What Are You Really (Really) Looking For?
Here's what we think you should be looking for... it's what we call a 'healthy, long-term fit'.
The average tenure of a church staff person is somewhere between three and three and a half years.
We think you should ultimately try to find a candidate that will be able to minister to your search for AT LEAST the next five years.
We think that the possibility of finding a healthy, long-term fit rests on finding a match in five key areas: theological alignment, cultural competency, skills and abilities, personality, and 'chemistry'.
The Five Factors of a Healthy, Long-Term Fit
Too often churches fall in love with candidates too early in the interview process. While likeability is one of the five elements you’ll be screening for (personality), it is not the only filter.
In our work with churches over the years, we have identified five different areas that need to match up in order for your next hire to have ‘long-term, healthy fit’ potential:
1. Theological Alignment
2. Cultural Competency
3. Skills and Abilities
Great hires for your team equally search for theological fit, culture/DNA fit, personality fit, skills and experience fit, and ‘Chemistry’ (which is your final ‘gut check’ to be sure a candidate is the right person for your church and community.
Miss any one of these five, and the chances for the longevity of your new staff member goes down significantly. Misalignment in two or more of these areas are the things that bad hires are made of.
From start to finish, your job is to find a candidate that aligns with these six key factors. It will take time and patience. But the rewards for your church will be huge.
As you talk with potential staff members, it’s important that you make sure that they are a good fit for your church theologically.
How do your church’s open-handed and close-fisted theological issues line up with the candidate’s views on these issues?
On close-fisted issues, non-alignment needs to disqualify the candidate from your search, but you should also be exploring the open-handed issues to ensure that they will not cause a low-grade frustration between you and your new hire.
When not thoroughly theologically aligned, cracks many time begin to show within 12-18 months of the hire.
A word of caution: Watch out for theological warriors... someone with a 'theological agenda' that will try to fix you. 🙂
OK... two words of caution. (Here's the second): It's amazing how many different theological views you probably have on your search team. Determine NOW (not later) that your open-handed and closed-fist theological issues are... and stick to them.
Every church has a different culture and DNA. Small-town churches have a different feel than city churches. And most Baptist churches have a different ministry philosophy than Pentecostal churches. Finding a candidate that matches your church’s (and community’s) distinct ‘way’ of doing ministry is key to finding a healthy, long-term fit.
What type of church culture is the candidate coming out of and how does that compare to your church?
An honest assessment of your culture will help ensure that you do not bring someone on the team that will chafe at the way you do things from day one.
Identifying areas of misalignment early in the process will help insure you don’t make a common hiring mistake.
Some helpful tips:
Geographical cultural piece. Can this candidate thrive in your geographical area?
Church cultural piece. Every church has its own culture.
Church plants do not have the same culture as a 200-year-old Baptist church.
Larger churches usually have a different culture than very small churches.
Ask yourself, 'who are we as a church? How do we operate? what does it mean when we say this?'
Define your terms. The church is really good at calling different things the same thing. Examples: Spirit-led. Elder-led. Seeker-sensitive. Jesus-Centered.
Skills and Abilities
Skills and experience is one of the easier things to assess. Resumes and interviews can pretty easily uncover a candidate’s past experience, education, and innate abilities.
We often remind churches that the goal of your search is not to find “Jesus with a guitar”. Keeping realistic expectations is important. (It’s impossible to find someone, for example, with an MDiv, 20 years of experience, and 32 years old!)
Here are some key questions to ask:
Has this candidate demonstrated the required skills of the position, or are they ready to step into a bigger role?
Digging into a candidate’s skill set will keep you from setting someone up for failure.
Hiring the right person is sometimes a mix of evaluating past successes and future potential.
Remember, every church role is different. You won't find someone that has done EXACTLY your job description.
Many churches hire on experience and likeability. If you look at only those two things, you very well may get burned.
Every church and every church staff member has a personality. Too many churches make hires based on a first impression: “Do I like this person?” But there is much more than likeability that determines whether or not a candidate will be a great fit at your church.
A hard-charging, type-A personality in a type-B church will not end well.
Knowing how your church is wired and comparing that to the candidate will help you discern whether someone will be able to stay for the long-term.
It’s extremely important to get to know your candidate well BEFORE you make an offer to come on your staff. Introducing your candidate to key staff and volunteers in different social and church settings can help you determine how well a candidate will fit with your church’s and staff’s personality.
Remember, Wwe have all been fearfully and wonderfully made. That includes our personality quirks. 🙂
Not all personalities work with all churches.
Be sure that the candidate's personality will fit with your current team and leadership.
Identify the personality quirks that will annoy the snot out of you. They might do the job (and even love Jesus), but they will be hard for you to work with in your church's context.
How do you do this? Honestly, it takes lots of conversations and time. That's how you pick up the 'quirks'. (And we all have them).
Personality assessments? Use the one you currently use. (And if you're not using one, don't start now).
Many times you’ll know if you have made a personal connection with a candidate within the first ten minutes. But hiring based on your first-impression of a ‘chemistry’ match can be a huge mistake.
Chemistry should be the final test for whether or not a potential candidate will do well serving on staff at your church. Here are some key questions to ask:
Is this someone that you will enjoy working with for the next five years?
Would you feel comfortable inviting this person over to your house on a Tuesday night for BBQ?
Determining the level of chemistry a candidate has with your team saves you from incredibly awkward work environments.
But hiring based on chemistry alone can be a dumpster fire when you find that the person you’ve fallen in love with also shares key theological or philosophy of ministry differences.
Remember, if a candidate checks all the other four boxes but you don't have Chemistry, don't hire them.
Many times, you won't know for sure if there is Chemistry for sure until there are 'boots on the ground'... in-person and for an extended period of time.
Our World Famous Stool Analogy
Maybe this will help you understand the importance of the five things we've discussed.
You must have every one of these five in alignment in order to have the real possibility of a healthy, long-term fit.
Think about this as a stool.
Each of the first four factors, we talked about (theological alignment, cultural competency, skills and abilities, and personality) are the four legs of the stool.
Miss on any one of those, and you're going down. (and it will hurt).
"Chemistry" is the seat of the stool. (HINT: You can sit on a four-legged stool without a seat, but it's gonna be pretty dag-gum uncomfortable. You can do it... but not for long.
It is only when you have a strong seat supported by four strong legs, that you actually have a sustainable stool. In the same way, a strong candidate will possess alignment in the five areas that we have talked about here.
How to Screw This Up...
Many churches start with skills and abilities. They'll look at the college/seminary the person attended, the position titles they've held, and the churches they've worked at. The verdict: Yes... they can do the job!
They then quickly move on to 'chemistry'. You start laughing at their jokes and start to really like them personally. As you start to like the person, you will unintentionally disregard some of the cultural and theological flags that arise during your process.
It will VERY easy for you to lose your objectivity during this process.
There's a huge chance that you pay for your loss of objectivity with a pre-mature staff departure when you find that they really weren't that great of a match to begin with.
Many other churches have paid the 'stupid tax' here so you don't have to. The temptation will grow to compromise in areas that you know you shouldn't so that you can make the hire and move on. Fight that temptation.