A Chemistry Conversation with Matt Steen and Kelly Norris
In this Chemistry Conversation, Kelly Norris talks with Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, about what he is currently seeing in the church staffing world and how screening resumes is a critical step to making a great hire. Matt also gives some valuable tips on what to look for as you screen resumes for your next staff position and provides a free resource to guide you along the way.
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Kelly Norris: Hi, I’m Kelly Norris from Chemistry Staffing. I’m the Director of Strategic Initiatives here, and today we have Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing. Hi, Matt.
Matt Steen: Hey Kelly. This is a new experience. I’m not used to being the one that’s being grilled on this. Be nice to me.
Kelly Norris: I’ll do my best. So let’s go ahead and dive in. What are you seeing currently in the church space?
Matt Steen: From a staffing perspective, this has been an interesting year, right? We have said for a while, probably started back towards the end of 2020, about how 2021 was going to be the year of pretty significant turnover, and I think we’re starting to see that. I think we’re starting to see a lot of people who had said, “I’m going to be the good soldier. I’m going to stick out the pandemic, help the church navigate the initial lockdowns” and all that kind of stuff. And, “I know that I’m not going to be here long-term, but I’m going to put my search on hold.” So we’re seeing a lot of those people who are saying, okay, church is in good shape, vaccines are on the horizon, looks like we’re going to be back to something - I hesitate to use the word “normal” - but back to “something” in the near future. So people are starting to say, okay, maybe it’s time for me to start to look. At the same time, we’re seeing a lot of churches who may have pushed pause on a search or who may have said, “This is just not the right time, we need to see how our finances go,” something like that, who are starting to lean into some of those searches now. And we’ll continue to see that. We’ll see as the first wave of people accept other positions that we’re going to see those churches that they’re leaving start the hiring process as well. It’s really busy. This is going to be the year of turnover. In some ways, that’s a good thing. In some ways, that’s kind of a sad thing because there’s going to be a lot of congregations that are mourning and a lot of congregations that are sad to see people go. But I think that this is also going to be a season where we see some cool growth coming out of churches because of fresh blood. The other thing that we’re seeing as far as this goes, there’s almost an acceleration of succession planning. So for years and years and years, churches have just been absolutely awful at succession planning. I think I can say that and not upset people. What we’re starting to see, we’ll have a ton of conversations with people who are saying, you know what, it is time for me to move and we need to start doing this. So I’ve heard some guys that said, “You know, I thought I had another five years but I really don’t, not the way that everything’s changed, and it’s time for me to step aside and find the person that we need to lead this next season.” That’s the other piece that I’m seeing.
Kelly Norris: Yeah, it sounds like there’s going to be more space for not only new positions opening up but then even some lateral moves like transitions within the staff that provide us opportunities to have different roles within the church, during the pandemic and other things. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Matt Steen: Yeah. So if your church hasn’t already tapped somebody to essentially be the online campus pastor, you probably will need to do that, whether that’s a formal thing or informal thing or what. We have, over the last 12 months, really leaned into - everybody’s got a digital campus now, right? And so somebody’s got to own that piece. Part of what we’re seeing is there is some restructuring going on right now in a lot of churches where they say, “We need to be more intentional about communication. We need to be more intentional about what our online service offerings look like. We need to be a little bit more intentional about how our web and social presences look.” So what we’re starting to see is some shifts that way. People who may have been a youth pastor are now stepping into communications roles or whatever role. We’re starting to see that. We’re doing a lot more technical roles right now. People that are overseeing video production, the communication processes for churches. We’re seeing churches that are looking for online campus pastors and people to guide engagement for those venues that churches are operating out of. So we’re seeing a good bit of that as well, and we’re going to continue to see it because this season is - I hate to say it - it’s not over. And I think that we’re going to see a good bit of change before we get back to whatever normal is. But we’re seeing churches use the restructuring and giving people new titles and creating new job titles that 20 minutes ago we never heard of. Right?
Kelly Norris: Right.
Matt Steen: That’s kind of the nature of where we are as the church right now.
