The role of the parish administrator is changing – maybe not in the ways we think.
There’s one person who is always in the middle of church change: the parish administrator.
She used to be called the ‘church secretary’. She’s definitely not always a ‘she’ today. She may not always be paid (though she should be). If she is, it’s probably quarter or half-time in today’s church.
Whatever the situation, the parish administrator is the heart of the congregation. They know where everything is, have been there longer than the pastor (and maybe longer than the pastor has been alive), and are generally trusted and beloved by all.
And when it comes to church change – especially change that involves technology – this may be very hard on the parish administrator. It may cause fear, stress, and pushback.
What often holds congregations back from upgrading their systems and being more present online is ‘who is going to do this work?’.
Clergy often don’t want to take on digital ministry, and parish administrators often feel unprepared.
There’s a lot of fear around this topic. Will the congregation be held back from making necessary administrative, organizational, and communications changes? Will the parish administrator lose their job because they cannot or will not take on systematic changes to how ministry is done? Will this kind of change cause conflict or hurt feelings?
Mostly, this keeps us stuck with ‘the way we’ve always done it’. This may mean we’re not using tools and platforms that make ministry easier and more affordable. It definitely means we’re not maximizing online tools that help us connect with members, and with those who have not met us yet.
This issue is not just about technology. It’s about how we understand church itself, and how we’ve organized ourselves and gotten the business of church done for decades.
And it’s about people – beloved people who serve in ministry in a changing context.
What to do?
Consider the parish administrator’s role
Just like clergy are reimagining ministry, it may be time to think about what church staff are really called to do – including the parish administrator.
In today’s world, do we need someone who’s job it is to answer the phone, set schedules, or mail the newsletter? Using new tools and platforms – especially those designed for small businesses – a lot of administrative tasks can either be automated or done by each staff person as needed (making/answering calls and emails, scheduling meetings, etc.).
This doesn’t mean the parish administrator’s job is unnecessary!
Quite the contrary. The administrator – along with the head priest/pastor – is often the central person around which the community forms. They may get news of births, deaths, emergencies, and big events before anyone else, so they have a pastoral role, as well as communication. They keep information flowing to the right places, and keep confidences. All of these things can (do!) happen outside of tech tools.
Make tech changes with and for the administrator
Even if the main church computer is 20 years old and you’re still using a dot matrix printer, once upon a time that technology was new, and required a learning curve. Email is thirty years old, and somehow most members of the staff and congregation learned to master it. So the tools may be new, but the idea that it’s time to upgrade definitely isn’t. The question is – what and how?
Figuring out what systems need to be upgraded is one issue – one that the parish administrator surely knows! They’re probably struggling with at least one system that doesn’t work like it used to (formatting and printing the bulletin?), and would probably love to wave a magic wand and make it easier.
The harder part is making the change without the wand!
Here’s where the onus doesn’t need to be put on the administrator. Often it seems like they are the natural person to implement these changes – even help others with them. But that may not be their role, and that may be the source of tension.
How can changes be made in collaboration with the admin but also in support? How will this make their job easier in the long run, while minimizing the difficulty of the change in the short run?
Consider contract help
One great thing about the rise of new platforms for small businesses – they work for small churches, too! Another great thing about them – they often come with excellent customer service and onboarding.
Beyond this, there are people who can help. Often it is someone in the congregation with more tech or business skills, who can help implement change and work with staff until everyone is comfortable with it.
And – part of the reimagination of ministry is there are those in the church world who will do this work with you! Free Range Priest offers ‘Digital Ministry Rehab‘, to help you decide what tools you need to make your congregation’s – and your parish administrator’s – life easier, and sit beside you as you figure out how to implement them. Other ministers offer church website and social media help, or freelancers for specific short-term jobs. It’s never been easier to get contract help for organizational change instead of hiring someone for a new position (which may not be affordable).
The parish administrator is key to making this change happen, and it can (should!) support their role rather than challenging it.