Manpower: People are selected and placed in positions that fit their gifts, passions and callings and that align with the church’s objectives and culture

Top 10 Mistakes Made In Hiring Church Staff

Over time I have come to accept that hiring church staff is an inexact science – one that can’t be reduced to a simple system, process or formula. That said, I have learned there are certain systems, processes and practices that do increase the likelihood of a successful hire.

And, I have found Sam Walton’s response to the question of how he learned to make good decisions applies to hiring as well……”by making bad decisions.” Below are 10 mistakes I see happening most frequently in hiring church staff. Learn from them, as I did, and you will see an improvement in your church’s hiring process.

1. Failure to accurately “picture” the candidate.

An accurate documented picture, or profile, goes well beyond the job description to stating preferred age range, experience, education, ministry skills, leadership attributes, relational skills, communication skills, management skills, spiritual gifts, strengths, passions and personality profile.

Picturing candidates gets easier when you have had someone successfully serve in the position before that can serve as a bench mark for the position profile.

2. Failure to cast a broad enough net.

With the pressure associated with filling a position quickly it is easy to settle for the “obvious candidate” and not take the time to see if there are other candidates that fit the picture profile better.

Another tendency that limits the number of candidates is staying within our network of ministry peers and denominational networks and failing to develop sources for candidates coming from other denominations and non-denominational churches, associations and job boards.

3. Insufficient reference checks.

Nothing predicts future performance like past performance and people who have worked with the candidate are the best evaluators of past performance. Again, due to time constraints we don’t do our homework and contact only references the candidate provides or one’s we know. And, we tend to stop after one or two good references.

A good rule of thumb is to always speak to four levels of colleagues: (1) a former supervisor (2) a former peer, (3) a former staff member supervised by the candidate, (4) a former lay person who served under the candidate. The more current those relationships the better. Another best practice is to ask provided references to provide names of other references not provided by the candidate.

And, not checking a candidate’s social media accounts can cause you to miss how they communicate with their friends, their social habits and how they come across when they are not trying to impress for an interview.

4. Not asking effective and powerful questions.

Asking the right questions is an art and you can only get better with practicing the right kind of questions. In the post Church Staff Interview Questions Every Personnel Committee Should Know you will find questions suitable and adaptable for a variety of hires.

Another best practice is to develop questions around the areas you have had problems with in the past. Typically though, the best questions are the “tell me a time when you……….” questions. Such questions take more time to develop but are usually more insightful.

Having the candidate answer questions both in writing as well is in a live interview with multiple interviewers will provide you a more complete picture of their experience and communication skills.

5. Allowing staff peers too much input.

In our zeal for buy-in and to create a team based collaborative culture we over engage our staff and department teams in the selection process. This is a slippery slope and can create problems if there is disagreement.

But more importantly, staff that will be supervised by or will be peers of the candidate rarely see the big picture the way a supervisor can. Further, they have little or no experience in hiring people, are more easily swayed by personality, are unfamiliar with the position profile and tend to look at the candidate through the lens of which candidate will make their job easier.

To increase buy-in involve staff in developing the profile and casting the net for names but then not again until you feel reasonably certain you have your number one candidate identified. Listen to and address concerns that surface, but only the hiring manager or supervisor should have veto power.

6. Not getting the right people in the room.

Discerning who should help you with a specific hire is again more art than science. Some are required by the church’s structure or personnel policies, but others should be chosen based on what they bring to the table.

For example, people with ministry experience in the area of the hire, those with the spiritual gift of discernment, and those who hire frequently in their own professions typically make better interviewers and decision makers.

Not getting enough people involved increases the likelihood something will get missed in the interview process. Getting the wrong people involved can stymie a search, especially if they have agendas or prerequisites not mentioned in the profile.

7. Not seeing them in a variety of settings.

You learn something different about a candidate in each setting you see them in. Too often we limit interviews to one on one and/or in a small group. You can often learn more about a candidate seeing them present or lead in a medium or large group setting than anywhere else.

Creating different interview environments also means having the candidate meet with a variety of stake holders who ask different kinds of questions based on their own experience and needs. For key hires it is a good practice to observe candidates in their current church context and/or in the ministry context they will serve in if they are called to your church.

8. Failure to assess personality and temperament.

Understanding a candidate’s hardwiring involves understanding their personality, strengths, spiritual gifts, passions, emotional intelligence, talents and skills. Ideally the desired attributes are included in the picture profile developed for the position.

Any number of online assessments such as DISC, Meyers-Briggs, Keirsey, Berkman, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, PLACE, SHAPE and StrengthsFinders can provide this information. Increasingly, understanding of personality and temperament is crucial to putting together effective teams, providing the necessary support and establishing job duties.

9. Failure to clarify expectations.

Too frequently there is a “gap” between what a candidate is told during the hiring process and the realities of the job, creating confusion, misunderstanding and loss of trust. In our zeal to “woo” a candidate we unintentionally fail to present a fair and accurate description of job duty expectations.

Providing a current job description and documenting how and who will monitor and evaluate their job performance, as well as the specific standards that will be used can minimize the likelihood of confusion.

10. Failure to onboard and support effectively.

Many church staff fail not so much because they are a bad hire as that they are not properly orientated, resourced and equipped. We are just glad they are here, the hiring process is over and we can get back to our jobs so we dump them in the deep end of the ministry pool and say sink or swim.

A 90 day plan, developed by the immediate supervisor, that identifies low hanging fruit and specific immediate and short term tasks and goals can insure the new hire gets off to a good start. Weekly face to face conversations with their supervisor during the first 90 days can insure any problems are identified before they get out of hand.

There is a much more that can be said about the nuances of hiring church staff but if you can avoid these 10 common mistakes your odds of making a successful hire will increase significantly.




Posted on December 8, 2015

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5