By Terry Linhart

Over the past two years, Arbor Research Group partnered with Church Salary to conduct a comprehensive national research project on COVID and the Church, funded by Lilly Endowment as part of their ECFPL initiative. The 11 podcasts and the full report are on the Covid and The Church website.

As we surveyed, interviewed, and visited church leaders in person and online across the USA, we regularly heard about the jungle of church staffing. Hiring for a church can often feel like being asked to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the dark. This is made more difficult by a shorter list of applicants; the bench seems to be empty (we talk about that in episode 8).

While speaking at a church pastors’ conference north of Los Angeles, I attended a captivating seminar led by Matt Steen. Matt co-founded Chemistry Staffing, perhaps the fastest-growing church staffing agency in the USA. They have a particular strength in placing people in associate roles, where most churches have significant needs and difficulty filling them.

It’s been 18 months since that seminar, but I continue to think about his content. Matt’s thoughts resonated with what we heard nationwide and in monthly conversations with pastors looking for staff. Matt’s image of the five parts of a stool was helpful for me, and I’ve kept the notes to prove it!

I got permission from Matt to share these, and I recommend connecting with him and his team at Chemistry Staffing if you’re a church looking to hire. If you’re not at a church, these five elements will still resonate with you and help you as you think about your team and potential hires.

The first leg of the hiring stool: Theology

The first leg of the stool is theological alignment. It’s more critical than the coffee on Sunday morning. Someone might tick all the boxes on paper, but you’re in for a bumpy ride if their theology clashes with your church’s like plaid on stripes. So, dig deep and ask all of the questions. Don’t assume their theology lines up from top to bottom. Spend time dancing with the hot-button issues so you’re confident about theological understanding and their prowess. But remember, not every doctrine is a hill to die on.

How to: Have a candid chat about theology before you shake hands. Play those deal-breakers and dealmakers like you’re sorting through a deck of cards. And if you hit a joker, remember, it’s okay to reshuffle.

The second leg of the stool: Cultural Competency

The second leg of the stool is cultural competency. It’s knowing the subtle differences between a sermon that’ll soar in Texas versus one that’ll tank in the Midwest. It’s about knowing how your local community differs from the one 50 miles away. Can they speak to those over 60 years of age appropriately? How about to those under 25? Understanding the local culture is like knowing exactly how much hot sauce to put on your tacos — too little and it’s bland; too much and you’re on fire.

How to: As part of the hiring process, have your candidates mingle with the community. It’s the only way to see if they can blend like a local or stick out like a tourist. I had a church in Florida do that with me when I came out of college, and they decided I wasn’t a good fit. And I wasn’t.

The third leg of the hiring stool: Personality Fit

Back in the day, charisma or skills alone could get you the job. But now? It’s about meshing with the existing team. Organizations used to be less concerned about a good personality, but in this age of social media and 24/7 reactions, churches need to make sure a person is a good fit with the team and is well-received by others. You want someone who treats the congregation well, not just as faces in the pews.

How to: Whip out those personality tests like you’re a CIA recruiter. Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Enneagram—make it a party. Mix and match personality tests. It’s not about the label; it’s about the blend. Watch the candidate meet a group of strangers for the first time. If married, observe how they treat their spouse during the interview process.

The fourth leg of the hiring stool: Skills and Abilities

It’s not about the flashy resume, but can they do the job? Really do it? Look past the surface and ignore (for a moment) their reputation. Sure, they can speak/preach, but can they inspire? You want to look for demonstrated experience in the past. Learn what their top skills are and where they may struggle.

How to: Dive into their past experiences like you’re looking for buried treasure. You want proven skills, not just shiny potential. The Working Genius profile is helpful here.

The seat of the stool: Chemistry

Matt called “chemistry” the seat that the other four legs support. We’re talking: do they have the kind of spark that shows they’ll jive with your team? It’s about the gut feeling you and your key team members get when you all think about working with them daily.

How to: Ask yourself if you’d invite them over for a casual BBQ or to spend an afternoon at a park. If you’re not feeling it, neither will your congregation.

There you have it. Matt Steen’s seminar was a gold mine for figuring out the hiring game. We all can share stories of instances where a hiring committee failed to explore one of these five areas, and it came crashing down a year and a half later.

Keep these five critical components in mind, and you won’t just fill a position; you’ll be taking a strong step toward building a ministry “dream team” in your corner of the world.

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