The first person I hired was a student pastor in the mid 80’s. Back then it was all about who you knew. Networking was king. I think some people still had Rolodex’s back then. A forty-pound Rolodex meant you were important! (For you who are under 30, a Rolodex is not an expensive watch. Google it. You’ll get a kick out of it.) Connecting still matters but it’s done very differently.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the work of finding the right person. Pastors call me every week asking if I know someone who would be a good fit for a student pastor, a worship pastor, an executive pastor, a group’s pastor and the list goes on. The playing field has changed and if you don’t embrace some of the new rules and cultural norms you will get frustrated in finding and hiring the right person.

Here are some of the things that are different from years past. They aren’t all new, but they are current and shouldn’t be ignored.  It is important that you discern any specific implications for your church. The better you grasp these current trends and realities the greater success and lower frustration in finding and hiring the right staff.

The chessboard itself has changed.

I like to think of staffing like a chess game. There are lots of players, they are always moving, and if you don’t think two to three moves ahead you will lose the game. Chess has certain players: bishops, knights, rooks, etc. Can you imagine how the game of chess would change if you added just one new player? From weekend only contract worship leaders, to IT staff and video/film teams, the game has changed. The addition of (audio/visual) tech staff alone has completely changed church staffing – from salary to how we organize the teams. Small churches must also get in the game, and they accomplish it largely through volunteers.

Multi-site adds a new definition to pastor.

Less than fifteen years ago, if you were the lead pastor you “preached” 40 to 48 Sundays a year. The launch of the multi-site movement changed the job description for many of our best pastors. They no longer teach on a regular basis, lead the church board, or deal with much of the finances of the church. This is causing many of the best young pastors to rethink their passion and how they want to make their best contribution. And multi-site churches are looking for a “new” kind of pastor.

Post-Graduate education is delivered and valued differently.

Churches are more interested in talent and competence than education. A bachelor’s degree is still highly desired by most churches hiring people for ministry, but traditional seminary is not as sought after as it once was. Many of the advanced degrees are now available on-line and interested students take that route. It is not uncommon for staff to pursue their degrees while working full time. This often has implications that lead to flex hours or part time staff.  

Call to ministry is interpreted with new perspective.

For at least the last couple hundred years of modern church history, a call to vocational ministry was a life calling. This is no longer assumed on either side of the age spectrum. A growing number of young ministry leaders experience a valid call to serve in a local church, do so successfully for perhaps 5-7 years, and then pursue another career direction. On the other side, there is a rising number of half-timers changing careers at mid-life to vocational ministry who will likely finish out their working years in the local church.  

The Internet completely changed the game. 

The internet was once considered cold and impersonal and the last place you would want to find a new staff member. Now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Social media has created the “new relational” connection process and it works extremely well. It’s been many years now but I remember finding and I thought I hit pure gold. What a great resource! No human being can build that kind of social network on their own! We were looking for a children’s pastor and at the same time Eric was cruising He was happy at his current church but felt the Holy Spirit nudge him when he saw our ad. Eric was with us for eight years, he led extremely well and we are still great friends today!

Health Care is a major game changer!

This may not be the most positive of points, but we have to be honest about it. Health care is changing the landscape of hiring in local churches. The primary shift is that many churches are hiring more part time people, typically 29 hours or less. This allows the church to avoid the huge burden of health care expenses. But no church escapes the ever changing and complex reality. I just spoke with a pastor of a large church in Michigan. They cannot afford health care at all, and every staff member is on their own to get the government sponsored options! Some staff are considering leaving the team for that reason alone.  

A background in business is highly valued.

There was a day when only traditionally trained ministry students were the accepted senior pastors and staff. That day is gone. God is using many with tremendous business backgrounds on local church staffs. When it comes to education, and particularly post graduate work, I’m equally enthusiastic about an MBA as an MDIV. Of course the person and the position makes a difference, but my point is that potential hires with a business background have much to offer local church leadership.

Larger churches hire from within, smaller churches hire from larger churches.

Your own church is likely your best relational connection for new staffing needs especially if it’s a larger church. The more emphasis you place on leadership development, and empowerment of volunteers, the better you will shape your culture to attract and retain the kind of people you would want to hire. This also enables smaller churches to look toward larger churches for help with their staffing needs as well.