Jim Collins, author of the best seller Good to Great, says “The most important decisions that businesspeople make are not what decisions, but who decisions.” The same can be said for Pastors and Personnel Committees. There are few things that will create more dysfunction in a church than hiring the wrong person. And there are few things that will help it grow like hiring the right person to do the right job. Simply put, hiring church staff is one of the most important things church leaders do.
When you have the right people working in the right roles doing the right tasks, there’s an amazing synergy and alignment around the mission, vision and objectives of the church. Having the right staff, with the right gifts, in the right positions, doing the right things will help your church reach people with the Gospel and help them grow in their faith in Christ. Few decisions have bigger or longer lasting implications than hiring.
But too many times, we bring in someone to do a job only to realize it isn’t a particularly good fit. Hiring mistakes can set a ministry back years and take an emotional toll on employees, their families and ministry constituents. There are no guarantees when it comes to hiring. But there are processes that almost certainly guarantee failure and processes that set you up for success. You can increase the likelihood of a successful hire with the right systematic hiring process. A better hiring process will lead to better hires.
Instead of quickly hiring someone you know to fill an immediate need, you must slow down and work a system that will lead to a much better decision. The following process can be used every time you need to hire someone. It’s a comprehensive process for bringing new people onto the church staff team. And the more you work on it, the more effective it becomes.
Step 1: Zero Base
Too many staff searches start with the idea, “We need to hire a (ﬁll-in-the-blank).” Maybe they ﬁll in the blank with Small Groups Minister, or Millennial Minister or Executive Pastor.
When you start with a title, you assume you know what is needed. At the early stages of a staff search, a title may prevent you from identifying what’s really important about this new staff position, if it is the most important hire to make at this time, or if you even need the position at all.
So instead of starting your search with, “We need to hire a [ﬁll-in-the-blank],” try starting by describing the need your church has and the outcomes you expect:
- We need a person who can meet this need….
- How will this position help us grow the mission and vision of our church?
- What strategic initiatives of the church will this position move forward?
- If this person were not hired, what would not get done?
- What results do we want to get out of this position? What benefits will the church receive?
Then explore alternatives to hiring a full time person by asking:
- Can this need be met by a volunteer?
- Can this need be met by a contract or part time employee?
- Can this need be met by outsourcing?
- Can this need be met by adding it to a current position?
- Can a current staff or volunteer be trained to fill this role?
Even when filling an existing position don’t assume you need someone to fill that person’s role. Too many leaders get lazy at this point in the search process and fail to focus first on needs, outcomes and alternatives. Do this tough work first and the remainder of the process will flow easier.
Step 2: Develop a Position Profile
The next step in the process is arguably the most critical, yet most frequently neglected step. Your job is to now paint a word “picture” of what this person will do in order to make the contribution you identified in Step 1. Your goal is to hire the person most ideally suited and hard wired for the position.
This requires zeroing in on the specific requirements to be successful in this position and support the outcomes you need from them. This should include:
- Spiritual Gifts and Attributes
- Personality Traits
- Practices, Disciplines and Habits
- Education and Training
This is not a job description, it is a description of the type of person you are looking for and the context and expectations related to the position. The position profile should also cover things like:
- A history and perspective on the culture and demographics of the church
- An overview of the community
- The mission, vision, values and goals of the church
- The role of the position and how it relates to the rest of the department and staff team
- Key performance indicators
- Job overview including key roles, responsibilities and expectations
- Description of the office culture, reporting relationships, and staff and church values
The position profile shouldn’t be developed in a vacuum. If you are the Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor or Supervisor who’s making the hire, you need to surround yourself with other key stakeholders for this step. You need a team of people who have a clear understanding of the contribution this new person needs to make. This should include input from volunteer ministry leaders, ministry participants, direct reports and peers.
It can also prove informative to examine the profiles of other staff who have previously been successful in this or similar positions, identifying the key attributes that contribute the most to their effectiveness.
