It doesn’t matter if the workplace is a hospital or a grocery store, finding the right people is key to effectiveness. This is true for congregations too.
How does your congregation find staff?
Many congregations spend much energy selecting the best clergyperson. Sometimes the match is wonderful. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. A lay leader told me not too long ago, “Our congregation is just one step away from closing. Everything depends on who our next pastor is.”
Many congregations have staff in addition to the pastor. According to the National Congregations Study, about 65% of United States congregations have two or more full time staff persons.
A behavioral interview is one kind of interview process that helps a congregation find the right person. A behavioral interview process is based on the reality that past performance best predicts future effectiveness. It is also based on the assertion that gathering stories about past performance that relate to what your congregation most needs is a helpful interview approach. It helps you see beyond a person’s assertions that they have a gift or ability while providing no data to support such claims.
We use this approach at the Center for Congregations. I think it is helpful to any workplace including congregations. Below is a summary of a behavioral interview approach, with thanks to Sandra Herron from Middledge.
A recommended approach
1. Start with naming the purpose you are seeking to achieve. For example, we seek to hire a _______________in order to ____________________. You might have multiple, primary purposes, but you shouldn’t have more than two or three.
2. List the roles and functions involved in this position. These roles and functions should relate directly to the purpose or purposes noted above. They should be able to fit on a page. For example, 1) Serve as head of staff. 2) Function as the primary preacher.
3. Guided by the roles and functions list, describe what it looks like when this person effectively accomplishes the tasks in your setting. Do this for the top six or so roles and functions. Think in terms of watching this person in action. Think in terms of a video that can be observed or a story that can be told. What is this person doing when he or she is succeeding? How might this role or function be complicated by a challenge. Be as specific as possible. Like this: Our head of staff will be able to handle two conflicting requests from other staff persons in a way that honors both even while disappointing both.
4. Then move it to a trait. What trait is this person demonstrating when fulfilling the function described. In the example above, a potential head of staff is displaying the traits of wisdom and willingness to disappoint honorably.
5. So, now you have a behavior oriented inquiry. Tell us about a time when you needed to manage two opposing requests with wisdom while disappointing honorably.
When constructing interview questions, you want the behavior question to relate to a predictive trait that relates to a role that serves the greater purpose. This is the logic model behind behavioral interviews.
The behavior questions can be framed about three to one positively. In other words, frame a few negatively, but not too many, to hear how the person learned on the job.
You will probably end up with eight to 12 behavior type questions.
This kind of process doesn’t guarantee a great clergy selection or great hire. But it minimizes the potential for a hiring mistake. One can’t predict the future, but one can interpret the past. And a trait/behavioral interview helps give you enough past information to interpret. Interviews based only on roles, resume experience, education and ability are easier to do but don’t provide rich enough data.
A few more things
Sometimes candidates need a little help in constructing good stories. It is okay to prompt a better story with an open ended question or two. Especially early on in an interview. But if you have to prompt too much to get a rich story, that itself is a sign. The stories you receive should have depth. They should have conflict. They should demonstrate that the candidate has a comprehensive understanding of the situation and insight into his or her behavior.
You can’t do traits/behavioral interview with everyone in the process. This process has the most value when it is used with the top or finalist candidates.
Staffing is key to congregational vitality. A behavioral interview model has worked well for many congregations.
Here is a resource that helps you think through other issues related to finding the best pastor for your congregation: Leadership that Fits Your Church.
You can also take a look at the book When Moses Met Aaron. This book was written with the large church in mind, but much of it is helpful in many settings. In concert with this blog, I recommend the chapter “Hiring Right to Manage Easier.”
About the Contributor
Church Staff Resources
If religious leaders want to make sure that their church is able to run effectively then they may have to take steps to place their staff and volunteers in the best position possible to be successful. It’s often true that congregations need help from effective staff members in order to survive and thrive. With this in mind, it can be good for the leadership team to make sure that the staff feels empowered. That is where church staff resources can be helpful.
If leaders are looking for ways that they can begin to take advantage of human resources for churches, then perhaps the first thing they should do is make sure that every member of the volunteer or regular staff understands what the church roles and responsibilities are, as it can prove immensely helpful for everyone to be clear when it comes to their job. If church leadership roles and responsibilities are able to be made clear, then the members of the team are going to be much more likely to be able to work efficiently, thus increasing their chances of running a successful organization. After all, if people are unsure of what their exact duties are, then they are likely going to face some difficulty in completing them.
Of course, leaders will often have a lot to do on a daily basis, and may not have enough free time to think about all of this. That is why it can be helpful to provide church staff resources to members of the Human Resources team. If they have a team that has been designated to handle these issues, then the church will likely be able to run like a well-oiled machine. And even though they probably want to handle everything, part of what comes with being a strong leader is perhaps the act of delegating. If they delegate responsibilities to other people, then they are able to help empower them to do their job. If these people feel that the job they are doing is important, then they are perhaps more likely to do that job well. It can be good for leaders to try and think about all of this ahead of time when trying to decide how they are going to streamline the operations of their church.
Church Ministry Descriptions
Within the congregation, there can be lots of ministries that have to flow smoothly, and church ministry descriptions can be seen as incredibly important. Leaders should perhaps think about church staff descriptions ahead of time, particularly when they are developing church employment application forms.
