The Comprehensive List of Interview Questions for Church Staff
By: Holly Tate April 11, 2019
Great interviews hinge on one key component: great questions. And most great and wise people are always on the lookout for good questions. Have you ever noticed how often the Bible says, “Jesus answered them by asking a question….”
Most churches we have studied have about a 50% success rate with their hires working out over the long haul. Interviewing the right way is a real difference maker in improving the likelihood of a long term match between candidate and church.
Most churches don’t have a Human Resources team or even church staff members who are solely responsible for hiring and firing. Depending on the church’s polity or even what type of role is being filled, there may be a personnel committee or search team involved in conducting the hiring process. Other times, it might be the Lead Pastor or church leadership team conducting the hiring process.
Regardless of who is responsible for the hiring process, being intentional is key in finding the right people for your church staff. One of the most challenging parts of the hiring process is the interviewing phase. This is especially challenging in ministry because you’re hiring for more than just competency. You’re hiring for a theological and cultural fit in addition to competence in the job responsibilities required of a pastor or church staff member.
Among most of the top executive search consultants in the world, the trend in interviewing these days is toward a form of questions called “behavioral competency.” Questions center around a candidate’s ability to articulate their work in their most recent jobs. Many psychologists who write on this say that this method is the single best way to get to the root and true acumen of a candidate.
The interviewing process is one of the most common times hiring teams get stuck. You’ve narrowed down your list of resumes and are ready to start interviewing, but where do you start? What questions do you ask? How do you avoid repeating questions as the candidate moves forward in the interview process?
We’ve created this list of church staff interview questions to guide you along as you take your next steps with candidates. It will help you break out of the predictable interview-style shell and get to know the candidate on a deeper level.
This list of church staff interview questions focuses on four major categories to guide you through the major steps in the interview process:
- Basic Church Staff Interview Questions
- Challenging Church Staff Interview Questions
- Interview Questions Assessing Work Ethic
- Theological Church Staff Interview Questions
Let's dive in!
The first round of interviews can be an easy place to get stuck in the hiring process. While it can feel like an awkward analogy, the interview process is a lot like dating. Similar to someone attempting to date for the first time, many hiring teams unintentionally make the first round of interviews more complicated than they need to be. The first round should be considered a screening process and a relatively surface level conversation with basic interview questions.
We recommend your first basic interview with a candidate be conducted over the phone so that you have an even playing field to compare candidates. It’s the part of the interview process where you’re confirming what is on the candidate’s resume and asking questions that help fill in the blanks.
Depending on your church and the role, you will need to contextualize these questions, but here are 11 basic interview questions to get you started in the beginning of your interview process with candidates.
1. Why are you looking for a new job?
This is an open-ended question that leaves room for you to interpret motivation and underlying personality traits. It will help you determine if this person is a passive candidate casually exploring opportunities or an active candidate who is committed to looking for a new job. Neither is bad, but it is a good distinction to uncover so that you can assess if they feel drawn to your church specifically or if this is just another application they submitted out of many.
2. How would your friends describe you?
After hearing the candidate’s answer, take the question a little deeper and consider asking, “May I call one of your friends?” Depending on the response you get, you will be able to tell if your candidate provided you a truthful response or just one he or she wanted you to hear. By asking this question early on, you’ll let the interviewee know you’re looking for honest answers.
3. What are your two greatest weaknesses?
Instead of asking about one weakness, for which they’ve likely already rehearsed an answer, this question will allow you to see how self-aware the candidate is and if they are able to demonstrate an opportunity for growth in their weaknesses.
4. How do you cope with stress?
Each job has stressful components, especially in ministry when you’re often carrying a heavy emotional and spiritual load of your congregation on top of regular organizational duties. How a candidate handles that stress is vital to the long-term health of your church. Denial is a dangerous characteristic. Watch out for interviewees who say stress is not an issue for them. They either have never been under pressure before or aren’t self-aware enough to know how they handle stress, neither of which are helpful characteristics in a new employee.
5. What are your goals?
This question will help you determine if your interviewee thinks strategically about the future and plans ahead. If he or she doesn’t have a direct answer (at least one!), chances are making plans is a difficult task. Ask about previous plans they have set and accomplished (or not) and why for additional insight. Asking this question will also help you discern if the interviewee’s goals align with the mission and goals of your church.
