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Staff Search

The Nuts and Bolts of Search Teams

What many people don't know, until long after saying yes, is how much work is involved in participating in a church's search team.

Search Team

Requirements and Expectations of Team Members


The idea of serving on your church's pastoral search team can seem exciting and like quite an honor. But what many people don't know, until long after saying yes, is how much work is involved and how intense the experience is.


In this video, we will talk about who should be on a search team and what is expected of search team members. Hint: corporate hiring experience isn't required.


Watch the conversation / Read the transcript


You can also watch more about search committees:


As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States! If you want to have a conversation about hiring new staff members for your church or setting up your church's search committee, you can schedule a time here. 




Full Transcript

Hey y’all, it’s Matt Steen again, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing. We have been talking about church search committees. I know, this has been riveting. You can’t watch enough of this. Thanks for hanging with me on this. Today I want to talk a little bit about expectations and functions of search teams. Expectations and functions. So what are we expecting of the people that are committing to be a part of this team? And then, what are the functions? What are the things that a search team practically needs to do as they go through this process over the 12-18 months that they are together?

Expectations. The first expectation is that anyone that comes on this team needs to be a member of the church. Needs to regularly be attending services. Shouldn’t have to say that, but I do. But also, they are going to commit to showing up and regularly attending the search team meetings as well. We can’t have people that are only showing up half the time or maybe 75% of the time. In order for this to work, you have to be at 95-99% attendance at these meetings. Why? One, because the weight of the work that you guys are doing is significant. The spiritual weight of this. If you don’t feel that spiritual weight, you probably should not be on that search team. I’m just going to put that out there. So that’s a big part. You need to be praying together. You need to be developing a relationship together. You need to be understanding what is going to be communicated to the church. So much of this needs to be done together. It’s not something that can just be done by email. So a commitment to being a part of that team and sacrificing - there is a great degree of sacrificing in this - sacrificing what you would rather be doing to being a part of this. So that’s the first piece. Regular attendance both in church but also committing to being a part of those search team meetings.

The second piece, the expectation of praying without ceasing. This is heavy-duty spiritual work. If you get nothing out of these series of videos that I’m doing, understand the weight and the spiritual responsibility of being a member of a search team. Understand that becuase it is huge. It is incredibly significant. The commitment to being regularly in prayer, both communally with the rest of your search team, with your small group, but also personally as you’re praying through this. Constantly, constantly praying for this process. It’s a heavy burden.

Third thing, expectation of confidentiality. This is touchy because we’re in a period of time where everybody is like, “We need full transparency on everything.” Well, no you don’t. Not on this. The search team needs to be going about its work in a way that they are confident that the conversations they have will not be shared outside of that group. Sometimes the conversations that happen just need to be kept quiet. Also, this is not just internally for the sake of the church. This is also for the sake of candidates. It’s not uncommon for you to get a resume from somebody at a church where you may have connections with. There is a piece of this where you need to keep candidate names confidential as well. Why? Because the church doesn’t necessarily tolerate their pastors looking at other churches well. There are some churches where they are going to encourage people to go and look, and they are going to be kind to them and all that stuff. More often than not, if a church gets wind that one of their pastors or their ministry staff is looking for another job, they’re going to be given a box to pack their stuff into and be encouraged to move onto their next ministry opportunity. So confidentiality is not just not telling people in the church what’s going on except for what the committee decides to communicate. It’s also protecting candidates as they go out on a limb and submit a resume and making sure we’re protecting them as well so that they don’t lose their job because somebody shared something out of school. [00:04:41.14] So confidentiality. The ability, the wisdom, the maturity to be able to hold things in confidence within that group.

Unity. This is a big one, especially now. We’re in a divided culture. We’re in a divided society. It’s easy for us to not value unity. But the team needs to be united in purpose. It needs to be united in what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It needs to be united in what they’re looking for. Needs to know that we’re not going to be telling stories out of school or chopping people’s legs out from under them by starting rumors about them. There needs to be unity in that team. It takes a significant amount of spiritual maturity to be part of this team and to protect those relationships and to protect one another from the pressures and the weight and all the other things that go on while these deliberations are happening. There needs to be a commitment to unity, and there needs to be an expectation that everybody is going to prioritize unity over personal preference.

