Vanderbloemen predicts high church staff turnover, demand for priestly pastors in 2021


The demand for more priestly pastors and high staff turnover in churches and ministries is likely to come in 2021 as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, predicts Vanderbloemen Search Group CEO and founder William Vanderbloemen.

Speaking with Carey Nieuwhof, a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church in Ontario, Canada, on a recent podcast, Vanderbloemen, whose executive search firm serves churches, ministries and faith-based organizations, said based on the evidence he's seeing on the ground and hearing from leaders, “2021 is going to be the year of turnover.”

“If you think I’m wrong, then go ahead and fool yourself and say this pandemic will only last two weeks. You will lose someone next year that you don’t see coming,” he told Nieuwhof.

“I’ve got a pastor that says every pastor should keep a vomit list. It’s a very short list of the two or three staff people that if they walked in at the end of the day and said, ‘Can I have 10 minutes to visit with you?’ … you just reach for the trash can and say, ‘Let me throw up first,’” Vanderbloemen continued. “My prediction is there’s going to be a lot of people reaching for the trash can this next year because turnover is coming.”

He explained that people, in general, usually change jobs, but in 2020, that normal movement of talent was disrupted by the pandemic for a variety of reasons. People stayed in jobs this year out of loyalty or sheer uncertainty in the job market, he said.

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO of Vanderbloemen. | Courtesy of William Vanderbloemen

“People change jobs. That’s just the way it is. Every pastor is an interim pastor, every business leader is an interim business leader, every superintendent is an interim superintendent, and moving around is not a bad thing,” Vanderbloemen said.

The pandemic, he added, has given people the chance to slow down and think more deeply about their life and many might discover new directions.

“I promise you, ’21 is going to be the year of turnover. And so this year, we’ve been preparing for that. It’s going to be a storm surge,” he said.

Some longtime leaders, particularly men, he said, have also looked at their ministries and are now increasingly talking about succession.

“I cannot tell you how many guys and gals, but guys predominantly, who were thinking, sometime in the next five years I’m going to talk about succession. Well, guess what COVID accelerated?,” he said.

Recalling some of the reasons leaders are giving for an accelerated succession timeline, he said: “’Well you know what? I just didn’t sign up for this and they really need a digital native and I’m not.’ And ‘It’s time to speed this up and get the next person in.’ So there’s just so many reasons why we foresee ’21 as a year where there’s going to be a lot of turnover, and some of it is going to be really painful.”

Vanderbloemen noted that he has even begun to experience that turnover in his own business.

“Imagine your very best person walking in, in the middle of COVID, and saying, ‘William, I know we’ve been together nine years but I want to start my own marketing company.’ Yeah, that happened. Happened to me,” he said. “If you’re not getting ready for some turnover then you’re going to be in for some surprises next year.”

When asked about the post-pandemic staffing trends he foresees, Vanderbloemen said there's going to be a need for people who can operate in a digital environment as well as pastors with more priestly gifts.

“Churches and schools and nonprofits are looking for dual citizens,” he said. “We need more priests and few[er] preachers.”

Traditionally, the leaders noted on the podcast, pastors have played three major roles: prophet, king, and priest.

The “priest” role will be more important, because it’s the only role that can’t really be outsourced online. Vanderbloemen recommends that pastors follow Billy Graham’s example of writing their sermons “with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other” to stay updated on what is happening in the local community.

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