6. What is your preferred work environment?
Employees typically have a preference for what kind of work environment helps them be most productive. Some prefer professional and quiet environments while others like more open, flexible spaces. If you hire an introvert for the role, yet the role will require them to interact in a part of the organization that is loud and constantly bustling, it may cause tension. It’s helpful to hire employees who know how they are wired and how that influences their work and productivity.
7. How do you handle conflict?
Conflict is another issue that is certain to come up in someone’s work, especially in ministry. Ask for an example of how a candidate has handled conflict in the past or present a hypothetical and relevant scenario. In ministry roles, you need to hire employees who are gifted interpersonally and can speak with truth and grace to resolve conflict on a team, with volunteers, or within the congregation.
8. How do you stay organized?
This open-ended question will show you how a person organizes, rather than allowing them to hand you a positive answer. Although systems vary, organized people always have a system. Their answer will give you insight into how they tackle projects and manage their time. Are they more tech-savvy and use cloud-based project management software or are more traditional using a pen and paper to-do list? Neither is right or wrong, but it’s helpful insight into how a person is wired.
9. When have you gone the extra mile?
This gives a candidate the freedom to brag a little bit without feeling out of place while you can measure what the person considers “the extra mile” and determine if it fits well in your context. This offers the opportunity for them to show you how they serve others on their team without being asked or stay a little longer to get a project completed.
10. How do you develop team members and volunteers?
Another open-ended question will demonstrate the interviewee’s ideas on delegation and building team members and volunteers. Especially in ministry environments, a holistic approach to growing people is important to not only the church but the people it serves.
11. How do you describe your personal theology?
For ministry roles, this is a critical question because you want to ensure that the candidate’s personal theology aligns with your church’s theology. If the candidate and church don’t theologically align on core issues, it will lead to a lot of conflict down the road. We don’t recommend spending enormous amounts of time on this question in the first round of interviews, but asking an open-ended question about theology like this one will help you make sure that the core issues are aligned before you move forward in a more in-depth interview.
Once you’ve conducted a basic phone or in-person interview questions with your candidates, it’s time to move on to more in-depth questions in the next round of interviews with high-potential candidates. This round should be in-person if possible, as you want to be able to read body language and interpersonal responses to the questions.
Here are seven creative and challenging interview questions that will prepare you for a productive in-depth interview and help facilitate strong relationships early on in your interview process as you discern next steps to take with your candidates.
1. What parts of your current (or last) ministry job are the most energizing to you and what parts are the most draining?
Much can be learned from how the candidate describes his or her own strengths and weaknesses. It’s common for someone to stray from the absolute truth in these scenarios because they are focused on making a good impression. By asking what energizes a candidate, you’ll gain more insight into what strengths they will bring to your team and the work environments where they will thrive. By asking what drains a candidate, you’ll gain insight into the tasks and responsibilities that the candidate prefers to stay away from. Look for the candidate to be open and honest about their shortcomings as well as strengths and how that might affect their potential position on your church staff. Humility and self-awareness is key for successful church staff leaders, so listen for a humble spirit in the candidate’s response.
2. If we were to hire you today, what would your game plan be for your first 3 months in this role?
This question has the ability to quickly sort out the high-potential candidates from those who aren’t as well equipped for the position. The high-potential candidates will have likely already thought through strategy questions and have at least a broad game plan for what success in the role would like.
For example, if it’s an interview for a small groups role, high capacity candidates should be able to share a basic strategy for small group engagement and growth. If it’s a Senior Pastor role, the candidate should be able to communicate opportunity they’ve noticed for the church and how they desire to lead the church. Pay attention to their strategy and organization of thoughts. Be sure that this person is able to bring the gifts to the table that you are looking for as you build your team.
3. What problems did you identify in your last position? Do you foresee any of those same problems in this position? Where do you see opportunities in this new role?
Depending on the type of person you’re interested in hiring, it may be important to determine their ability to adapt to a new role. Some church staff positions call for more agility than others, so listen for the candidates’ ability to adapt and shift to solve new problems. Problems will always arise in the workplace, and how a candidate responds to them speaks to their character. Look for them to provide examples of situations when they stepped out of their line of responsibility or comfort zone to fix a problem or provide insight. Having a versatile and focused staff member will always be beneficial for your ministry, regardless of the position.
