Recently, I had the opportunity to ask a group of pastors and church leaders what they would do differently the next time they hired a church staff member. I asked what they would change about how they conducted their search. I’ve always been a firm believer in learning from other’s mistakes. Their upfront and honest answers, I believe, can give you a wealth of information and wisdom before you start your next staff search.
Here’s what they told me:
Don’t base the new job description entirely on the last person who held the position
When filling an existing position, don’t just pull the past job description from when the last person was hired. Take the time to evaluate the direction and missional changes that have occurred in your church since the position was last hired. Now is the time to make changes to current job positions and roles. Don’t miss this opportunity to fine-tune the position before re-hiring.
Get as much input on your new job description as possible from as many people as possible
If you’re hiring a youth pastor, for example, talk to teens and parents of teens. The more input, the better. It’s important that you hire according to your church’s needs, and the best way to find the church’s needs is to ask. There is nothing worse than hiring someone only to find out soon thereafter that they are not a fit for your church.
Pre-screen your candidates early so that you can spend more time with the people you are really interested in hiring
As much as possible, these pastors and church leaders told me that they try to pre-screen as much as possible. They do this through advertising certain job requirements (experience, style, denominational background, desired education, etc.) upfront. They then make the first cut by weeding out the people who don’t meet all of their published criteria. This allows them to concentrate on candidates that really interest them.
Ask better questions during the interview
If you’re a member of the search committee, don’t just come to the interview; come prepared. Ask questions that you’ve thought about beforehand. This group said they would ask more questions about the candidate’s passions, experience, and relationships to really find out what kind of an employee they might be.
Give ‘what if’ scenarios and/or small assignments
“What would you do if…” type questions really help you get a grip on how a potential employee might respond on the job. Give them some common conflict scenarios (maybe even some real life one’s from your church’s past) and ask them how they would handle the problem. If you’re hiring a worship leader, you could ask them to put together a sample worship order that they would share with you. You’ll find out a ton of information by giving small assignments and asking ‘what if’ questions.
Spend more time with your candidates in
Several pastors told me that they would spend some additional time in non-church settings. Going out to eat; playing a game of golf; spending some downtime with the candidate and their spouse are all important ways to get to know not only the candidate’s skills, but also their personality.
Consider bringing in someone from outside your church to be on your search committee for a fresh ‘outsiders’ perspective
This one might be a little controversial in some churches, but why not consider bringing one outsider into your interview process? Select a well-respected Christian leader who is not a member of your church to sit in on the hiring process. They can offer you some unbiased input from a totally different perspective.
Be even more diligent in checking references
One of the biggest things I heard was that it was imperative to check references… EVERY TIME. One person remarked that he was surprised by the number of negative references he received when he contacted people. Others responded that you should go beyond the two to three references the candidate gives you. However you tackle checking out references, everyone agreed: it’s important to be diligent and exhaustive in this area.
Make the chain of command crystal clear,
both internally and externally
Who will the employee answer to? What is the chain of command? Who has the right to ultimately hire and fire? Who decides the pay increases? All these are important to communicate and work out prior to the hire. Both the employee and the people on the search committee need to know who is ultimately responsible to whom.
Take special care when communicating the job description to the congregation
When announcing your new staff person to your congregation, be clear what this person’s responsibilities are, and what they are not. Be open about the areas this new staff person will work in. And be clear about the things that the person will not be in charge over. Communication is key.
Take this information into your next search committee meeting and learn from those who have been in your shoes. Implement these ten tips into your next job search and see how much more smoothly it goes!
At Chemistry Staffing, we come alongside your church leadership and hiring team to help you find really great candidates. If you’d like to hear more about our process, we’d love to share a little more about what makes our process unique in helping you find healthy, long-term staff members to join your team!