The Right Way to Hire Church Staff


As a pastor and church planter, there are certain milestones you and your church will experience. Perhaps you and your church have already experienced some of them.

For instance, there's the day when God distinctly called you to start a church. There are also the milestones of when your church held its first worship service, when your church hit an attendance goal or broke an attendance record, the first time someone received salvation or got baptized, when you purchased or leased the first building you could call a "church home," when you received the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status for your church, and so many more.

However, one of the milestones that often gets overlooked is the day you hire your first church staff member.

Although hiring your first church staff member may not seem all that important of a milestone, the truth of the matter is that it is. This is because a "bad" hire can end up being more costly to you and your church in the long run.

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I want to provide you with five steps to implement in your church's hiring process to help you make the best hire for your church.

Establishing a Hiring Process for Your Church

There is an exponential difference between making a "good" hire and a "bad" hire for your church, and as previously mentioned, a "bad" hire can have devastating effects on your church in the long run.

For this reason, and many others, it is vital that you plan ahead and establish a solid hiring process for your church before you have to hire your first church staff member.

Here are five steps to create a solid hiring process:

1. Make the role specific to your church's needs. This may seem like a no-brainer, but unfortunately, many churches don't take the time to define the position they're hiring for in a way that specifically meets their church's needs. For instance, a church may copy a job description they found online for an executive pastor from another church and not put additional thought into what they need out of this role.

While it is OK to use other similar job descriptions as a starting point, it's essential you take time to tailor the job description to meet your church's specific needs.

The reasoning for this is twofold: it provides clarity of expectations to both you as the employer and to the employee. A lack of clarity in expectations between the employer and employee can quickly erode the relationship between the two and can end up causing quite the mess in your church.

At StartCHURCH, we offer a wide variety of job description templates to assist churches and ministries with the hiring process. If you need a job description template as a starting point, we are offering three job descriptions (youth pastor, administrative secretary and senior pastor) for church staff members free of charge that we'd be happy to provide you with to help you get started. Please give us a call at 888-642-4070 or schedule a call below to get your template free of charge or access our full collection!

2. Hire for job fit and culture fit. Job fit refers to how well an individual is suited for the position. In other words, an individual should have experience, knowledge, skills and abilities that meet the requirements of the position you need to fill.

One way to assess for job-fit is by comparing an individual's resume to the job description you created for the role. You can also generate interview questions to measure how well one's experience, knowledge, skills and abilities align with the position.

Culture fit refers to what type of cultural impact an individual would have on your church. Ask yourself if the values, beliefs and behaviors of the individual align with the mission, vision values, beliefs and accepted behaviors of your church?

If you have yet to define your church's mission, vision and values, I highly encourage you to do so before hiring your first church staff member. This will help clarify how well the individual will fit into your church's culture.

You can also create interview questions that measure culture fit. For instance, at StartCHURCH, one of our cultural values is honor. Therefore, we ask candidates who apply to work here questions that will help give us a sense of how well a potential employee would honor their coworkers and our clients.

In essence, hiring an individual who is a good culture fit and not a good job fit can lead to high turnover and frustration for both you and the individual. And hiring a candidate who is a good job fit and not a good culture fit can have negative consequences to your church's culture you worked so hard to build.

Therefore, it's imperative you hire for both job fit and culture fit because the most expensive hire you will ever make is the wrong hire.

3. Post the job. Once you have created a job description that clearly defines the position you are hiring for and have created a list of interview questions to measure job fit and culture fit, you will be ready to search for your first or next employee.

Reaching out to your network and asking for referrals is always a helpful place to start looking for candidates. However, you will also want to consider posting the position on job sites.

Job sites such as LinkedIn, Indeed and Glassdoor are solid job posting sites to use. However, you will want to consider posting any open positions for your church to job sites such as Christian Jobs, Vanderbloemen or Christian Career Center.

4. Complete background checks and reference checks. Before making an offer of employment to an individual, you will want to complete a background check. This is a due diligence step on your end to verify an individual is who they say they claim to be. It also allows you to check and confirm the validity of someone's criminal record, education, employment history and other activities from their past.

However, don't merely stop with background checks. It is imperative you also complete reference checks.

Completing thorough reference checks may not seem like that big of a deal; however, consider what happened to the Florida Baptist Convention.

In January of 2014, the Florida Baptist Convention (FBC) was found liable for one of its church-planting pastors' actions, and it was ordered to pay $12.5 million to the plaintiff. One of the pastors from an FBC affiliated church engaged in molestation acts against a 13-year-old boy, resulting in a criminal case and a guilty plea.

The FBC had several steps in place to vet each minister identified as a church planter. In addition to interviews and personal conversations the leadership had with this particular church planter, the FBC also completed criminal background checks, motor vehicle checks and credit checks.

But in the end, the jury said that the FBC was liable because it failed to take one final step—in short, the FBC failed to check with the churches the pastor worked for previously. In other words, the FBC failed to include a reference check as a part of its vetting process.

Therefore, make sure you don't just stop with a background check, but make sure to implement thorough reference checks in your church's hiring process.

5. Make the offer. When you have completed the previous four steps above, you are now ready to make an offer and hire your first church staff member.

My suggestion is that you also provide the individual with a written offer of employment in addition to making a verbal offer of employment. This written offer of employment should include when the individual is expected to start, the agreed-upon salary and any benefits your church may provide.

However, keep in mind that before paying any church staff members, the compensation must be approved by the church board of directors and noted in board meeting minutes and there must be a compensation agreement in place.

The IRS has many rules and regulations regarding how nonprofit organizations (churches included) compensate their employees. The truth of the matter is that when compensation is improperly structured and not done correctly, it can cost both the employee and your church thousands of dollars.

At StartCHURCH, we understand the importance of getting this right, and we can help you get this right too.

Justin Upchurch is the director of human resources at StartCHURCH. He is passionate about creating a work environment that allows employees to grow, develop and succeed in both their professional and personal lives.

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