Plan Design

Improving Outcomes

Avoid a common mistake.

Be intentional about your plan design.

Most faith-based organizations know they should provide their pastors and staff a means for saving for retirement, but did you know a 403(b)(9) church plan could have a positive impact on your ministry, too? Organizations that provide an employer-sponsored retirement plan can accomplish the following:1

Attract and retain talent. Organizations that provide solid benefits and help their pastors and staff develop a healthy retirement savings have a higher chance of attracting highly qualified talent. Employer-sponsored plan benefits strengthen the organization as a whole by not only attracting — but also retaining — talented staff. Retirement plans are classified as one of the “sticky” employee benefits.

Stimulate staff engagement. Staff members who have to delay retirement for financial reasons are often not as engaged in their work. This is because they feel they have no choice but to continue working past the optimal time in their lives. Conversely, providing these individuals with an incentive to save for retirement can have an extremely positive impact on your organization.

Beyond offering a means for saving for the future, many organizations miss the opportunity to differentiate their faith-based organization with their church retirement plan design. We regularly find that churches and ministry organizations receive little to no advice on the important aspects of their current plan design. 

As you consider a new retirement plan, we recommend a quick conversation with our staff to understand how GuideStone® will help you avoid missing some important components and features of a 403(b)(9) retirement plan. This is typically a once-in-a-decade opportunity to create an employee benefit that can help you attract, retain and incentivize talent. 

Help your employees retire well:

The above chart represents retirement savings of Americans.2

Capitalize on Inertia

Automatic features allow inertia to work for your employees instead of against them. For example, automatic enrollment incorporates retirement savings as a built-in plan feature — meaning employees must make the mindful decision to opt out. This simple design feature can have a profound impact on the retirement savings and future of an individual employee.

Keep these plan design factors in mind as you investigate 403(b)(9) church plan providers:

  1. IDENTIFY PLAN GOALS AND OBJECTIVES: Consider your role as a steward of the retirement plan. Your influence can empower or delay your employees’ ability to retire with dignity.
  2. ENGAGE EMPLOYEES THROUGH PLAN DESIGN AND AUTOMATIC FEATURES: You can increase employee engagement and plan participation by implementing matching, automatic enrollment, auto-escalation and more. Coordinate the timing of automatic plan design features with annual raises to minimize paycheck disruption.
  3. FOCUS ON DRIVING EMPLOYEE PARTICIPATION: Promoting retirement awareness among employees encourages them to make the most of their plan. You can help employees start early and contribute consistently by removing obstacles in decision-making by offering a quick-enroll option. Evaluate employee engagement and look for opportunities to promote plan educational resources such as those made available by GuideStone.
  4. TRACK PROGRESS AND SUCCESS: Designing the plan is the first step, but checking in periodically on plan progress and employee engagement is also important to make sure you are all on track toward your goals. You may find that certain plan design features work better for your organization than others, so don’t be afraid to make minor plan adjustments along the way. Avoid complacency when it comes to evaluating your plan. What worked 20 years ago may not necessarily work today. Implement plan design features that reflect the current needs of your employees.

Defining Plan Success

  • 90% employee participation
  • 15% minimum contribution between the employer and employee
  • 90% of employees invested in an appropriate asset mix

These employers benefitted from our plan design knowledge:

403b9 church plan

The Organization: A Mission-sending Organization

3,600 missionaries engaging 811 people groups


Plan Goal

Prepare missionaries for vocational retirement


Current Plan

  • 5% matching contribution
  • 3% non-matching contribution

Strategic Plan Initiative

  • Add 5% employer matching contribution
  • Add 5% employer non-matching contribution
  • Leadership sent an email notifying all employees about the increased contribution and encouraging employees to adjust their personal contributions.

The Outcome

  • 20% increase in employer contributions
  • 14% increase in missionary contributions

17.2% increase in overall contributions


Future Initiatives

  • Implement auto-enrollment at 5% to help missionaries take full advantage of the matching contribution. This would help missionaries start saving for retirement on their first day of employment.
  • Identify employees not currently taking full advantage of the matching contribution and send reminder emails that tout these significant benefits. This would prompt missionaries to consider their retirement savings throughout the year instead of just on an annual basis.
403(b)(9) Church Plan Case Study Church

The Organization: A Church

60% ministers, 10% school workers, 30% non-ministerial


Plan Goal

Introduce matching contributions for the first time and focus on retirement readiness for staff


Current Plan

  • 0% employer contribution
  • 108 employees making contributions

Strategic Plan Initiative

  • Added 3% employer matching contribution
  • Leadership held group meetings to announce the new matching contribution schedule.

The Outcome

  • New 3% employer contribution enhances plan
  • 230 employees making contributions

113% increase in employee participation


Future Initiatives

  • Implement automatic enrollment at 6%. This would further increase participation and employee deferral percentages while minimizing costs to the employer.
  • Educate participants on the Investment Recommendation tool in order to enhance their overall investment allocation. This would provide a personalized recommendation for each participant.

Discover the GUIDESTONE difference.

Preparing Employees Today for Retirement Tomorrow

GuideStone shares your mission and offers comprehensive retirement plans designed to accomplish your goals. Talk to a church plan expert about our investment flexibility, competitive pricing and exceptional service:

A nonprofit 401(k)? Definitely not. See how church plans differ.

If you are unfamiliar with 403(b)(9) church plans, allow GuideStone — the church retirement plan specialist — to direct not only your plan design but also the compliance steps you’ll take with a non-ERISA plan.

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