4 Signs It’s Time to Hire an Executive Pastor
One of the searches we are asked to help with most often is the search for an Executive Pastor.
An Executive Pastor (often called an XP) takes on the day to day strategic leadership responsibilities of a church. They implement strategies to fulfill the leadership vision. They lead and manage the senior staff, helping them develop and achieve their ministry goals. If the Senior Pastor is responsible for setting vision, the XP is the one who figures out how to make that vision happen.
Sometimes we are asked to replace an outgoing Executive Pastor, but increasingly we are being asked to find a church’s first Executive Pastor. At some point, a growing church will need a capable “second chair” leader to help lead and manage the growing organization.
But how do you know if your church really needs or is ready for an Executive Pastor?
Quite often, a church will begin to feel the need for an XP when they have grown to be somewhere between 500-1000 in weekly attendance, so it would be tempting to assume that a church’s size is the most important factor in the decision to hire. But while size is definitely a factor, it’s not always the best indicator of the need for this role.
Here are the tried and true signposts that it’s time to hire an Executive Pastor.
1. You hit a growth ceiling.
The first—and probably the most important—indicator of the need to hire an XP is when your church hits a growth ceiling. This often happens when a church is somewhere between 600-1200 in size. If you notice that your church attendance keeps rising and falling regularly—climbing a few hundred then settling back down to the previous average attendance—you’ve hit a growth ceiling.
This should be a red light on the dashboard to go deeper into discovering the “why” behind the trend. It could be that you’ve got space limitations or staff members that have hit their leadership ceiling. If you don’t currently have an Executive Pastor to help both identify the issues or to navigate around the challenges of growth, it might be time to consider the XP hire.
2. The Senior Pastor is being pulled away from their primary role.
When you dig a little deeper into the reasons for not being able to move past a growth barrier you will often discover the second indicator that it might be time to hire an Executive Pastor: the Senior Pastor is consistently required to operate outside their primary gift set.
Most senior pastors have the gifts of preaching and vision. Some have natural leadership gifts that inspire their people to grow and stretch, inspiring their church to grow both in depth and numbers. But at some point, as an organization grows, a Lead Pastor will find themselves spending more and more time outside their primary gifts and calling. They’ll be engaged more and more in problem-solving with their board or staff and less and less in doing the things they are called and gifted to do—cast vision, preach effectively, and keep the organization headed in the right direction under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve done many first-time-hiring-an-Executive-Pastor searches, and inevitably I find that the Senior Pastors have become stretched beyond their limits, engaged in necessary activities that drain them and prevent them from spending time doing the things they were able to do when the church was smaller. If your Senior Pastor is increasingly doing things outside their gift mix and original calling, it might be time to look at hiring an Executive Pastor.
3. Your staff operates more as a family than it does a team.
When a church is first getting started or if it’s been in the 100-500 attendance range for a long time, the staff and leadership tends to operate more like family than it does as a team. Families are great and they provide support and security to weather the storms of life, but they operate completely different from a team that is focused on working together to achieve goals and impact a community.
In a staff that operates like a family, ineffective leadership can be overlooked. Hard conversations are often avoided. Roles are created for the person rather than the other way around, and growth and change are things to be avoided rather than pursued. For a church (or any organization) to grow there will need to be a move from being “family” to being a team. And one of the first steps to bringing that about is to hire a gifted organizational strategic leader like an Executive Pastor who knows how to navigate that often stretching or painful transition.
4. Silos are forming on your staff.
Another indicator that it might be time to bring in an Executive Pastor is when you see that your staff and ministries have become silo-ed or ineffective. As a church grows and the lead pastor is asked to operate more and more out of their primary gift set, staff members and ministry leaders often find themselves forced to operate and build their ministries in isolation from one another. At first, this feels like freedom. No one is looking over their shoulders, asking about ministry plans, or holding them accountable for named goals.
But eventually, as individual ministries operate without a cohesive vision or overall strategic plan, ministry efforts become ineffective and forward momentum for the organization is lost. Instead of working together to move the ball downfield to achieve a single vision, ministries are competing with one another for resources and attention while they pursue their own vision for their individual ministry. And while leading a ministry on your own can help a leader grow, being mentored and challenged by a gifted strategic leader like an Executive Pastor charged with helping the entire organization move forward will grow those staff members more quickly and effectively.
What are other indicators that it might be time to hire an Executive Pastor?