A lot of people out there might believe that applying for a job at a church is different from applying for a job in a separate industry. However, while there are certain things that separate churches from other places of employment, such as their nonprofit nature, the employment process is largely the same. Leaders will likely want to make sure that they are able to attract good candidates for an open position. That is why they should potentially consider coming up with strong descriptions ahead of time. If they want strong applicants, then it can be good for them to make it clear what the duties of that position are. That way, people who are applying for that job are going to have a better idea of what their daily roles and responsibilities are, whereas if they do not know exactly what they are going to be doing when they apply for that position, then leadership is likely going to be met with a lot of applicants who may not be right for the position.
At the same time, though, they may have trouble coming up with effective job descriptions. The good news is that when it comes to church staff descriptions, they do not have to do this by themselves, as there are always other people out there who can lend a helping hand. For example, they may want to lean on their leadership team, who might have some helpful ideas regarding how they can begin to come up with helpful staff descriptions. Or, they may want to work with the Human Resources team, who can help them to develop job descriptions that are going to be able to better attract the right candidates. If they think about ways in which they can attract the right people to the open positions, then they will find that this can make a tremendous difference in the types of applicants they receive.
Human Resource Management In The Church
No matter what type of congregation leaders run, it can be good for them to work to empower an effective human resources team, because even though this does differ from the business world, they will still likely benefit from having strong policies in place. The biggest manner in which a Human Resources policy may differ in a church when compared to that of a typical business is that people are often going to find themselves working much more closely together. In fact, jobs at the church can be a lot more personal than they are in other areas, and it can be good for leaders to think about this when it comes to Human Resource management in the church.
If they are trying to develop church Human Resources policies and procedures, it can perhaps be helpful to rely on an HR checklist for churches. For instance, they might need to think about how hiring and firing decisions are going to be made. All job descriptions have to include a clear scope of duties and responsibilities. Then, they also have to include conditions for termination. That way, everyone who is hired will be able to know exactly what his or her rights are.
Next, they may want to make sure that people know where to go, if they ever need help with Human Resources in churches, because even though they may not anticipate any complaints arising, they also may not know when something is going to go wrong. With this in mind, it can be good for members of the volunteer and employment team to know where they are supposed to go, if they ever have a question, concern, or complaint. If they do not know who they are supposed to go to, then this is likely going to impact the morale among the volunteer and employment staff.
Finally, the human resources team is usually also going to be responsible for managing vacation days. If there is an issue that arises when it comes to sick days, vacation days or other days off, then the Human Resources team can step in and help with managing this. They can work to make sure that these policies and procedures are clear, as well. If they are able to effectively manage their Human Resources department, then they are likely going to be able to improve the morale among the members of their congregation, volunteer team, and employment staff.
Church Staff Evaluations
A key part of running an effective church is perhaps that evaluations have to be carried out on a regular basis. This includes not only the regular staff but the volunteers, as well. And even though this can sometimes prove to be a bit awkward, members of the staff are likely going to be expecting to receive feedback, as they want to know what they are doing well and how they can improve. That is where church staff evaluations can be helpful.
When leaders are developing their evaluations, they may need to start by taking a look at their church job descriptions for staff and volunteers. Evaluating members of the team should perhaps be based on the scope of their duties and responsibilities, as someone cannot be evaluated on something that is not part of their job. It can be helpful to take a look at the descriptions that have been included when they are working on evaluating members of the team.
It can also be good to conduct a performance evaluation for ministers, in which everyone in the church is held accountable for his or her duties and responsibilities. This includes people who are at the highest level of the church, as well. If these people are not properly held accountable, then others are likely going to feel as if they are not being treated fairly.
Church HR Issues
Even though leaders can anticipate the church running smoothly, church HR issues can still tend to arise, from time to time. With this in mind, it can be helpful to take a look at the church personnel policies and procedures, in case there are some issues that may develop. For example, someone may have a complaint that they are being treated unfairly by a superior. This is where church staff roles can prove to be of importance, as it can be good for people who feel as if they are being treated unfairly to know where they can turn to for assistance. These types of issues are not unusual in a congregational environment.
Unfortunately, though, a lot of congregations out there operate with tight budgets, and therefore, many congregations are understaffed. It is possible that some members of the religious team may feel that they are being overworked. They may also feel like they need assistance. This is another common Human Resources issue that can arise from time to time. Leaders can step in, however, to help make sure that people never feel left out in the cold, and that they have to have someone to go to if they are ever in need of assistance. If they can anticipate these issues ahead of time, then they can place their Human Resources team in the best position possible to handle them effectively.
Church HR Consulting
If leaders are having trouble in managing their Human Resources team, then they are certainly not alone. There are plenty of other organizations out there that might find themselves in the same boat. That is where church HR consulting can be helpful. When considering church HR services, it can be good to know that it is okay to reach out and ask for help. Particularly if leaders are building a church from the ground up, they might do well to have a strong Human Resources team at their disposal. If they are looking for ways to fill out this team, it can be helpful to have an outside perspective.
If they are looking for a way to streamline their daily operations, then perhaps one of the first things that they should do is take advantage of HR software for churches. No matter what type of congregation they have, they will likely need to have a strong Human Resources team. If they want that team to operate smoothly, they can help by providing them with the right resources. With this in mind, there are advanced software programs that can help streamline a lot of the issues that used to have to be handled by hand. This can free up members of the Human Resources team to address more important issues that could develop in the church.