Eight Things You Need to Know about Pastor Search Committees

Not all churches use pastor search committees to call a pastor. Some congregations belong to a denomination that uses an appointment process. Other churches depend on elders to find the next pastor. But a large number of churches today still use the pastor search committee process to find their next pastor.

Even though this process is in use in as many as 200,000 congregations in the U.S., there still seems to be a mystery about its work and decision-making processes. To be certain, pastor search committees are not identical from congregation to congregation. Those differences explain some of the mystery and confusion. There are often great inconsistencies from one committee to another.

Perhaps the primary reason for the apparent mystery of search committees is their own evolution. Not too long ago, their task was to cull through a pile of paper resumes; find three or four prospective pastors to hear preach in the respective pastors own church; and then present the finalist to the church.

Much is changing in the pastor search committee process. Some of it is due to the availability of information in the digital age. The waning of denominational influence also is a key reason this process has changed.

While I could write pages on the history, current reality, and future of pastor search committees, I narrowed the major points to just a few highlights. Here are eight key things you need to know:

  1. The process of finding a pastor is taking much longer. There are two key reasons for this development. First, the process itself is no longer as simple as I noted above in the third paragraph. Second, the challenge of shorter pastoral tenure leads committees to be more diligent to secure a longer-term pastor.
  2. More search committees work through formal and informal recommendations and referrals. A church is more likely to find a pastor through both formal and informal recommendations than unsolicited resumes.
  3. Search committees are utilizing the services of outside experts more often. They seek help from both denominational services and independent search organizations. Those organizations are typically well worth the expense to help a search committee find good candidates. That is their area of ministry expertise.
  4. Four out of five search committees receive no training. My number is based on informal surveys rather than scientific polling, but it is nevertheless indicative. Many search committees start their processes with no experience and no training.
  5. The multi-site movement will cause a decrease in the number of search committees. Church acquisitions are common today. Churches that are acquired are not likely to have their own autonomous search committee to find a pastor. Leadership in the mother church will choose their pastors.
  6. The first place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is podcasts. Instead of visiting and possibly disrupting the pastor’s current church, the committee is more likely to listen to sermons on the church’s website.
  7. The second place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is the church’s website. For many search committee members, the website is a reflection of the pastor and the pastor’s leadership.
  8. The third place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is social media. Before a prospective pastor is ever contacted, many search committees will research thoroughly that pastor’s blog and other social media. There are a number of outside firms that offer this service at a reasonable price. Some pastors and other church staff are not getting a second look because of their negative presence on social media.

I wrote this article in response to many of you asking questions about pastor search committees. Feel free to interact with these eight issues, or to ask questions about areas that need more discussion.

Posted on January 14, 2015

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I didn’t realize that pastor search committees were evaluating prospective pastors via their blogs and social media! IT sounds like a really good way to get a peek into a pastor’s personal life though. I would imagine you could use the same tips when choosing a congregation to attend. It would be nice to know that your pastor’s personal social media profile’s line up with the things they teach over the pulpit.

  • Hi Thom,

    Any thoughts or advice on using sites like churchstaffing.com to source candidates? I’ve heard mixed opinions on posting a jobs online from churches, and am eager to hear your thoughts.

    We’re currently in process of developing a job board specifically for churches that helps to educate the search committee and other influencers during the process, along with using applicant tracking system (ATS) features to help save time.

  • Al Erskine says on

    Dear Thom, The church I attend will be needing a new pastor within the next year. We are about to form the pastoral search committee. What is the training that you mentioned in #4 and should there be qualifications for those on the committee? I know 1) Salvation and Baptism and 2) Active membership. What else should we look for? Wide age group? Obviously men and women. A deacon, SS. teacher or superintendent? Any input from you would be greatly appreciated.
    Respectfully In Christ,
    Al Erskine

  • As a pastor looking for a new church I would like for some committees to value the candidate’s time. What I mean by this is that I see an ad and send in some basic information. They respond by sending me literally pages of questions to answer, which would take around 2-3 hours. At any “wrong” answer, I can be dismissed from their consideration. That strikes me as too heavy a response to my, “Hello, my name is…” introduction. I’m certainly not opposed to answering questions, but why not start off with a few main questions and look at my answers. If things don’t work out, that’s fine. But at least it’s only cost me 15 minutes.