Crafting an accurate position profile dives deeper and in more detail than you are probably accustomed to, but the payoffs are enormous. Now you have a clear picture of the person you are looking for that you can use to compare each applicant against, helping to eliminate some applicants while identifying those with the highest potential. And, the next step, that of writing the job description becomes much easier when you have done the hard work of crafting a clear profile of the person you are looking for to fulfill the position of need.
Step 3: Craft a Job Description
Though the job description may include many of the items found in the position profile, the focus of the job description should be the specific tasks required and expected of the position. Failure to clarify expectations on the task level can trip up an otherwise effective hiring process.
Using the same team as above, collaboratively determine the positions ongoing daily tasks as clearly as possible. This might include things such as:
- Meeting participation
- Sunday and Wednesday responsibilities and tasks
- Leader recruitment
- Leader development
- Pastoral Care and Counseling
- Missions involvement
- Discipleship involvement
- Worship involvement
- Staff supervision and evaluation
- Ministry vision and strategy
- Tracking and reporting of metrics
- Communication; Social Media
- Key Events and Programs
With every position there are specific tasks crucial to getting the job done and being a success. Identifying what those tasks are will help you select the type of person who will do well in the role. Remember you want to hire someone who is ideally suited to perform the tasks required of the responsibilities that address the need you have identified.
Step 4: Search for Candidates
The most common mistake in this step in the search process is to hire the most obvious person without seriously looking at other potential candidates. Frequently this is someone in an associate position or another position on the staff, a close friend, or key lay ministry leader. Limiting your interviews to only these types of candidates can cause you to miss someone who more closely fits the position profile.
Creating a standard and required search system and establishing a guideline of locating a minimum of two to three candidates who closely fit the position profile can protect you from always deferring to the most obvious person. Remember, your goal is to find the person most ideally suited for the position and that may or may not be the most obvious person.
A standard search process should include a variety of channels and avenues for making the position known. This could include approaches such as:
- Use of a professional staff search firm
- Post on denominational, institutional and other job boards
- Post on Social Media
- Purchase a professional ministry email distribution list
- List in the church bulletin, web site and newsletter
- Ask church staff to circulate the position opening to their ministry peers
The main point of this step is to generate as many qualified candidates as you possibly can by casting as broad a net as possible. Position titles can be misleading so attaching the position profile and job description with each posting and listing will clarify the type of person you are looking for and help weed out unqualified applicants.
Step 5: Thin the Applicants
The most frequent mistake at this step in the process is to compare candidates to each other rather than to the position profile. Remember, the goal is to locate the person who most closely fits the position profile.
When you review resumes you are looking for those applicants who have the defined natural hard wiring and qualifications for the position. Resumes typically provide only qualifications such as experience, education, accomplishments, etc. While helpful, it does not provide relevant data for whether or not a person is wired for the job.
To determine natural hard wiring you will want to ask candidates for the results from any of the personality and temperament indicators they may have taken, such as StrengthsFinders, DISC, Berkman, Emotional Quotient 2.0, Core Values Index, Meyers-Briggs, etc. As each of these indicators can be taken online, you should be prepared to provide candidates links to those assessments you find most insightful if they cannot provide them.
Look closely at both how an applicant’s qualifications and hard wiring match the position profile to thin the applicant pool. This approach allows you to only consider resumes from those applicants whose profile fits within the range of results for the ideal candidate.
Step 6: Put Pre-qualified Candidates Through a Defined Process
Once you have narrowed the list of candidates to only those who most closely fit the position profile you are ready to begin the interview process. The biggest mistake at this step in the process is a failure of due diligence due to a lack of patience and thoroughness.
Having a defined and sequential interview process, established questions for each level of interview, and hiring procedures that remain the same, regardless of the position or the candidate, ensures consistency and thoroughness. This may include things such as:
- Pre-screening Phone Interview
- Supervisor Interview
- Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor Interview
- Department/Ministry Peer Interview
- Committee/Church Leader Interview
- Ministry Leader/Ministry Participant Interview
- Background checks
- Reference checks
- Compensation and Benefits discussion
- Relocation discussion
Typically, the more eyes and ears you can put on a candidate the more likely you are to discern if they fit the position profile and the four critical factors of Culture, Chemistry, Character and Competency.
