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Unpacking the Hiring Process

Follow these five steps to overcome major hurdles when hiring new pastors and staff at your church.
Unpacking the Hiring Process
Image: erhui1979 | Getty

As a Church Coach with Chemistry Staffing, I see churches struggle with the hiring process. This article will walk your church through the process of interviewing and hiring a new staff member, along with the major hurdles you may encounter in every phase.

  1. Pre-Search Work
  2. Begin Your Search
  3. Interview Candidates
  4. Make an Offer
  5. Onboard Your New Hire

After you read this article, check out Chemistry Staffing’s comprehensive and free Chemistry Staffing Interviewing Playbook for a bank of sample questions to ask candidates.

1. Pre-Search Work

To attract top talent you need to present your church as a desirable place to work. Often the first place candidates will encounter you is through the posted job description. However, the second place they will look is online—often your website. While the job description you create needs to be polished and mesh with the responsiblities of other staff members, you also need to evaluate whether the information on your website is relevant.

Ask yourself:

  • Does our website need a facelift to look more current?
  • How does our church’s service stream or YouTube channel look and sound?
  • Are our social media channels current and relevant to our congregation?
In the digital age, whether you like it or not, candidates will judge your church based on your online content. If your website or content is unflattering, it may be difficult to attract talent.

Ultimately, candidates will want to determine the “quality” of your church just like new families in town—by looking online.

Finally, take time to clearly define the compensation and benefits package you plan to offer, internally at first. The worst thing you can do is scramble to figure out a salary range several stages into the hiring process. Payroll banding through a service like ChurchSalary can help you know what range each position on your staff will earn based on qualifications like education and experience; combined with other localized factors like cost of living. Perform this prep work before you even begin your search.

Major Hurdle: In the digital age, whether you like it or not, candidates will judge your church based on your online content. If your website or content is unflattering, it may be difficult to attract talent. Your digital content might take considerable time and financial investment prior to beginning a search. All of this effort will not be wasted as your improved website will continue to attract visitors even after you hire a new employee.

2. Begin Your Search

There are many ways to begin your search. Where you look for candidates depends on the role you are looking to fill. In what is now being referred to as The Great Resignation, Chemistry Staffing has learned in hundreds of conversations with churches that the market for quality pastors right now is truly a “candidate’s market.”

What this means is that candidates are being picky about where and how they find their next pastoral job. If you are in a specific theological stream, you’ll want to make sure to post your job with your regional and national denominational entities, as well as any seminaries that are associated with your church’s culture and theology. There are also a plethora of general job boards for you to choose from including non-Christian places like Indeed.com.

At Chemistry Staffing, we post jobs using both a “wide net” and targeted approach. We look all over the nation for candidates, while also using our internal candidate pool to quickly get candidates into an initial screening process. After that initial screening, we quickly send candidates an invitation to begin our detailed vetting and interview process. We treat every candidate as unique and special; not just a number or name in a stack of resumes.

Major Hurdle: Top tier, and even mid-level candidates are becoming harder and harder to find. A handful of years ago, an “average” church could post a job posting online and get 100+ decent applicants in a reasonable interval of time. Those days are gone now, and churches are experiencing a shortage of applicants that is unprecedented in many ways. That’s why a company that performs pastoral searches like Chemistry Staffing can be such a valuable tool in helping churches find quality candidates.

3. Interview

When you have multiple candidates to interview, things can really speed up. At this stage, I recommend always checking references as well as asking each candidate to complete a background check.

Character without competency will create problems just like competency without character will. Evaluate candidates based on both their resume and their personality.

Remember, candidates may not be doing lots and lots of interviews and may not present as well on screen as they do in person. It may be hard to get a read on candidates over a short Zoom or phone call. To get the most accurate picture of a candidate, churches should always interview the individual more than once. Schedule at least two interviews and try with different interviewers to get multiple perspectives on a candidate, then process these interviews as a team. This approach eliminates the “bad first impression” hurdle that can penalize great potential candidates for a flukey first interview.

