boat” as yours? Yet another option might be to work with your judicatory to create a multi-clergy team to serve all of them. One urban area we know of with 10 congregations that collectively afford 5 clergy, developed a 5-clergy team that rotated through all 10 congregations, staggering worship times so that they had one member of the team with them every Sunday.

Now you can write the position description (here are a few tips):
Don’t title it “Part-Time rector.” Rather lead with the most important thing first, such as “rector (part-time or bi-vocational).
Honesty is the best policy. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If the congregation is willing to change, say so, If the congregation is stuck, say so.
Build in incentive. Wording like “Open to grow the position to full time, if the candidate can help us figure out how to grow the congregation.”
Build flexibility into the compensation “package.” Wording like open to working with the candidate to develop a compensation structure (salary, benefits, pension contribution) best suited to their needs.”
Find a way to communicate equity of pay and hours. In other words, that you do not have expectations that amount to full-time work for part-time pay. I once was excited to be asked into a search for a part-time bishop but ultimately pulled out because the expectation was to be available 24/7.

Be patient and don’t lose hope. Current information from my own denomination reveals that at any point in time there are more congregations with open positions than clergy searching.

Finally, don’t feel bad about having a part-time rector. The latest information from my own domination shows that more than half of the clergy in the U.S. are part time.

These tips are not meant as a recipe or an exhaustive list but as a collection of possibilities in order to jumpstart your creativity. As always, FaithX stands ready to help when needed. If you would like to explore how we might be of assistance to your congregation, contact us at info@faithx.net.