Step 7: Make a Decision
A failure to pre-determine how and who will make the decision on which candidate to hire and what compensation to offer them can create undue disharmony and confusion. This decision making process for each level of employee should be clearly documented in a Personnel Policy Manual, Church Bylaws and/or Personnel Hiring Operational documents.
Options to consider for who will make the decision, include any one or combination of the following:
- Senior Pastor decision, approval or veto power
- Executive Pastor decision, approval or veto power
- Hiring Supervisor decision, approval or veto power
- Personnel Committee decision, approval or veto power
- Deacons, Elders, Trustees decision, approval or veto power
- Congregation or Ministry Constituency decision
Once you know who will make the decision it is important to clarify how the decision will be made. You have already determined the criteria, the candidate that most closely fits the position profile. Your only remaining decision is do determine if the hiring decision is made by:
- Simple majority
- Some other percentage
- Deferment to the Senior Pastor, Executive Pastor or Hiring Supervisor.
Step 8: Make an Offer
Once the decision has been made to hire a candidate it is time to make a job offer. This should be put in writing in a formal job offer letter that clarifies details of employment, such as:
- Salary and Benefits
- Relocation Package
- Employment Contingencies: Signing Personnel Manual, completion of documentation, etc.
- Start Date
- Direct Supervisor
- Time Away
The job offer letter should be signed and dated by the appropriate church representative, such as Personnel Committee Chair, Business Administrator or Executive Pastor.
Step 9: Onboard
Onboarding includes the many transitions that must occur between when a candidate accepts the job offer and when they begin their new job. How well a new employee transitions from their previous place of service has implications for their family as well as the successful launch of their new ministry.
Onboarding includes assistance with such practical things as:
- Moving arrangements
- Sale of existing home
- Purchase of a new home
- Transfer of health and retirement benefits
- Office set up
- Computer and phone purchase
- Email and Social Media set-up
- Church Credit Card
Job transitions are one of life’s most stressful events. Assistance with these practical aspects of a job change can do much to mitigate the potentially negative pressures involved with any move.
Step 10: Orientate
Intentional church and job orientation, the final step in the hiring process, may be the single most neglected yet one of the most critical steps to new employee success.
Orientation involves what specifically happens during the first 90 days of employment. An effective orientation process dramatically increases the likelihood of the new employee’s immediate impact and long term success and fulfillment.
A simple check list to include with any new hire might include things such as:
- Signing of all required personnel related documents
- Facility Tour; Provide keys
- Staff Introductions
- 30/60/90 day tasks and goals
- 30/60/90 day feedback and review dates
- Ministry and department specific training
- Review of church calendar and upcoming events
- Staff Meeting schedule
- Review of Performance Management and Review System
- Watch new member/new staff videos
- Read church bylaws
- Provide Policy Manuals
- Explain administrative forms
- Meetings with ministry leaders
- IT procedures
- Scheduling and facility request procedures
- Church Management Software training
- Budgeting, purchasing and billing procedures
- Pastoral Care procedures
- Phone and email procedures
- Copy and mail machine training
- Add photo and bio to church web site
- name plate for office door; name tag; business cards
- Staff values; staff covenant
On the day your new hire starts the real work begins. Set them up for success by involving them in a comprehensive orientation plan.
The importance of using this hiring process every time you hire church staff can’t be overly emphasized.
You can adapt it to fit your personal preferences and church’s polity and practice, but once it’s determined, document it and leave it alone except for periodic minor tweaks.
In the press of time demands and the urgency to fill a position you will always be tempted to skip steps in the above process. More times than not you will come to regret these omissions.
Remember that your processes and systems are perfectly designed to achieve the results you are experiencing. If you aren’t consistently making good hires, then take a look at your hiring process. A good hiring process, consistently applied will help you to make good hiring decisions.
Posted on January 5, 2016