“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
Mrs. Willis, my 12th grade English teacher, had a poster with this quote hanging front and center in her classroom. She went over this idea the very first day of class. She went over it again mid-year when we drafted professional resumes and again right before graduation. Clearly, Mrs. Willis believed in the importance of putting one’s best foot forward and knew that it wasn’t just what we shared but how we shared it that could impact our entire future.
Unfortunately, too many churches subscribe to Mrs. Willis’ approach when it comes to hiring new staff members. While conducting a search, leadership teams are quick to share the highlight reels of a ministry and the church – proudly promoting all the good things a new hire can look forward to if they join the staff – while, in the background, praying they find someone who can swoop in and “fix” all the things they’re actively not talking about.
It’s like advertising a diamond then handing over a lump of coal.
Don’t get me wrong – openly airing all the woes and weaknesses of a community isn’t a smart search approach, either. However, if you only share a rose-colored picture of what a new leader can expect upon arrival, and their second and third and fifteenth and forty-ninth impressions consistently reveal a completely different view of the church or job, then trust is all too quickly broken. And the likelihood of that new hire sticking around long-term decreases significantly.
Which is why the ways we go about our search processes matter! Sustainability is strengthened by consistency. And consistency is enhanced by longevity. A church wanting healthy ministries will want leaders who intend to plant some roots and stay for a while. And the candidates most inclined to do so are those impressed by churches who aren’t trying to hide anything.
Because, let’s be honest: those who find their vocations in the church world already know churches aren’t perfect. But what the best ministry leaders are looking for is not perfection. They’re looking for a place to belong and a way to live into who God has called them to be.
So what’s a church to do? How can a church search for a new hire and share all the goodness that really does exist, while still being honest about the role, ministry, and job they’re hoping someone will say ‘yes’ to? How do you make a good first impression that lasts?
First, know who you are.
Today’s strongest ministry leaders want a place where they can land for a long time. And a huge part of helping that happen centers on a staff member’s ability to be connected in community. This means churches need to be prepared to answer questions like the following:
- What are the demographics of your congregation?
- Are there people in your parish who are of a similar life stage to the person you’re looking to hire?
- Is staff compensated at a level that allows them to live where most church families live? Or does the church staff typically live in a different part of town?
- What kinds of social opportunities or faith-based networks are available in your area for a new staff member to get to know people outside of your church?
Second, know who you’re looking for.
A search process isn’t just about the right leaders being drawn to a church. Candidates should have the qualifications a church needs, too. If the role has a clearly defined job description and the ministry has a thoughtfully planned strategy, then questions like these should be easy for a team to answer:
- What are the primary competencies and capabilities expected of an individual to fulfill this role?
- What core characteristics are non-negotiable, when it comes to those who are a part of church leadership?
- In what areas will there be grace and allowance for learning curves?
- What are the theological stances of a church and how closely should a new hire’s personal theology align with that of the church?
- How does the church define success and what outcomes will the new staff member be responsible for producing?
Having a clear framework of expectations allows the church team to be honest with a candidate about what’s needed and helps that ministry leader know if the role will be a right fit for their wiring.
Third, wait for the fit.
If the only point of a search is to fill a role with a person who, on paper, can do the job? Then a search team will have done a great disservice to their church by running the risk of quickening the timeline for turnover.
But if the point of a search is to find someone who – not only holds the necessary skill sets to lead a ministry well – but who can find a home in a community and share values with a people? Then you increase the potential to experience an expanse of the Kingdom of God here on earth beyond what a surface-level search with a first impression façade might produce.
Church work is different from any other kind of work. It gets to be different. And we who help lead searches in churches get to be the ones on the front lines, making sure the impressions made, and the candidates sought, are the kind of good that lasts beyond a first look.
Renée Wilson has served churches in rural, urban, and suburban settings, currently calling the east side of Columbus, Ohio home. Renée knows the value of building healthy teams and loves creating approaches around the vision of seeing more and more people come to know Christ.