Why church size matters in hiring
Karl Vaters is one of my favorite voices on the small church. He recently wrote a piece entitled Small Church Pastors Have A Different Skill Set, Not A Lesser One on Christianity Today's site that has had me thinking about churches can sometimes get themselves in trouble during a search process. As you have probably gleaned from the title, Vaters suggests that pastors of small churches (fish) have a different set of skills than those of large church pastors (tree climbers). The key word is different, not better... not worse, different.
I would agree with Karl that there is an inclination within the church world to focus on weekend attendance as the number one indicator of a pastor's success, which can cause us to give too much weight to the advice of big church pastors. Don't get me wrong, there is much that small churches can learn from large churches (and vice versa), but sometimes large churches just don't understand what leading in a small church looks like.
Where we have seen churches, and pastors, get themselves into trouble is by making the assumption that size doesn't matter in the hiring process. This is simply not true. When we interview candidates for positions involving a significant step down in size, we attempt to see if there is an understanding of differences between the two cultures.
Larger churches allow people to specialize in certain areas, whereas smaller churches tend to require more of a generalist's skill set. Larger churches often have administrative staff, facilities teams, and people who handle operational details that smaller churches do not have. This difference may not change the amount of work that needs to be done on a weekly basis, but it can have a significant impact on how the work gets done... and by who.
On the other hand, one of the struggles that we see with people transitioning from a smaller church to a larger church is a struggle to release ministry to others. The years of working in a smaller church setting, with the generalist's skill set, causes them to attempt to do everything... instead of releasing other people to own parts of the ministry. Again, this does not change the amount of work that needs to be done, but it does impact how the work gets done... and by who.
Please hear me when I say that working in a small church does not disqualify one from working in a large church or that working in a large church does not prevent someone from successfully serving in a small church context. That said, search teams and candidates need to be aware of these differences, and have the self-awareness to recognize how these differences will impact them in their next season of ministry.