Finding the Right Staff

By Tammy Kelley

Hiring great staff, helping them take ownership for development, having gut honest conversations, and knowing when to redirect behavior have become essential tools for church organizational development.

Churches spend a sizable proportion of dollars on salaries and other personnel expenses – generally between 50 and 60 percent of the annual operations budget. So it’s not difficult to make a case for spending an ever-increasing amount of time stewarding resources allocated toward staffing.

My point of view comes from my experience both as an executive pastor of a church as it grew from mid-size to a church of 3,500 and more recently, for the past six years, from being part of the leadership team of Willow Creek Community Church. I have learned from what we have done well and have had an equal amount of learning from where we have failed.

Here are a few techniques that I’ve learned over the years. One caveat that you need to understand before reading any further is – God timing. The mystery of how and when God moves people and organizations is a mystery beyond our comprehension. There have been times when, just when I thought I had the world of people figured out, I experienced God work in a unique way that I wouldn’t have anticipated. So as you read through the following ideas, please understand that I understand that God’s call trumps any great process that I may have in place.

Pre-Interview: Answer each of these questions before you interview candidates.

* Why do you need this position?

* Is it a replacement for a current role?

* Is it a new position?

* What’s not happening because this role is not filled appropriately?

* If this role is functioning at optimum level, what will it look like one year down the road?

You’re going to want to be able to answer these questions for yourself and for your board – and a sharp candidate will not settle for fuzzy answers.

* What talents/gifts/experiences would the ideal candidate have? Make a wish list and prioritize the talents and experiences.

* Who do you currently know who could match this role? Call them. Even if they aren’t interested, they may have people in their circle of relationships they can connect you with. Dream big. Never hesitate to make a “what if” call.

Hiring from the Inside versus Going outside the Congregation

I always encourage people to hire from within whenever possible. Understanding the culture of a church is huge. Someone who’s a “star” at another church only has a 50/50 chance of being a star at your church. So much of ministry success has to do with the right people in the right culture. Generally it’s easier to transition a marketplace person from your congregation into the world of ministry than it is to transplant a person from one church to another. Of course there are times when the role you’re looking to fill can’t be filled from within your congregation. The role could mandate specific denominational requirements, or you may have looked internally and found no qualified candidates. Also, if you’re starting a new ministry or think a specific ministry needs to go in a totally different direction, then bypassing an internal search and going directly to an outside search is advised.

The Initial Interview

The initial interview is usually 30 to 60 minutes (over the phone or face to face). I listen and ask questions through the lens of three E’s:

Energy. Does this person bring positive energy into the conversation? Are they alive and vibrant? Do I feel energized by my conversation with them, or was it draining to pull information out of them?

Edge. What has this person done or read recently that’s fresh? Are they a continual learner? Will they bring new insights and ministry techniques into this church?

Execution. Has this person really had ministry success in executing, growing, developing ministries, or have they just read the latest three books about this area of ministry and they’re simply full of ideas and hypotheses?

If they pass the initial interview, we go onto…

The Second Interview

This is usually 60 to 90 minutes, and face to face. Now I dig for details, using the matrix of four C’s. The first three C’s have been in Willow Creek’s DNA for many years, and I’ve added a fourth C – Call.

Character. Does this person have a pattern of handling difficult situations with integrity? How self-aware is this person? I use these three open-ended questions: (1) Think about a job or ministry role that you greatly enjoyed and tell me what it was you valued most; (2) think about a job or ministry role that you didn’t enjoy and tell me what it was that you didn’t like; and (3) if you could think ahead three to five years, how would you hope the quality of your life would change?

Chemistry. Does this person understand our theology and values? Would this person fit in with our staff? Are they likable, warm, fun, smart, relationally savvy – all critical factors for new staff members.

Competency. I want to understand what this person has done – how they grew a ministry and who they had around them when they were growing or developing the ministry. I want to know if they were really a key part of that ministry’s growth or if they just had great people around them and the ministry grew in spite of them?

Call. Somewhere in the course of the interview I want to hear a person spontaneously talk about God’s call on their life and specifically about the role we’re interviewing them for. For me it’s reflective of the candidate being spiritually reflective and in tune with God.

How many people should interview the candidate and how long should the process take?

I like as many people as possible to interview the candidate. I value many voices in the process. I also never apologize for the length of our interview process. Different than in the business world, coming into a church staff role is a spiritual process, and we need to allow time for God to work and provide clarity for the candidate and the church.

Article “Finding the Right Staff” excerpted from “REV!” magazine. Article written by Tammy Kelley.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”