Six Reasons Churches Are Taking Too Long to Find a New Pastor

I wish I had objective data on the length of time between pastors. I can say anecdotally the time is much longer than it used to be. A whole lot longer.

To be clear, I know we cannot presume on the call of God. I get that. But, all things considered, more and more churches are struggling because they are going longer periods of time without a pastor. Attendance often declines. Budget giving often declines. Morale often declines.

So why are search committees and appointment processes (I will refer to all search entities as search committees for simplicity) taking so much longer? I see six clear reasons.

  1. There are no longer ready-made networks to provide a steady supply of pastors for churches. Denominations and other networks could provide a list of names in the past, many of whom could fit most churches in that network. Today, churches are different more than uniform. Communities are more diverse. The “denominationally-groomed-and-ready” pastor just does not exist today.
  2. Search committees are often poorly equipped to find pastors. They typically do not know the right places to go and the right people to ask. They don’t have time to devote to seeking applicants and culling through resumes. Most don’t know the profile of a best qualified applicant.
  3. Search committees often still use old paradigms. Advertise in denominational or network publications. Wait for a flood of resumes to arrive with mostly unqualified candidates. Go to a candidate’s church to hear a sermon. Go through resumes one by one in an excruciatingly slow and painful process. Wait. Wait. Wait.
  4. Many search committees don’t use a search firm. I’ve heard all the reasons not to do so. Some think it costs too much. But most churches save a lot of money and time using a search firm. For example, during prolonged interim periods church giving usually declines—which can lead to financial struggles. Other churches think the search firm chooses the pastors for them. No, the search firm finds qualified candidates for the church to choose (Full disclosure: Vanderbloemen Search Group ( is a sponsor of Rainer on Leadership podcast. They are incredible!)
  5. Search committees often represent a cross section of the church rather than the most qualified members. I understand the sentiment to have every group in the church represented. Unfortunately, such representation is not often commensurate with qualification. And an unqualified search committee is most often a slow search committee.
  6. Some search committees and churches don’t think it is spiritual to find a new pastor too quickly. In most cases, a church should be able to get a new pastor in six months or less. God is really able to work that punctually. There is nothing inherently spiritual about taking a year or two years or more finding a new pastor. In fact, in many cases it is really bad stewardship to take that long.

Many churches are simply taking too long to find a new pastor.

As a consequence, many congregations are struggling without a leader to guide them.

Posted on April 30, 2018

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 agree with all of the points that are made. As an interim pastor of a rural church that has gone through some very troubling difficulties with a former interim, (I am actually the third but first trained) it has been a struggle. This church is open to a seminary graduate or even a qualified person without a degree. However, in speaking with some in the seminaries, I find that there are a limited number of candidates that want to serve a church that is rural and not within 20 miles of a large metropolitan area. So the search process can be on both ends. I do like the idea of an outside consultant to help in the process and I may encourage the search committee to pray about this.

  • I would like to hear how Thom found his first pastorate, and compare it to now. I am transitioning (at least trying to) from an academic career as a college professor (in a science field) to ministry. I am 45 with a PhD and a new MDiv. I am not a 25 year old who knows nothing. I have been a Christian for 26 years, and have done may things in the church. But, I have never had an “official” ministry leadership position. I’ve been married 20 years and have 4 kids.

    In that case the system works against you. Even Thom in his new interim pastor training wanted a minimum of 5 years of ministry experience. Count me out as not qualified. No chance to even crack open the door.

    The same goes for all of the churches I have encountered. I am “aiming low” if you will, realizing I need a “starter church” to learn new skills. But, even the smaller churches want a set amount of formal experience.

    I am starting to think that a personal “hook-up” is the only thing that will keep my resume from being immediately sent to file 13!

    • Christopher says on

      See the post from Scott Douglas.

    • Having connections is helpful, but they’re not always necessary. I was out of seminary for two years before I was called to my first pastorate. When I interviewed with the search committee, I found out they received my resume from a guy I had never even met! If God has called you, He will find you a place of ministry in His own time. Hang in there!

  • John Johnston says on

    I have had around 40 years of pastoral experience, pastoring local churches and serving other churches as consultant in times of crises, including helping with pastoral searches. My observation is that the typical search process calls a candidate on the basis of preaching and personality, after doctrinal agreement is affirmed. The new guy comes in and the church asks him what his vision is. Of course, he has one, or has to come up with one quickly. Usually he takes the church in a different direction than the previous pastor. A better way is for a church, starting with leadership, to define their culture and core values and then search for a man who can come alongside and help them go further in the same direction. That is, assuming that the church is not in crisis and in need of a different direction. The typical small church’s search committees I have worked with nod their heads in agreement with my suggestion, but I usually get blank, clueless looks and they continue their search in the same way they always have done it.

  • Good post Dr. Rainer, from an associational DOM position I agree with you except for 1 point, “finding a pastor within six months.” That is often a little quick, especially when a church has had the same pastor for an extended time period, say a 20 plus year pastor. I understand that a good “rule of thumb” (nothing set in stone) is 1 month for each year that the previous pastor served (if a pastor was there for 20 years you need about 20 months in between the departing pastor and the next pastor). This goes to further underscore the importance of a good interm pastor.