The next one is similar. I call it mutual voluntary submission. I stole this from a church survey years ago. There is an understanding that we as the body, the body itself, the church itself is more important than our own preferences. As a member of this team, there are times when we are going to need to submit to what the rest of the team wants. It’s not always going to be us giving up what we want. There are going to be other times when people give up what they want. But this idea of mutual voluntary submission. Submitting our will, submitting our personal preferences for the good of the church. If we’re not willing to do that, frankly we shouldn’t be on the search team. Just going to put that out there and let that sit. If we can’t submit, we probably shouldn’t be a part of this team.

Last thing, and again this is similar, there needs to be a willingness to check out agendas at the door. There is a recurring theme in each of these conversations we’ve had so far. Coming in with agendas and not being willing to set those aside will doom your search team. Because everybody has their own agenda. One group wants hymns. One group wants Chris Tomlin. If there’s not a willingness to check those agendas at the door, you’re never going to find the right person. Understanding who we are as a church, setting aside our own preferences, setting aside our agendas, coming into this agenda free - it’s a must in order for a group to be healthy.

Okay. So we’ve talked about expectations. One other. The expectation is that you’re going to be able to set aside significant amounts of time for 12-18 months. I’ve heard search teams that would meet every other week for four hours. I’ve heard search teams that met weekly for 2-3 hours. I’ve heard search teams that met once a month for 8-10 hours. There is a significant amount of time that’s going to be going into this. And whoever comes in has to have the ability to commit to the time that it’s going to take to be able to get this done.

Okay, so let’s talk about functions. There’s a handful of main functions that a search team needs to do as they go about this. Once you have an understanding of what the job description is for the church, you need to market it. Best practice here is to develop a profile of who the church is, the community that you’re a part of, what it is that people like about the community that you’re in, what it is that people like about the church itself. Talk a little bit about where the church is headed, where the church has been, what the church’s financial position is. Job description is part of that, all that stuff. What you’re looking for in a pastor. Profile with pictures, profile with explanations that kind of walk through that. It’s going to help you be able to help candidates self-select out in cases, or become more interested in your church. Developing that and then spreading it out, whether it’s a job board like Church Staffing, different seminaries, job sites, different websites out there that focus on churches. Spreading it out there, marketing the position, that’s going to be a huge deal. Working your network, your connections, all that stuff to get the word out. So that’s marketing the position itself.

Second piece that you’re going to be able to do is screen candidates when they submit a resume. Now, there’s two schools of thought on this. One school of thought is that when somebody sends in a resume, we send out a 17-page questionnaire that asks them about their theology, asks them about their family situation, asks them how healthy they are, all sorts of questions that are tacky and that are different for each church. That’s one way of doing it. Nothing happens until that document gets resubmitted. The other school of thought is to screen the resume as a team, see if they fit who you are looking for. And if they look good and they look like they’re a general fit for your team, then begin the actual interview process and start to have conversations with them. I personally advocate to start with screening and then invite people to interview. What I have found is that the number of people that will return those questionnaires that are sent out has dropped significantly over the last several years. And typically, the candidates that are in demand that have the skills that you’re looking for are more interested in churches that want to start with a conversation rather than start with a 17-page questionnaire. So I would advocate for setting aside that questionnaire, really focusing on resumes to begin with and interviews and going from there. You need to have the conversations about theology. You need to have the conversations about health, of family, and all that kind of stuff. You need to do that, but you can do that through conversation a lot of times better than you can do it as part of a written statement. So that’s what I would suggest. If you need help, if you need a tool to help screen resumes, we’ll have a link down below that will point you to a guide that we put together that helps you understand how do we screen resumes well so that we talk to the right people.

Third function of a search team is to communicate. Now, this communication is twofold. One is in the church, one to candidates. I want to start with candidates. As a search team, the first thing that you should do is set up a Gmail account with an autoresponder that accepts resumes. With the autoresponder, say, we’ve got your resume. Thank you for sending it in. Here’s what you can expect. We will be back in touch with you by such-and-such date, so many weeks, so many days, whatever. To let you know your status. And do that please. One of the things that we hear so often from candidates is that they start to question their call because they send a resume out and they will never hear back from a church ever. They won’t hear, “No thank you.” They won’t hear, “We’ve already filled the position.” They won’t hear, “We hate your guts.” They won’t hear, “Hey, we’re moving on.” For the most part, it’s radio silence. And that becomes caustic to the soul of a pastor. Because by the time they’ve decided to send a resume into your church, they’ve searched your website, they’ve scouted out the area to say, “Hey, I could be here.” There’s the beginning of a relationship there. The least you can do is honor the fact that they’re sending that out by communicating and saying, “Yes, we got your resume. Here is what’s next.” And then sending them an email, “Hey, it’s not going to work” or “Here’s the next steps.” Okay. Communication to candidates is huge, and it significantly impacts their souls, and it significantly impacts their ability to minister at their next church, whether it’s your church or not. Feel that weight, feel that burden, and please act on it.

