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

April 30, 2018
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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 (Vanderbloemen.com) 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.

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92 Comments

  • Having served twice now on the pastor search committee (currently without a pastor for over a year), I would also say it’s not just the church, but the men being looked at. Other than going through a search firm, we’ve done all the “right stuff”. We’ve gone through our association and the convention. We’ve had a good transitional interim pastor that got us back on track after our pastor left. Our budget is good and we continue to do outreach with great success. However, most resumes we’ve received are for men looking for a full-time position instead of bi-vocational and will not consider relocating. We are a small, rural church (less than 50 people now, 70 was our highest) and are located at least an hour outside a major city. Men come, get excited about our church, but the location is their deciding point. So I don’t believe it ‘s all on the churches. Every church can’t be a mega church and have a staff of 10 people. We aren’t seeing allot of men willing to come to a small church. I will say, after this last man said no to our offer as pastor (with the distance being his deciding point) I have suggested we go to a search firm, simply because of the daunting task of filling the pulpit for each service (now that we don’t have an interim, who took ill) makes it hard to focus on finding a pastor.

  • The only point that I would disagree with is point #6 in which most churches should get a pastor in six months or less. In my work with search committees, I encourage them to first do a study of their church and community and to look at what kind of ministry God is calling them to pursue. Once that takes place, then the committee should ask what kind of leadership will take them there. This may take some time to discern. This is especially true in certain situations-either after a long term pastor or after a period of conflict..

    Of course, during that transition time, it will be crucial to find a well trained intentional interim pastor whose ministry focuses on transitioning the church.

    I would add that one of the reasons churches are taking so long in finding pastors is due to the lack of candidates seeking pastoral positions in certain parts of the country. In declining rural areas (which is true here in the Northeast), it can be difficult to find qualified people willing to serve.

  • Being a trained transitional interim, I can state that many churches see the interim period as an evil, rather than as an opportunity. Churches also tend to only want an interim to be Peter with his finger in the dike, holding back the water until the “real pastor” comes along.

    Both of these viewpoints/attitudes are harmful to the church itself.

  • Judd Dixon says on

    Churches are often looking for the “perfect” candidate with the right education, experience, and references. God doesn’t use perfect candidates, but willing ones.

    I have also noticed that many older churches are looking for a younger pastor to help them transition but have often waited too late to do so. Pastors aren’t silver bullets just under-shepherds leading them to follow Christ. If you haven’t been following Jesus reaching your community for the last 10 years then why do you think a young guy is going to be able to do that?

  • Query: If a man isn’t qualified to train up the future leaders of a church, is he qualified to be a pastor?

  • Dennis J. Davis says on

    Churches pay interim’s much less than pastors. Thus they often make expensive repairs while more funds are available.

  • Keith Menshouse says on

    Thanks for a great article once again Thom. I would like to add one caution and an observation. The caution is to churches who have had lengthy pastorates which have ended. These churches need to put the word “wait” on a sign in their search committee meeting rooms!! In my research, churches with previous pastorates of 10+ years stand an 80% chance of a forced termination of the next pastor UNLESS they have interim leadership for two years. Their natural inclination is to fill the void immediately and that can become a death wish.

    My observation as a potential candidate in a search process is that the current trend with search firms has some hidden dangers. My experience with Vanderbloemen was so unprofessional that I don’t know if I would ever respond to a church using them again. After filling out several online “resources”, they never responded back at all. I would expect that from an overwhelmed local search committee but not a professional search firm. I’m afraid we’re heading into a time period where we’ll look back and ask where was the role of the Holy Spirit in these processes.

  • Hi everyone,

    This was a great post with lots of thoughtful comments.

    Thanks to all,

    Gary
    Southern NH, USA

  • Something I have learned through interviews is that it seems like the person a search committee has in mind is the man who preached 15 years ago.

  • This post reminds me of the 3 years it took me to find my current church/ministry. I learned not to expect a reply from most churches because the were receiving hundreds of resumes. I also learned not to get in a hurry because 6-9 months would be the absolute soonest a church would be hiring a new pastor.

  • Gary Mauldin says on

    Unfortunately, Pastor Search Committees must now go through the time consuming process of verifying the information provided on the resume in lieu of just contacting references listed on the resume. “Trust, but verify” is now a requirement for hiring Pastors along with criminal background checks and credit checks…all that takes time, especially when it’s being done by a committee of volunteers. The truth seems to be quite flexible when seeking a new position.

  • Thom,

    Your article was “spot on”! I would add three things to what you noted:

    1.) I think far too many search committees make a judgement call based solely on what they see on a paper (or digital) resume. They never personally contact the candidate. The argument has been, “We get too many resumes and don’t have time to contact every candidate.” Well, if you have 150 resumes and seven people on the search team, each search team member could make (or attempt to make) approximately 20 phone calls over a one month period of time. A short, ten to fifteen minute phone call allows the search team member to find out more about the candidate, get a better feel for the heart and passion of that candidate, and let the candidate know that his or her resume has been received…and valued. (Besides, don’t you have two years to complete the process?…sic) Each search team member then brings back their top five or ten. You can tell much more about a person by talking to them than by simply reading a resume.

    2.) I recently talked to a D.O.M. who pointed out that some churches realize they can hire an interim pastor far less expensively than hiring a permanent pastor. Some of these churches will go through several interim pastors over a three to five year period in order to save money. But, as you mentioned, during this time period, attendance, finances, and morale declines. All in an attempt to save money…how sad.

    3.) An affirmation of one of the previous comments, the search committees are not serious about praying enough. If they were, I believe God will point them to the right person in a much more expedient fashion. Like you said, “God is really able to work that punctually.” The final decision may not take place in six months…but it does not need to take two years.

    A final thought: If a search committee does none of the above, they should at least contact each potential candidate who has been “ruled out” and let them know. In addition to this being common courtesy, it allows the candidate to have closure and move on in their search. I mean, how long does it take to send an email or letter.

    –Roger