3 Mistakes Churches Make When Hiring

3 Mistakes Churches Make When Hiring

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

For many churches, spring is the season when we start a new budget year. Of course, this brings the headache of putting together a new budget proposal but it’s also the time of year when we hire new staff.

Some of us breathed a sigh of relief just reading the words “new staff.” Sometimes, adding a new staff member almost sounds like the Promised Land. The idea of not having to lead the youth group, children’s ministry and worship every week just sounds amazing.

We often believe that hiring new staff will solve all of our problems. Sometimes they do. And, sometimes they don’t.

Let’s just be honest for a moment and admit that sometimes we hire people that aren’t a great fit for our church and instead of solving all the problems, we inadvertently create new ones.

Hiring is one of our greatest challenges as church leaders. We don’t always get it right.

So, let’s spend some time in this post talking about three mistakes churches often make when hiring.

Mistake #1: Impatience

My friend Joe once said something in passing that I’ve never forgotten. In reference to hiring, he said:

“I’d rather be tired than sorry.”

When we’re short-staffed, we’re often tired. Why? Because there’s more work to be done than the people and hours available.

These are the times when we carry an extra ministry for several months at a time because a staff member abruptly quit or because the congregation is growing so fast that staffing can’t keep up.

Often, when going through seasons like this, we become nearly desperate for help. We can’t wait until we can hire additional staff to lessen the load. Unfortunately, this can lead us to lower our expectations when it comes to hiring.

Once, early in my leadership, I was hiring in the midst of a season like this. We interviewed a bunch of candidates, and although they were all good and talented people, none of them were a great fit for our ministry.

But, all I could think about was how tired I was! I made the decision to hire someone who wasn’t a perfect fit on our team and ended up being sorry.

What does sorry look like? It looks like having to pour tons of energy into trying to motivate and move a low performing employee for several years and eventually having to let that employee go even though you uprooted their family to hire them in the first place. It isn’t a great feeling.

If I had a time machine, I would go back in time and tell my tired self that tired is better than sorry. Be patient. Wait for the perfect fit before hiring. Don’t do what I did. Choose tired over sorry.

Mistake #2: Hiring Alone

Here’s the thing: I know you’re smart. I know you know the culture of your church. I know you know what type of person you’re trying to hire.

But, you can’t see everything clearly. You have blind spots. How do I know this? Because I do!

I can’t tell you how many times other people that I have invited into the interview process have revealed something that I should have seen.

Every time I’ve thought to myself, “Why didn’t I see that!?!” The reason is that I don’t see everything. Here’s an example:

I’m always drawn to people who share my personality type.

“I like this guy! He’s funny! I could really see myself working with him!”

Yeah... that’s because he’s exactly like you and you like yourself.

Ok, maybe that’s a bad example but I think you get my point. There is great wisdom in including other people in the hiring process.

Another example of hiring alone is when departments hire alone. This often leads to a silo mentality among departments. Each department develops its own personality and values. In some ways this can be good but in others, it leads to a segmented identity among the staff and often unhealthy competition over resources.

In the past few years, we have focused heavily on “cultural fit” in our church. This means that every person who is brought on, no matter what department or role, must fit the overall culture of the church. We go as far as conducting a culture interview in which senior level staff participate.

At first this felt like overkill to me but it didn’t take me long to see the value in ensuring that each new prospective staff member is a good fit on the individual team as well as the staff as a whole. A few years into this process, we have a much more unified and cohesive staff than ever before.

Mistake #3: A Missing "C"

You’ve probably heard of the three “C”s: character, competency, and chemistry.

I’m not sure who came up with this list but whoever it was is a genius.

Let me quickly summarize if you are unfamiliar:

  • Character: Integrity, work-ethic, humility and other important character traits.
  • Competency: The ability to do the assigned work
  • Chemistry: Good working relationships with other team members

In my experience, we often fall for the “close enough” trap when it comes to the three “C”s. We often say or think things like:

“I know he’s a bit abrasive but he’s so good at this stuff! Besides, he’s a Christian for crying out loud. His character will be fine.”


“He’s a great guy. The team loves him. Sure he can’t do the work yet, but I’m sure he’ll learn the skills quickly.”


“She is basically a saint. She would absolutely crush this job. I know the team doesn’t love her, but I’m pretty sure they would warm up to her. This is the church right?”

All three of these statements are trouble. We often love what we see in two of the “C”s and when we think about how the third “C” is low, we assume that we’ll be able to grow the person.

This is kind of like thinking that you’ll be able to change your fiancé after you get married. It’s not going to happen.

Chemistry just is. You can’t make people be friends.

Character is almost entirely unchangeable from outside influences. It must be internally motivated. You will not be able to improve a person’s work-ethic, humility or honesty.

Competency is the only “C” that is truly moveable and only if the employee is humble enough to learn. But, something one of my mentors taught me is that on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being completely unable to complete the assigned work and 10 being a rock star at the assigned work, if the employee is a 5, you’ll only ever be able to move them to a 7.

So, as you’re considering a prospective employee, it would be wise to recognize that yes, you’ll be able to grow that person’s skills in the job, but only so far.

Wrap Up

So, you get to hire a new staff member. Congratulations!

But, be careful. Watch out for the three mistakes churches often make when hiring. Don’t get impatient. Don’t hire alone. Don’t settle for two out of three “C”s.

We’d love to hear some of the wisdom you’ve picked up about hiring successfully. If you have a gem, share it in the comments below.

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