4. What changes might you suggest if you were the decision-maker for this team or position?
This question gives the candidate the opportunity to showcase their own creativity and leadership potential as they relate to your ministry. If he or she is a high-capacity candidate, they will probably already have some budding ideas that they will want to run by you. Give them the chance to appropriately share these with you. This will also give you the opportunity to see if your visions align for where you are leading your ministry.
5. Which of your ministry gifts have other leaders previously confirmed? What have they said about your strengths or your potential blind spots?
This is your chance to hear what the candidate thinks their peers’ impression is of the candidate’s work as well as gauge the candidate’s self-awareness. Ask this question of both your candidate and their references. Chances are, the candidates you choose to interview will have many references for you to contact, so this is your opportunity to call on them and learn a little more about the candidate. References from previous employers or mentors are a fantastic resource and should be utilized, especially if the candidate is new to your church community.
6. If you needed to gain expertise in a subject you didn’t know about, what plan would you form? Tell me about a time you faced a problem you’d never seen before. What did you do?
Adaptability is a huge determinant of what makes a staff member hardworking and trustworthy. A successful candidate should be able to communicate their ability to problem-solve and work through a challenge. One of our values as a company here at Vanderbloemen is solution-side living. How has this candidate displayed solution-side living in their previous place of employment? Do they give up if they don’t know something or do they relentlessly search for the answer until they solve the problem? In ministry, leaders are constantly solving people problems. This takes an enormous amount of emotional intelligence, especially when it’s a problem or situation they’ve never faced before. These qualities speak to their character and potential of the candidate for your ministry.
7. Do you predict any changes in churches or ministry in the next 2 – 4 years? How do you plan to adapt your ministry to fit those changes? Do you think there are any changes that need to happen?
As we’ve discussed above, the church world is constantly changing, so it’s important that church leaders continuously reevaluate the effectiveness of their ministry. Listen for the candidate’s ability to bring new ideas and innovation to the position. Are they able to strategically think through processes and systems to help build your ministry?
8. What constructive criticism have you received in the past that surprised you the most?
This question is helpful to assess how the candidate receives feedback and what some potential blind spots are for them. What you’re listening for in the answer to this question is how they receive feedback and what they did with the criticism they received. Did they improve and adapt after hearing the criticism or did they blame-shift and accuse the giver of the feedback of misunderstanding them? Listen for if the candidate is able to receive feedback gracefully.
9. Tell me about an initiative that you conceived and were responsible for executing. What challenges were expected? What challenges did you not foresee, and how did you overcome them?
This is similar to the problem solving question above, but it will also help you see how the candidate can take a project from ideation to completion. It’ll give you a real example of how the candidate strategically thinks through planning and problem solving rather than giving the expected answers they feel like they should give.
10. Describe the cultures of your last few job or church settings, how they differed, and which one fit you best.
Culture fit is crucial for making the right hire. By asking the candidate to think through the type of workplace cultures that have fit them best in the past, you’ll gain insight into if they fit your culture or not. As the interviewer, remember that culture trumps competency every single time.
11. Tell me about a time when you had to get people with different viewpoints to the same level of understanding.
Ministry and church leadership is all about managing people with different viewpoints. Whether it’s other staff members or volunteers, ministry is all about leading people through change - organizational change and life change. You need to be interviewing for candidates who are gifted in gracefully leading people from different backgrounds and viewpoints.
Effective interviewing is vital to your search and hiring process. Now that we’ve covered basic and in-depth interview questions, here are some specific questions around work ethic that you should consider including in your interview process.
Another component that is often hard to assess in the interview process is work ethic. We often hear from church leaders, “They had an excellent resume and interviewed really well, but he just doesn’t have the work ethic to keep up with our church’s pace.” It is vital that you interview for work ethic to help ensure that the candidate’s personal work ethic aligns with your church’s expectations.
Below are nine questions to ask both the candidate and yourself in the interview process to see if they will add value and be able to do their job well.
1. How do you approach project and task management?
Asking an open-ended question like this about project management will leave room for you to hear how systematic the candidate is. Do they have a personal system for breaking down projects into tasks or do they often get overwhelmed by new projects? Does this person have a process for not forgetting important details of their role? If they don’t, they could possibly be missing the ability to follow through and meet deadlines.