  • Pastor Steve says on

    I would be curious to see a post exploring the “secret sauce” of churches that are raising up good leadership from within. I recently left a church where the senior pastor had two doctorate degrees but we could barely get men to pray in church, much less raise up pastors from within. I’m currently considering just getting a private sector job, joining a good church where my family and I can serve, and maybe they’ll get to know me and hire me on staff eventually. The current “process” listed above is seriously broken.

    Interesting note: in 20 years of full time pastoral staff ministry in 5 churches, I have never been hired through resume submission. It was through referrals the first 4 times, and the last one I was hired from within.

    Thanks for the good article and comments.

  • Certainly a relevant post. While the process may be taking longer, pastor tenure statistics continue to indicate the process falls short. Consider that much premarital counseling is more involved than the pastoral-search process. I’ve read that pastors do not reach significant long-term effectiveness until around year seven with a church, I’ve also read that the average tenure is 2 – 4 years – there is something wrong. Churches often want to fill the position quickly, pastors (and staff members) are all too often looking for a job (with all due respect to “calling”) – and so they have one or two dates and tie the knot, often afraid to raise the tough questions that a premarital counselor would raise with a couple. Most seminaries, if any, fail to equip their students with tools needed in seeking and discerning ministry positions, nor challenge them with developing what I’ll call a search theology. Most candidates go it alone without an accountability group to ask them the tough questions. I’ve critiqued numerous resumes/profiles and less than 5% would make it in the professional business world – and while denomination profiles have their place, by themselves they leave little room for creativity, expression, and the articulation of ministerial DNA.

    As to churches not getting back to applicants; in the digital age one can somewhat understand that – so perhaps a disclaimer in the church posting might be appropriate? One posting can generate 200 or more responses – that’s a lot for volunteers to respond to. What is sad is that I’ve known candidates who have had either phone or in-person interviews and who never heard back from churches – not much of a testimony is it?

    The pastoral search process with the isolation candidates experience, with ill-equipped search committees, with seminaries that fail to address the process, with short-term ministerial tenure that damages both clergy and congregation – is an unspoken scandal in the church. No business organization could sustain itself with rotating point leaders the way churches recruit and lose clergy – no wonder so many churches can be chronologically old but spiritually immature, no wonder so many seminary graduates leave the ministry.

  • Any hiring, to some extent, is a shot in the dark. Just look at NFL quarterbacks. How many great college QB’s have been total washouts in the NFL and how many average college QB’s have done great in the league. I know it’s not exactly the same but there is some parallel to any hiring situation. The reason so many churches are frustrated is because they are trying to find the “perfect” candidate instead of relying prayer and the Holy Spirit. I think using search firms and FIT and personality assessments will only add to this problem because those methods do not address Biblical qualifications. According to 1 Timothy, only one skill is needed to be a pastor or elder and that is the ability to teach. Everything else is character. There is nothing in there about a “proven track record” or being a “people person” or having a certain number of years of experience. Focus on character, the ability to teach, pray and follow the Spirit.

  • Thanks, Thom. Good article. In my work as a Director of Placement at a large seminary I would add, “there is no such thing as a perfect hire.” But, folks can take steps to find a good “values fit.” A few items to add to your good list:
    1) Adequate training. Is the candidate well-trained in Bible, theology, preaching, ministry, etc.
    2) Prayer. God uses the prayers of His people. Prayer should…must…saturate the entire process.
    3) Gift-mix. More and more churches are using DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Strengths Finder, etc.
    4) Experience. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

  • Lee Haley says on

    Many times the focus is on “hiring” on a pastor instead of seeking God for the man He calls to the field of service. Many churches now search for pastors with a more business approach of vetting candidates and filtering the pool of applicants .

    Over 40 years of ministry and it amazes me how churches often select the committee- it is often a popularity contest or block voting to get “your people” in—. We have replaced prayer, seeking God and His will with the ways of the world. This puts pastors at a huge disadvantage.

    Sadly, many God Called qualified pastors are never interviewed because of the search process.

    Thom- maybe an article using pastors as the data source on how they believe a search committee should be selected and the process..

  • Thom,

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    Anyone interested may contact us at 803 413 3509 or [email protected]; http://www.ignitues.net. Thank You for the wealth of helpful info you deliver via this BLOG.