Former Mars Hill Pastor Sutton Turner on 10 Keys to Help You Lovingly Lay Off Church Staff

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Every year across the United States, 4,000 churches close their doors, according to research from Thom Rainer. Five years ago, when Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington closed its doors.

It was one of the more public in modern history because it was widely reported across social media, websites and blogs. When I got to Mars Hill in 2011, layoffs and terminations were not done well. I would love to say that I always laid off staff in a loving way in my role as pastor. But, I did not. One of the greatest lessons I learned while at Mars Hill was to lead as a pastor and not a professional. Over time, Jesus taught me a lot from and with Pastor Dave Bruskas as he led our staff through the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus) each week. By the grace of God, in the end, we had gotten closer to getting it right than what we had in the past.


Most of the time, churches lay off employees because of financial difficulties because they can no longer afford the employee. Sometimes, churches lay off staff because of a shift in vision. When the person is laid off, their position will not be refilled.

Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years about how to lay off staff in a way that’s honoring and kind to them:

1.      Be certain that the layoff is correct and needed.

2.      Seek wise counsel. Before you execute a layoff, seek wise counsel from your board or other pastors from other churches. You need prayer as the leader and wise counsel for what is best for your church and your staff.

3.      As a leader and manager, take some responsibility for the layoff. The church hired the employee and situations have changed financially or strategically. If you were too aggressive on church growth plans that did not pan out, you need to own that.

4.      A layoff, unlike a termination, will come as a shock to the staff member. Even though you might have been watching the financial numbers closely as the executive pastor, most staff members will not know the financial situation of the church to that detail. So be prepared for their shock and emotional upset.

5.      Meet with the person who is being laid off with another pastor if possible. Open the meeting in prayer. Then get right to it: “I am very sorry, but we are going to have to lay you off.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Sutton Turner