Listen for cop outs like, “I’m just not a detail person,” or “I have an assistant that handles all that stuff.” Depending on your church’s culture, you might need a candidate that can do both the ideation and execution of a project or initiative. If a candidate isn’t accustomed to taking projects to the finish line, you might be frustrated when it comes time for them to deliver results in their role.
2. Are deadlines a rule or a guideline?
Deadlines are important. They give weight to the tasks that need to be completed well and in a timely fashion. If the person you are hiring does not see deadlines as important, that means they will most likely not follow yours as you'd expect. Can they meet expectations and complete things well and quickly?
3. Which of your previous positions were not a great fit for you and why? Which positions were a great fit and why?
Responses like “I needed fewer work hours,” or “The office was really close to my house,” is not what you are looking for in this answer. If this person is looking for a job that is convenient and easy, they likely do not have a drive to work hard. If the candidate you are interviewing is looking for a challenge and ready for something that will stretch them, that is the kind of person you want on your team. You want a team member that is moldable and teachable, not lazy and stuck in a rut of bad habits.
4. What is your view on work-life balance?
This person should enjoy their work and be driven to succeed but also understand the value of putting their own health and their family’s health first. Does this potential hire talk about work in a good light or are they dying to leave by the end of the day? Are they energized by both their work and home life or are they drained by one or both? You don’t want to hire someone who is a workaholic. That is a recipe for burnout, but you do want to hire someone who is bought into your church’s mission and motivated to drive the church forward.
5. What motivates you in your work and career?
You want to hire a person who aspires for more than what is right in front of them. If you are interviewing someone who is happy to be in one position for the rest of their life, they are likely not someone who is up for a challenge. The people who are up for a challenge are going to be the ones who will go over and beyond what is asked of them.
When interviewing for a church staff candidate, you should spend a good portion of the interview assessing if the candidate’s personal theology aligns with the church’s theology. One of our Vanderbloemen Differences is that Theology Matters. We spend intentional time understanding both our clients’ theological views as well as candidates’ theological views to make sure they align.
There are many components to understanding a church’s and a candidate’s theological views, but here are five overarching theological topics to get you started during the interview process.
1. Which specific denomination(s) or Christian groups/tribes would be the best fit for you?
You can sometimes tell which denominations or tribes a candidate is associated with through their resume by seeing where they went to college or seminary as well as churches they’ve worked at in the past. However, this is a good question to ask, especially if a candidate has multiple denominations or tribes represented on their resume.
2. Churches generally hold varying beliefs about the “sign gifts” (speaking in tongues, supernatural healing, prophecy, etc.). In which environment would you be most comfortable serving?
Even within denominations, churches often have varying views on sign gifts, so this is an excellent topic to bring up in understanding where the candidate’s personal theological views lie regarding sign gifts. The goal here is not to change what the candidate believes but to make sure that the church’s theology aligns with the candidate’s theology.
3. Churches tend to lean more seeker-focused or discipleship-focused. What would be the ideal church for yoU?
If your church leans more toward seeker or discipleship-focused and the candidate leans the other way, you’ll likely run into tension when it comes to ministry philosophy and planning. Being aligned on what the role of the church is vital to making the right hire for a ministry position, so take time to intentionally think through this important topic during the interview process.
4. Would you consider yourself to lean more Arminian or Calvinist?
Even within denominational tribes, churches vary on their theological views on predestination versus free will. Depending on your church’s views of reformed theology, this topic can be crucial to theological alignment. Spend time in the interview process ensuring that the candidate aligns with your church’s views on theology.
5. Would you consider yourself to lean more egalitarian or complementarian in your theology?
Churches vary in thief theological views of men and women in church leadership. This is an important topic to make sure the church and candidate aligns on during the interview process because it can influence organizational chart and leadership decisions, depending on the church’s theology.
While these theological questions are by no means comprehensive, we hope it’s a starting point for you in ensuring that your candidate’s views align with your church’s theological views and statement of faith.
At Vanderbloemen, we help churches and faith-based organizations build their best teams by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession, and culture. If you're looking to hire your next staff member, contact us. We'd love to help.