By Kevin Stone
Since the beginning of our church in Pennsylvania, staffing has been among our biggest challenges. There is a continuous, ever-increasing need for people to lead stuff! As we all know, without a constant flow of good people, it’s very difficult to grow.
Hiring from the Outside
Your church has a leadership need, so you go to an outside recruiting firm for help. You know the process—you write a position description and start the search. I wish it were that simple. Our desire to prevent theological drift requires that we recruit from within the tribe, so to speak. And finding someone on the “outside” who will understand and practice our philosophy of ministry reduces the likelihood of success.
To make things even more interesting, most recruiting firms structure their fee such that the church must pay them whether a successful candidate is found or not. This is crazy, I know. How many businesses get paid even if no product is delivered? But sometimes a recruiter is the only option, so be aware that the fee is the fee, regardless of the outcome.
It is especially risky to work with an outside recruiting firm because of the lack of qualified people out there. The right person must be a graduate from one of only a handful of schools, have experience from the right kind of church, and must understand and support our philosophy of ministry. In most cases, the “right person for the job” is already employed. Therefore, it’s a matter of finding people already on staff at a church who are ready to make a move. Yes, the funnel is very narrow.
Of course, plenty of churches have had success working with an outside recruiting firm. As a Restoration Movement church with very specific education, background, and experience requirements, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The Fee—Be sure to understand the fee and how it’s required to be paid out. As I mentioned, in most cases the fee must be paid, regardless of the outcome of the search. Questions to consider (or ask): How much is paid up front? Are there progress payments, and what specific milestones are required to trigger a payment? What happens if a successful candidate isn’t found? Can the final payment be withheld until the position is filled, no matter how long it takes?
Position Description—I once thought writing a position description was merely a formality. I thought it was something the recruiter required that wasn’t that critical. I was wrong. Be sure to take the time to put a great position description together because it will be the operative document for the duration of the search. Don’t scrimp on the details. Get your team involved and make sure you capture everything that’s important about the position.
Education, Background, and Experience—Most importantly, be sure everybody understands the minimum requirements of a successful candidate in terms of education, theological background, and church experience. This is key to preventing theological drift. The right degree from the right school won’t help if the candidate has spent all their time in ministry in a non-Restoration Movement church. On the other hand, the right degree from a school outside our tribe can work, if the individual has spent most of their career in an RM church. We have a few examples of this at our church. It really gets down to what the candidate believes to be true being consistent with what our church teaches.
With all of this said, it’s been our experience that most of the time staff must be developed from within the church. In 21 years, the number of outside candidates we’ve hired can be counted on one hand (with fingers left over!). It makes sense. Where are we most likely to find people that “get” our church?
Hiring from the Inside
After a few failed attempts on the outside, we became laser-focused on identifying and raising up leaders from within our church. And, since our church was attracting lots of nonbelieving people, we were often developing leaders and leading them to Christ simultaneously. (Or was it leading people to Christ and developing leaders simultaneously?) Regardless, fueling the church’s growth requires us to get very good at identifying potential leaders, getting them across the line of faith, and plugging them into significant areas of ministry. I believe God provides people with the necessary gifts and our job as leaders is to identify and cultivate those gifts.
By far, the key for us has been recognizing and cultivating an individual’s desire to serve through establishing progressively more formal employment relationships. The difference between a volunteer, a volunteer team leader, or an intern is in how they are treated and the level of responsibility they are given. An intern, whether paid or unpaid, is treated more like a staff member and less like a volunteer. Depending on the need, they may be given a church email address, desk phone, and be included in the church phone directory. Often, they’re given a small operating budget and higher-level access to church management software and other tools. In fact, they’re often considered to be a staff member by those with whom they serve and regularly interact.
Recruiting from within has become so normal at our church that we’ve formalized a five-step process over the years. Before we go there, though, let’s talk about finding good people from within.
Leadership Evangelism: We call it “leadership evangelism.” Why? As I mentioned earlier, getting a potential leader across the line of faith is part of the process. To keep the pipeline full, every ministry staff member is expected to “leadership evangelize” by continuously identifying potential leaders and plugging them into significant leadership roles.
The process begins with intentionally identifying individuals who look, talk, walk, and act like leaders. There’s an opportunity to do this as part of almost any interaction. Meeting and chatting with someone in the lobby can be very fruitful, as can observing the work of a volunteer. Once a person has been identified, the next step is to meet with them to discover their leadership potential. This is most often done with a specific leadership position (or two) in mind. Over the course of a couple of meetings, the ministry leader works to discover the potential leader’s personality, passion, and, if they’ve been baptized, spiritual gifts. Of course, if they have not yet crossed the line of faith, working with them on taking that step becomes the focus.
Our Five-Step Process: The whole point of the leadership evangelism process is to prime the pump, so to speak. From there, our five-step process begins.
- Volunteer Leader—This is the first step in the process of finding and developing a future staff member. Once a leader is ready to go, plug them into a significant leadership role. Write out a “Ministry Description,” a job description for a volunteer position. As an example, for many years a volunteer oversaw the care of our facility by leading a team of volunteers; they did everything from changing light bulbs to replacing HVAC filters.
- Unpaid Intern—An unpaid intern is the next step in developing a volunteer leader into a staff member. Our current early childhood pastor started out as an unpaid intern. She was given a computer, email address, and cubicle space in our office area.
- Paid Intern—Does your church have a need for Sunday morning support in your children’s area or Sunday night support in student ministries? Pay that future student pastor a few hundred dollars a week to be there every weekend. With the pay comes more accountability and higher expectations.
- Part-Time Staff—Transition a paid intern into a part-time staff member. Pay them a fair salary for 20 to 30 hours a week and give them something to “own.” Our middle school pastor served part-time for a few years before we could justify a full-time position. She was actively serving from the time she was a high school student at our church clear through earning her youth ministry degree from a local university.
- Full-Time Staff—Make a part-time staff member full-time when the time is right. I was involved in this process (but didn’t realize it at the time). In my fourth year of serving, I accepted the senior pastor’s offer to become our church’s executive pastor. That was 17 years ago!
So, the key to recruiting from within is to identify leadership potential, discover personality, passion, and gifts, and recognize that potential through establishing progressively more “formal” employment relationships.
If you’ve gotten the impression that I’m an advocate for staffing primarily from within, this article has been a success. Find young, talented potential leaders through a summer internship program. Partner with Restoration Movement colleges and universities to bring a few interns into your church in the summer. After a few summers, those interns become “internal candidates” and end up being staff members after graduation.
Kevin Stone serves as executive pastor of operations with Christ’s Church of the Valley, Royersford, Pennsylvania. If you have questions or want to talk more about meeting the challenge of finding staff to fuel growth, contact him via his website at ExecutivePastorOnline.com.