Kelly Norris: Yes, yeah. So as these jobs are opening up and churches are scrambling trying to fill them. They’re leading the searches and they’re getting all these resumes in. How do they know who they’re supposed to talk with?
Matt Steen: Well the first person they’re supposed to talk to is me.
Kelly Norris: That’s right.
Matt Steen: The friendly team at Chemistry Staffing. Cha-ching. I don’t think that’s what you’re asking though. I think what you’re asking is, you post something, you put your job listing up all over the internet. Next thing you know, you’re getting inundated with resumes, 300-400 of these things, and spelling errors, bad grammar and all that kind of stuff. And so the question really is, so how do I know who to move forward with and who not to.
Kelly Norris: Correct.
Matt Steen: I tell you, Kelly, I’m pretty convinced that the way that we screen resumes sets us up to be able to be successful in our search or not. And the way that people typically look at resumes, it’s kind of like, “Oh, this is good quality paper, it’s pretty looking, they spelled everything right, let’s put it in the ‘move forward’ stack.” And there’s something to that. There’s something to the attention to detail and all that kind of stuff that’s helpful and is worth looking at, but I’m pretty convinced that if you spend the right amount of time on a resume you can tell if there’s really good potential for them being a good fit or not. So at Chemistry, we look for five key factors in a long-term healthy fit. When we say “long-term healthy fit,” we’re looking for somebody that’s going to be here for 5 years or longer. Right now they current average is 3-3.5. We want to see people be there for 5. If they can get there for 5, that’s so much healthier for the church. The five things that we look for are theological alignment. We look for the type of church culture that they’re coming out of. We look for the general sense of their personality. We look for skillset. And then the last piece that we look for is chemistry. Is this someone that you actually want to spend 5 years with. So if you can set aside 20-30 minutes per resume, and that sounds like a lot. But it’s not as bad as you think. If you could set aside 25-30 minutes per resume, I’m convinced that you can get a pretty good understanding of at least four of those pieces - theology, culture, personality, skillsets. And the way that you do that is you sit down and you take some time to get a sense of who somebody is. So every resume has a listing of the most recent churches that somebody’s been a part of. Every resume has a listing of the most recent positions that they’ve held. And by taking that resume and using it as a tool to start to unpack where somebody’s been and where they’re wanting to go, you can start to make comparisons and get a sense of whether somebody could potentially fit in your church or not. What do I mean by that? Say you’re at a PCA church, a Presbyterian church, and you get a resume from somebody at a Wesleyan church. It may not say it’s a Wesleyan church in the name because we drop denominational names a lot, but the tricky piece there is a lot of times when somebody describes their theology, they’ll use the same terms regardless of the tribe that they’re in and they mean very different things. So if I’m at a PCA church and I’m looking for a potential youth pastor and I get somebody who’s coming out of a Wesleyan church - let’s say it’s called Grace Fellowship because that’s like the most common church name ever, right? So we’ve got this, and part of what you’re going to want to do is lean into the statement of faith on the church’s website. Does this line up with who we are? You want to dig in on some of the sermons that are being preached at that church. Theologically, does this align with where we are? Part of what you’re going to want to do is you’re going to want to dig in and get a sense of the culture. Is this a church that affirms women in ministry and will allow for women pastors? And is that something that aligns with who we are? So getting a sense of that theological piece, getting a sense of the cultural piece, getting a sense of the church’s personality and seeing what a Sunday morning experience looks like and how well it lines up with the other church. Now, it’s going to be different. It’s always going to be different. But there’s a difference between somebody with hard charge and guitars on Sunday morning and a church with pipe organs and pastors dressed up in the robes and all that kind of stuff with incense. That’s probably going to be a much harder transition than somebody going from Elevation to Hillsong on Sunday morning, right? So part of what you want to see is, generally, could this work? Could there be some potential there? And then you also want to dig in and get a sense of, do they have the skills and abilities to do this? Did the church, are they similar sizes? Are they similar size groups? Does their training and background allow you to believe that they can realistically step up and step into this role? And then the other piece of this too Kelly, and this goes back to the personality piece, is this tool, this resume allows you to Google stalk people a little bit.