If you’re looking for a consolidated starting point for your interviews, our free Chemistry Staffing Top 20 Things download is a great place to start. This document outlines twenty things you should know about your candidates by the end of the interview process—covering areas like theological alignment, culture, personality, and skillset.

Major Hurdle: Churches often fall in love with candidates for one of two reasons. Either they will hire a candidate based on past experience or skills, believing that this person will be a homerun performer on their team, or churches will hire a candidate because they like them as a person and believe the candidate will mesh well with their team and culture. Be warned! Character without competency will create problems just like competency without character will. The hurdle is evaluating candidates in a way that is both comprehensive and holistic—that appropriately weighs both their accomplishments and personality.

4. Make an Offer

By now you have whittled your candidate list down to a top candidate and you’re ready to offer them the job. The best practice for this phase is to send them an offer in writing.

The offer should include:

  • total salary number,
  • benefits,
  • start date,
  • moving expenses the church is willing to reimburse,
  • and the church’s personnel handbook as an attachment.

Your personnel handbook should include details such as vacation and sick time policies as well as any other relevant policies, procedures, and job descriptions for your church.

When you outline the benefits in your offer letter, a best practice is to mention all the types of reimbursement that the church does (auto, phone, etc.), any budgets the new hire will be supervising, as well as any discretionary spending accounts the role has access to (conference, book, meals, etc.). Also, make sure to provide a summary of medical, dental, and vision benefit plans offered so that the candidate can understand what costs he or she may incur (which will subtract from their compensation). Be sure to include an outline of any retirement benefits offered, as well as any probationary hiring periods that may apply to certain benefits.

Lastly, for some roles it is helpful to clearly define the type of role: ministerial roles that include a housing allowance are compensated differently for tax purposes than non-ministerial roles. Youth directors, worship directors, and kid’s directors are common roles that certain churches or denominations don’t recognize as ministerial. Additionally, clarifying an employee’s obligation to the employee’s Social Security contributions is especially important with younger employees who may have never had a housing allowance before. If your church has any ordination or licensing requirements, list them as contingencies with clear expectations for completion.

Major Hurdle: Offering an appropriate and fair-market salary is a huge source of anxiety for many churches. It carries implications for existing employee salaries and threatens all the work that has gone in to finding a strong candidate. However, losing a qualified candidate because your financial expectations don’t align can be a major setback. A third-party service like ChurchSalary can offer your church a nationwide and localized look at salary ranges and can help you offer an appropriate, fair market package to candidates.

5. Onboard
A well-developed onboarding process, complete with designated “check ins” will ensure that your new teammate and their family are adjusting well to their transition.

Before your new staff member starts, build excitement within your existing team to make your new hire feel truly welcomed when they arrive. This also helps to minimize the stress of moving to a new area and congregation.

Think through the staff member’s first day in office to lessen the anxiety and awkwardness of starting at a new church. You can plan a special staff lunch to create space for organic connections with other staff and help the new hire become familiar with a new environment.

Whatever you do, bear in mind that the first week is when new patterns are developed, and rhythms begin to take root. A well-developed onboarding process, complete with designated “check ins” will ensure that your new teammate, and his or her family, are adjusting well to the new situation.

Finally, choose to take advantage of a newcomer’s outside perspective by having a 90-day review. In that review you can continue to help the new hire set healthy rhythms and follow through on the commitments made during the interview and onboarding process; but also ask for insight on blind spots your existing staff has because of their longer tenure. Get even more tips through the free Chemistry Staffing Onboarding Playbook.

Major Hurdle: If your staff doesn’t have a culture of constant feedback this would be a good time to try and change that. Having a new employee gives you a unique opportunity to gain valuable feedback on your leadership and church culture. But this feedback needs to be invited by the church management and should be a culture you develop among your entire team.

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Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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ChurchSalary is made possible through funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. As part of Lilly's "National Initiative to Address Economic Challenges Facing Pastoral Leaders," ChurchSalary—and our parent, Church Law & Tax—is committed to helping church leaders and pastors develop an atmosphere of healthy financial stewardship, especially in the area of church staff compensation.