  • Joe Pastor says on

    The search process is, indeed, challenging! I’ve served in fulltime ministry for 32 years, and I’ve been through a few searches from the pastor side of the equation. I certainly agree that many search committees are ill-prepared, and in some cases, I’ve seen political processes at work in the church which virtually invalidates whatever the search committee does. So it’s not easy, and it’s far from perfect. I have not, personally, gone to a church through as search firm. I do see some advantages to search firms. And yet, the idea makes me uncomfortable on some level. Maybe my age has something to do with that. Maybe it’s because it seems less personal to me. Maybe it’s because to me, a church should seek God for themselves not only in the specific calling of a pastor, but in the culling process. I’m open to being persuaded otherwise, but at this moment, my first choice would not be a search firm. It would be for a church to themselves seek God and do their own work. Also, one more item that I think makes the search process longer: Because of ministry job boards online, there are FAR more resumes to sift through than in past decades. More resumes = more time invested. Final thought: Regardless of what process is used (search firm or no search firm), prayer should be at the center. My guess would be that if church/committees prayed more, fewer mistakes would be made.

  • Brian Dare says on

    This point is related to #1

    That is, it is more difficult to find doctrinal alignment because different theological battles are being fought today than in the past.

    Many of our doctrinal statements reflect some detailed (dare I call it knit-picky) doctrinal battles of the 70s. I took two years to find an ASSOCIATE pastor while having a very active search team and personally being involved in the search almost every day of those two years because our doctrinal statement reflects many intermural battles of the 60s and 70s including affirming the pre-trib rapture position. It used to be easy to find men who would affirm that doctrine. However, to find a pastor who reflects our church’s culture, while holding to those doctrinal positions is like finding Sasquatch.

  • It seems to me that salary packages (or lack there of) is a major problem for many churches that are seeking experienced and educated pastors. I talked to One committee recently, they were not. Considering any candidates who did not have a masters degree and preferred someone with an Mdiv. They wanted someone with a minimum of 10 years pastoral experience and 5 years longevity in previous churches. Now I know several men who meet those requirements and could be a good fit for that church but I refused to make a recommendation because they were would have to take a $30,000- $45,000 pay cut to take the position. Every church does not need someone with 8-10 years of education and 15 years of experience. If they do they should consider how they will compensate them reasonably and fairly

  • Thom.
    Your #5 is at the heart of negative issues including time delay and lack of spiritual qualifications.

    Committees very often, if not most often, are political ships in the night with as many agendas as there are members. “unqualified-nominated by the unwilling to do the unnecessary” The results of a committee are curiously an amalgamation of its members.

    Having a group of Elders, Bishops, Presbyteries, etc. — remaining true to the scriptural application of appointing Elders, proves to be much more effective at keeping church about church. These men know how to vett their own and yet they also can set agendas that are less than pure.

    Church government–what to do?

  • We walked into a unique situation here that’s not universally prescriptive, but one that’s been an incredible journey. My predecessor announced his retirement well in advance, and the church appointed a search team made of six qualified, wise, godly, smart people. Instead of blitzing the referral boards to get a stack of resumes (I was a #2 at a mid-sized church in a college town and when we had a vacancy we got over 400 resumes, for a not-the-most-glorious landing spot), they contacted pastors they knew and trusted to get personal recommendations. Your Sam was kind enough to give them my name from when we knew each other back in Murray.

    After getting a handful of very selective prospects, the process was able to move to where my predecessor preached his last sermon, got on a plane to go on a trip with his wife into retirement, and then I drove down that Thursday and started Sunday. From start to finish the process when they first reached out to me was less than 6 months.

    It’s been a process we’ve repeated for filling in a couple #2 roles here, we reached out to ministry leaders in the area to see who they knew that might be a good fit. So far it’s led to a solid worship leader, an ambitious children’s director, and a perfect fit for a ministry assistant.

  • There are also so many requirements and tests that must be met that few people on the planet can even pass. There are also so many questions to ensure that the candidate’s opinions and interpretations match the church leaders’ ideas perfectly.

    Though no longer on the earth, Jay Guin wrote quite a few posts on hiring preachers and mentions some of Dr. Rainer’s posts as well.

  • Often it is as simple as putting a description of this “pastor” in writing so there is an objective view of expectations about the tasks, relationships and ideal qualifiers of education, experience and skills. Using Biblical references emphasizes the ideal picture as a beginning place. Many searches have not had that written picture and were satisfied with and impressed mostly by personality.
    Sometimes, a search is delayed because of previously made decisions and disappointed choices. That fear may paralyze a search team in a variety of ways. Obviously, a carefully chosen interim may serve the church and the search team in a pastoral way, to recapture their vision and passion for the mission ahead.

  • Joe Bridger says on

    My church took 14 months to find me.
    Much of this was true for us.
    They were ill equipped and did not examine where the church really was financially. So after I came we had to make some very painful adjustments to salaries, missions and budgets because the Board did not examine the finances as closely as they needed to during the interim. But to be fair the accounting system was over 20 years old and they really couldn’t understand it.