The other thing that you’re going to need to do is regularly communicate with the church about where things are. Now, in this case, I typically say less is more. Because what you don’t want to do is say, “We’ve got 13 resumes, and we’re really excited.” Because what everybody is going to hear is, “We’re going to have our pastor next week.” So what I would encourage you to do is be very choosy about what communication you send out. Maybe it’s, “We have begun the process of marketing the role. Everything looks good.” If you can get people into a rhythm where maybe once a month, once every six weeks you’re doing an update, that’s really good. And then you can kind of slow play what’s shared. I would encourage you to not communicate anything that isn’t definite. What do I mean by that? If you have somebody that you really like and you’re getting ready to invite them to come and do a candidate weekend, I wouldn’t say, “Hey, we’ve got somebody that we’re going to invite to a candidate weekend.” Because everybody is going to say, “They’ve found our pastor.” Because they can still say, “No.” Things can still go sideways. I wouldn’t communicate anything that isn’t definite. So I would wait until, “Hey, we’ve found a guy. They’ve agreed to come out and do a candidate weekend. This is when it’s going to happen and communicate that.” Be very careful what you communicate. You want to manage expectations. You want to manage emotions in this process. What you don’t want to have happen is an up-down, up-down, people on a rollercoaster of emotions going through this process. Be very careful what you communicate. Make sure everybody is on the same page about what is being communicated and that they are saying the same thing and nobody is talking out of school on that. That just causes frustration and aggravation. Okay, so communication. Feels like that’s kind of out of order, but I think the placement was right because of the candidate piece.

The next thing that the team needs to do is interview candidates. Have your process together. We typically advise that you do at least two, maybe as many as five Zoom interviews before you decide to bring someone in for a visit. If you need help, I’ll have a link down below this that will share with you an interview playbook that your search team can use as you do Zoom call interviews with candidates and some best practices for that. You’ll need to be figuring out what questions do we need to ask. What are the things that are going to be automatic disqualifiers for us? And really ask the questions about theological beliefs, theological close-fisted, open-handed issues, that kind of thing.

The next stage for a search team is to decide on who to move forward with. In your polity, there are different responsibilities, but typically the search team will narrow down to one, maybe two candidates that they push forward to the board or whoever. So the decision comes down to who is it that we feel God is calling us to pass forward. So in this case, this is where some of the mutual voluntary submission comes into play. There may be somebody that the rest of the team thinks is amazing that you are not super excited about. You think they can do the job. You think they’d be okay. You don’t have a character issue. You don’t have a theological issue. You don’t have any other reasons except maybe they’re just not your cup of tea. Your team needs to be able to take people forward that not everybody necessarily has at the top of their list, if they think they can do the job. So that selection process, we’ve got a tool at the bottom of that interview guide that can help you come to clarity with your team on who to take forward or who not to. So again, this is significant work, incredibly spiritually heavy and weighty work. But it’s some of the most important work that you can do in the life of our church. Thank you for committing to it, thank you for leaning into this. If we can be of any help, there’s a link down below for you to find some time for us to be able to talk through this.



Matt Steen

Matt Steen

Matt has served the local church for over two decades as a youth pastor, church planter, and executive pastor. Originally from Baltimore, Matt currently lives in Orlando, with his wife Theresa, and has a B.S. in Youth Ministry from Nyack College and an M.Div. and MBA from Baylor University. Certified as an Urban Church Planter Coach by Redeemer City to City and as a StratOp facilitator by the Paterson Center, Matt has made a career of helping churches thrive through intentionality, clarity, and creating healthy cultures. He is convinced that a healthy church is led by a healthy team with great chemistry, and loves partnering with Chemistry’s churches to do great things for the Kingdom.

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