by Thom Rainer
Not all churches use pastor search committees to call a pastor. Some congregations belong to a denomination that uses an appointment process. Other churches depend on elders to find the next pastor. But a large number of churches today still use the pastor search committee process to find their next pastor.
Even though this process is in use in as many as 200,000 congregations in the U.S., there still seems to be a mystery about its work and decision-making processes. To be certain, pastor search committees are not identical from congregation to congregation. Those differences explain some of the mystery and confusion. There are often great inconsistencies from one committee to another.
Perhaps the primary reason for the apparent mystery of search committees is their own evolution. Not too long ago, their task was to cull through a pile of paper resumes; find three or four prospective pastors to hear preach in the respective pastors own church; and then present the finalist to the church.
Much is changing in the pastor search committee process. Some of it is due to the availability of information in the digital age. The waning of denominational influence also is a key reason this process has changed.
While I could write pages on the history, current reality, and future of pastor search committees, I narrowed the major points to just a few highlights. Here are eight key things you need to know:
1) The process of finding a pastor is taking much longer. There are two key reasons for this development. First, the process itself is no longer as simple as I noted above in the third paragraph. Second, the challenge of shorter pastoral tenure leads committees to be more diligent to secure a longer-term pastor.
2) More search committees work through formal and informal recommendations and referrals. A church is more likely to find a pastor through both formal and informal recommendations than unsolicited resumes.
3) Search committees are utilizing the services of outside experts more often. They seek help from both denominational services and independent search organizations. Those organizations are typically well worth the expense to help a search committee find good candidates. That is their area of ministry expertise.
4) Four out of five search committees receive no training. My number is based on informal surveys rather than scientific polling, but it is nevertheless indicative. Many search committees start their processes with no experience and no training.
5) The multi-site movement will cause a decrease in the number of search committees. Church acquisitions are common today. Churches that are acquired are not likely to have their own autonomous search committee to find a pastor. Leadership in the mother church will choose their pastors.
6) The first place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is podcasts. Instead of visiting and possibly disrupting the pastor’s current church, the committee is more likely to listen to sermons on the church’s website.
7) The second place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is the church’s website. For many search committee members, the website is a reflection of the pastor and the pastor’s leadership.
8) The third place most pastor search committees will evaluate a prospective pastor is social media. Before a prospective pastor is ever contacted, many search committees will research thoroughly that pastor’s blog and other social media. There are a number of outside firms that offer this service at a reasonable price. Some pastors and other church staff are not getting a second look because of their negative presence on social media.
I wrote this article in response to many of you asking questions about pastor search committees. Feel free to interact with these eight issues, or to ask questions about areas that need more discussion.