- William Vanderbloemen
You’ve got an opening on your church staff, and the search is full steam ahead for your next team member. But now that you have identified several great individuals that might be a fit, you’re finding that, over and over, candidates are dropping out of the search. Why is it so hard for you to attract great candidates? The church is attractive and growing, and your church staff is one of the best you have led. Why, then, the "misfires" with candidates? Having interviewed thousands of pastors as well as assisting hundreds of pastors build their teams, I’ve noticed some blind spots that church leaders can have in common when it comes to hiring. Here are five reasons why you keep losing great candidates. Learn which of these is true for you, fix it, and you’ll attract and keep great candidates in your future church staffing search processes. 1. You’re taking too long to get back to them. Between sermon prep, managing a staff, tending to people and “other duties as necessary,” pastors work a ton. And that means less time to dedicate to hiring. But that also means that your candidate—who is taking a big risk at his current church—is often left sitting, waiting and wondering why they haven’t been contacted. Shorten up the response time from your office to the candidate. Candidates understand that you are busy and that church search processes can take time. But they don’t understand being ignored. If you show them that you’re still interested in them by communicating regularly, even just to drop a nice, short email or note, you’ll retain more top-shelf candidates. 2. You aren’t paying enough. No church ever feels like it has enough money to reach the amount of people it wants to. And most people on staff want a raise. And pastors are supposed to go into ministry because they are called to a mission, not simply for a job. Sound familiar? All of these are valid points, but our team at Vanderbloemen has all the data there is on church staff compensation, and the facts are clear: One of the clearest changes in church staffing since 2008 is that churches are paying more money to fewer people. While some really large churches can trade on their size (and the experience they are offering employees) to pay lower than average, everyone else needs to realize that there is a war for great church staff talent (more on that below). And for the first time in a long time, consumer debt is going down. That means that my friend Dave Ramsey (and others) have made a difference, and people are living more carefully with their money, taking on less debt and are carefully examining any move they might make concerning family and their provision. Great candidates always end up paying for themselves. As a church grows, it’s easy to keep paying the same while growing into a new compensation bracket. It’s also easy to find one source for assessing pay ranges and rely only on that. Take a long look at what you’re paying your team. When is the last time you shifted your payscale to match your growth or the most current cost of living in your area? If you cannot afford giving raises to people, signing bonuses might make a great alternative. It gives candidates a nice bump, helps with moving expenses and keeps you from having an perennial increase in salaries. A little money goes a long way toward landing great candidates. 3. You’re ignoring their spouse. Perhaps more than any other outside factor, the candidate's spouse can be the deal-breaker or deal-maker. Many pastors know to interview the spouse to see if they are a winner or not, but very few remember to recruit the spouse and family as much as they recruit the candidate. You are interviewing the spouse, but the spouse is assessing you as well. If you will take time to think through the eyes of a spouse, top candidates will notice. There’s a saying we use at the office that we believe more and more every day: “Win the spouse, and you’ll win the house.” 4. You’re not recruiting. When conducting a church staffing search, you have two primary jobs: (1) discerning whether or not a candidate is the right fit for the team, and (2) recruiting candidates to the team. Unfortunately, pastors often forget the second job. Your work discerning who God is calling to join your team is paramount to a successful search. You should be constantly praying, looking over a candidate’s work, evaluating them for a potential fit. But it’s easy to forget that candidates are interviewing you as well. It’s an easy trap to fall into: You love your church (as you should!) and cannot fathom someone not wanting to be a part of what God is doing there. But you sometimes forget that there are a whole lot of other churches out there, filled with staff members who believe their team is the best in the world. You realize that making a bad hire is really, really expensive, and so you spend hours praying and examining candidates, but forget that the candidate is watching how they are treated throughout the interview process. Try establishing a plan for recruiting candidates to you. Think through their eyes. How can you welcome them to your town? Your state? What touch of local flavor could you leave in their hotel room upon their arrival for an interview? We often recommend that pastors find a volunteer or staff member to help with searches, someone with strong people skills who can own coming up with a plan for and taking care of picking candidates up at the airport (or meeting them) and showing them the very best of the city. Be proactive in recruiting efforts and you’ll see high capacity candidates stick around. 5. There are more opportunities than there are rockstar candidates! Demographic study after demographic study show that there is a shortage of experienced labor in the U.S. across many industries. This new reality has birthed the phrase “the war for talent.” Church staffs are no different. As baby boomers retire, an enormous number of job openings (and pulpit openings) are popping up. And while there are a high supply of candidates available under 30, most churches want someone with a bit more experience in the leadership roles on their team. Unfortunately, there just weren’t as many babies born in the U.S. who are now 35 to 55 years old. There is a supply and demand issue. So if you run into a great candidate, particularly one in the 35 to 55 age category, treat them like gold. They are a rare find. Another solution to this church staffing challenge might be looking at candidates who are a bit younger. Hiring a young team member can have risks. (I know firsthand, as I was once a young pastor.) But younger candidates are easier to find and can have high potential. According to an article recently released by Forbes, millennials (workers currently 33 and under) make up the single largest cohort in the U.S. workforce. The same is true for pastors. There are more young pastoral candidates available than you might imagine. Recently, I was visiting with a church who was telling me that their new team member simply had to be over 40 (but under 45). I pressed the issue, but they held firm. Finally, I said, “So at the youngest, the candidate needs to be 10 years older than Jesus was when he started, and six years younger than the President was when we elected him?” They stretched. And they found a great candidate just a bit younger than they had originally thought possible. Try stretching your thoughts a bit about age. I promise it will yield a larger number of high capacity candidates. Stretch yourself in the realization that there are more churches than there are highly experienced candidates. Recruit as you discern. Win over your candidate’s spouse. Try to connect with your candidates on a personal level. And get back to people on time. Finding and keeping good candidates is harder than ever. But follow these steps, and you’ll increase your chances greatly. How can you use these insights to recruit and retain talent on your church staff?