How to Get Better at Hiring Church Staff

Posted by Aaron Buer on June 2, 2022

If you’ve been in leadership for a while, you know there’s nothing worse than making a bad hire.  You thought they were the right person for the job, but it turns out they aren’t. The consequences of hiring the wrong person are difficult for everyone involved.  

On the flip side, hiring someone who fits really well with your church can propel your church forward in powerful ways.  

While hiring well is incredibly important, know that the trouble is hiring well is difficult.  How do you get an accurate read on a prospective employee in just a few short interviews?  It is a challenge, but it’s not impossible.

The good news for you is that I’ve made a few bad hires and I’ve learned some things.  I’m hoping some of my mistakes and lessons learned can save you pain and help you make better hires.  

Here are four “C’s” that guide my thinking in the hiring process.

Culture 

There’s a phrase often used when an employee is let go.  It sounds something like this: 

“He wasn’t a good fit.”  

What does that mean?  It means that the person and the organization didn’t mesh.  It’s an issue of culture.  A good hire is always a good culture fit.  

So, what’s your culture?  One problem is that most of us can’t clearly describe our organizational culture.  What is it that makes your church unique?  What are your values?  This must be incredibly clear if you want a good culture fit between your church and prospective employees.  

Maybe you have clarified what your organizational values are, maybe you haven’t.  Perhaps it would be helpful if I shared our organizational values:  

  • Healthy Relationships
  • Clarity
  • Hospitality
  • Integrity
  • Generosity

This is who we are.  This is how we behave.  When we hire, one of the steps in the process is screening candidates against our core values.  We do this through a specific interview designed around cultural fit.  

This helps protect us from bad fits and it also creates more opportunity for mobility in our organization.  

A few years ago, I hired someone who didn’t end up being the right person for my particular team, but he is a great cultural fit with the church as a whole. Because of this, instead of firing him, we transferred him to a different department where he is crushing it.  That is one of the benefits of ensuring that every new hire fits the organizational culture.

What’s your organizational culture?  What are your core values?  Bringing clarity around culture and then incorporating your values in the hiring process is the first step in making great hires.  

 

Character

When evaluating a candidate, that person’s character is a crucial component.  Integrity is paramount.  A good question to ask yourself is: “Am I convinced that this person will make godly decisions when no one is watching?”

Humility is also a critical part of character.  A question I often ask myself when hiring is this: “Is this person teachable?”  Teachability is a reflection of humility.  

It might sound mean but I often force the issue in this area when interviewing.  You can often uncover a person’s level of teachability by providing negative feedback and listening to how they respond to it.  

A person who is teachable will respond with openness.  A person who isn’t teachable will respond by defending, deflecting, and blaming.   

Here are some practical ways to test teachability:

  • Watch a candidate’s preaching video and offer a few points of positive feedback and then a point of negative feedback and pay attention to how they respond.
  • Ask a candidate to lead worship and offer positive and negative feedback and listen to how they process your feedback.
  • Ask the candidate about a time they received negative feedback and how they learned from it.  

I understand that these tactics might feel uncomfortable and more than a little confrontational but an employee who lacks humility and teachability will cause chaos on your staff team.  In my experience, I would prefer a few uncomfortable conversations to ensure that anyone I bring onto my team is teachable.  

 

Chemistry

What’s the difference between culture fit and chemistry fit?  Culture is about alignment with your organizational values and chemistry is about relationships.  

You could have an amazing talent who is a gem of a person but if that person doesn’t mesh relationally with your team, you will have a problem on your hands. 

This requires that you not only understand the culture of your organization but also the personalities and relational dynamics of the team this person would be joining.  

The way that I evaluate chemistry is by throwing a candidate to the wolves.  In other words, make that person hang out with your team and see how they fit.  I think it’s crazy to consider hiring someone without observing how they interact with the team they will be a part of. 

This can be as simple as a lunch meeting together with your team or as practical as asking a potential worship leader to actually lead the worship team for a weekend service. 

The point is to test the chemistry by throwing the candidate together with your team and paying attention to the chemistry. 

Perhaps the simplest way to test for chemistry is a question my friend Rich used to ask me any time I came to him for advice on whether to hire someone:

“Do you like hanging out with them?”  

That’s called chemistry.  

 

Competency 

The last “C” is all about having the skills and abilities to actually do the job.  

If the person you want to hire is tons of fun and aligns well with your organization but can’t actually do the work assigned to them…you are headed for trouble.  The final piece of the puzzle is the ability to actually do the job. 

What matters in evaluating competency is their track record.  I have been fooled several times by persuasive words.  Having learned the hard way, I now ask for specific examples.

  • You said you are a big collaborator.  Show me about a team you built.  
  • I’m so glad you don’t shy away from conflict.  Tell me about a recent tough conversation you had with an employee.
  • That’s so great that you believe in small groups.  Tell me what small groups look like in your ministry.  Also…tell me about the small group you belong to.
  • I’m glad to hear you are a strong communicator.  Do you have a video I could watch of you teaching?  

My advice here is this:  Don’t just take a person’s word for it.  Go find out if they can actually do it. 

Talk to previous employers and co-workers.  Ask to see their physical work.  If you hire someone who can’t actually do their job, you’ll end up doing it, and you don’t have time for that!  

Wrap Up 

So, how do you get better at making good hires?  Focus on the 4 “C’s”  

  • Culture
  • Character
  • Chemistry
  • Competency  

I hope some of my mistakes and learnings will serve you well.  

Have a great week!  

Topics: Advice

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