Kelly Norris: Yeah, right.
Matt Steen: It’s going to give you access to social media potentially and give you a sense of what it is, how they post, what they share. If you’re somebody that’s looking for a job listening to this, be aware. Be aware of what you’re sharing. Be aware of what’s out there and understand that that is going to affect churches and how they look at you. I feel like I said a whole awful lot there.
Kelly Norris: Yeah, let me ask you this. There are a couple of pitfalls that churches fall into when they’re looking at resumes. Maybe they just focus on one of those aspects of the five. Maybe they only deal with chemistry. Tell me a little bit about the pitfalls that they can avoid.
Matt Steen: Yeah. So what I see is most churches focus mostly on skillset and chemistry. What do I mean by that? You get the resume, you look on there. They may have been at a big church. They did a great job, and they’ve got all the statistics and numbers. It’s like, oh yeah, they can do the job. And they very well could be able to do the job, so you move them into a round of interviews and conversations and you start to talk and you start to laugh at their jokes, and they get your sense of humor, and chemistry starts to happen. Maybe there’s some sparks and all that kind of stuff. But as you go deeper and further along in the process, sometimes little theological questions pop up in your head. It’s like, “If they’re coming out of this type of church, they don’t believe the same things that we do.” But you’re so far down the process that it’s easy to say, “No, no, they’re great, they’re going to do the job well, I’m tired of doing lock-ins. They’re going to be great. They get us. There’s chemistry happening.” And then maybe it’s like, “But they’re coming out of a strong elder board led church and we are a congregational led church.” There may be, “Well, no, it’s fine.” What happens is when we lead with skillset, when we lead with chemistry, everything else is really easy to be tamped down and then 18 months in you start to wonder, “Oh no, some of those theological differences are more significant than we thought.” Or some of that church cultural piece, “They’re way more entrepreneurial than we are.” It’s like taking a church planter and putting him into a hundred-year-old Baptist church where they’re fighting over the color of the pew cushions, right? It’s probably not going to work, but they look so good on paper. So that’s kind of why we say take your time on the resume. Don’t just look at the skillset. Don’t just look at the numbers of people that they’ve had at their church or the curriculum that they’re using. Use it to also unlock the culture and the flavor of the churches that they’ve been at.
Kelly Norris: Yeah, that’s such good information. I think we do kind of fall into that, “Hey, I’m really connecting with this person, and let’s hire him.” Or it’s a friend of a friend. I think the resume is just the entrance point that we can meet them at the front door and say, okay, are you really someone I want to do life with and that they fit all of those five. So tell me more. How do we do this thing? How do we make sure we do this thing right?
Matt Steen: Kelly, it’s funny that you ask. We’ve put together a resource, and I’m really excited about it. Chemistry Staffing’s resume screening playbook. And really, it’s a pdf guide. It’s interactive so you can type stuff in and all that kind of stuff. But it’s created to give you the framework and the guidance that you need to be able to evaluate resumes for your search. So if you’re leaning into a search right now, it’s a free download. We share it with y’all. It will help you understand how to approach it mentally, but also it will give you some criteria to use. Now, every church is going to be different, so we’re not giving you “the answer” on if you’re a Methodist church this is how you screen it, or if you’re a Presbyterian church this is how you screen it, or anything like that. What we’re giving you is the framework to be able to fill in on your own. So part of what we’ve done is we’ve created a worksheet that gives you a few questions to ask and then gives you a few questions to ask then gives you room to be able to ask a few other questions that are specific to your church to be able to score out resumes and to be able to give a red light, yellow light, green light type of a score to each of them. And know, should I move forward with this, should we invite this person to the next stage of our process? Or is this somebody that we should send the “No, thank you” email. So we’ll link off to that, and hopefully it’s useful to people.
Kelly Norris: It sounds like it’s just going to guide them along the way. There are ways to make sure it custom fits to their needs. Definitely, yeah. Well it was great talking with you today about this. I’ll be sure to include the playbook link, the resume screening playbook link, and a link to our other resources from Chemistry Staffing. So thanks for being with us today.
Matt Steen: Thanks Kelly.