The 7 Most Common Church Staffing Mistakes


In our work here at the Vanderbloemen Search Group, we get a front row seat to the hiring practices of the churches and organizations we partner with. As a result, we get to see a huge range of hiring processes - from stellar church staffing practices to less than stellar practices.

Making a bad hire is often worse than making no hire at all.Tweet: Making a bad hire is often worse than making no hire at all. via @VanderbloemenSG

Here are a few of the mistakes we've seen churches make when attempting to hire new team members.

1. Lack Of Self-Awareness

The most common church staffing mistake happens when an organization simply doesn’t know who they are or where they are going. They haven’t taken the time to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their organization, their current staff, or the area where they are located. They lack a clear sense of vision and mission. They don’t know the relational dynamics (both positive and negative) of the current team. They haven’t done the homework necessary to identify the very real challenges that a new team member will face in becoming part of the staff or moving to their location.

Before making a critical new hire, every church or ministry should hit the pause button to do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis, preferably with a coach, consultant, or an objective third party who is not already part of the organization and has no “dog in the fight” when it comes to the new hire. Take some time to objectively identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, identify the opportunities that are ahead, and find the threats that might derail the organization or the new hire from achieving their objectives. 

Having a clear mission and vision for your church can lead to a better hire. Tweet: Having a clear mission and vision for your church can lead to a better hire. via @VanderbloemenSG

2. Unrealistic Expectations

When looking to fill a new church staff position, obviously every organization wants to get the very best person to fill that critical position. However, often we see clients creating a list of unreasonable expectations for the position or the person. These expectations could take the form of overall personality, location, compensation, or long and short term goals for the role.  

It's not realistic to assume that one person can take on the job of two or three people, or that they will make bring in hundreds of new people in the first few months, or that they will move their family to a new location without appropriate compensation. Be careful when planning for a new hire that you have set appropriate and realistic expectations. 

3. Lack Of Clear Vision

In church staffing, when leaders or search committees have trouble making a hire, it is often the result of not really knowing what they are looking for. There might be disagreement among the key leadership about the direction the church is going, the role they are trying to hire, or the kind of person who will fit best with the team.

Does your church need a catalytic teacher or a leader of leaders? Are they looking for someone who can build systems and processes or someone who casts vision and drives mission? Do they want a young leader with less experience but great potential or a more seasoned leader who has a proven track record? Where is the church heading and what is the best kind of person needed to help get it there?

If these questions haven’t been answered and agreed on by the key leadership or pastor search committee, it will be virtually impossible to make a good hire, or in many cases, any hire at all.

4. Failure To Recruit

We always tell our clients that in the interviewing process, they need to always wear two hats: the discernment hat and the recruiting hat. Many organizations are so focused on discerning if the candidates are right for the role that they neglect making the candidates feel wanted and appreciated. Few, if any, candidates will want to move their families to a new situation if they don’t feel that they will be cared for and warmly welcomed.

How you treat a candidate during the interview will reflect how they'll be treated when they arrive.Tweet: How you treat a candidate during the interview will reflect how they'll be treated when they arrive. @VanderbloemenSG

Part of this happens when the candidate is on site for interviews. Did you take care of their travel plans, meet them at the airport, and provide a nice place for them to stay during their visit? Here’s one tip: do not put them up at a private home where they will have to interact with staff or church leaders. They will need time alone to process and reflect after a busy time of interviewing and meeting new people.

The other part of recruiting happens through how you communicate with the candidate throughout the church staffing process. Reach out frequently through email, text, or phone calls throughout the process. Keep them informed of how things are progressing. When a candidate doesn’t hear from you, they will assume that you have moved on to another candidate and will lose interest in pursuing the position.

5. Hiring For Only One “C”

When making a hire, most organizations are looking for a combination of 3 “C”s: Character, Competency, and Chemistry. Is their character solid and above reproach? Do they have the skills to perform the job they would be hired to do (or the capacity to learn them)? Will their personality and work style mesh well with the current team? We have been successful as a church staffing search firm because we focus on all three.

However, we’ve seen organizations make the mistake of hiring for just one of those “C"s. They hire someone of great character but who lacks the skill set to do the job. Or they hire someone who has all the skills and experience to do the job, but they don’t play well with others. Or they just really like being around the person, but they haven’t done the background checks to be sure they have solid character or the capacity to do the job. Make sure that any new hire gets high marks in all three areas.

6. Too Many Voices

It sounds like a great idea at first: "Let’s get as many people as possible involved in this hiring decision so that no one can complain later that they weren’t involved." This is a huge mistake that will only serve to bog down the search process.

Beyond just aligning schedules for that many people, getting a large group of diverse people to agree on anything is a huge challenge. Before starting a search process, identify 3 - 7 people who understand the organization, have a clear idea of the job responsibilities and the kind of person needed, and let them lead the search process. There are many ways to get input and buy in from a broader range of people without giving them the power to slow down the hiring process. 

7. Not Being Honest Upfront

Too often, I hear a candidate's bad experience where the hiring team painted a great picture of the organization, community, or role only for the candidate to discover when they arrived that the situation was drastically different from what they were told. This is the other side of the failure to recruit: the church wants someone so badly that they gloss over the negative things in order to convince the candidate to take the job.

Maybe there was a budget shortfall or debt load that wasn’t disclosed, or a long time staff member who has been an ongoing challenge. Perhaps the church has fired every Pastor they’ve ever had or the congregation has been steadfastly resistant to change. Candidates can handle pretty much anything except a surprise. Be open with them about the strengths as well as the challenges the organization is facing. The right candidate will embrace those and will help bring solutions.  

How can your church avoid some of these mistakes in the next hire?