Pastor search committees are tasked with the weighty responsibility of finding a new leader for their church. But this holy endeavor is far from easy or simple. When you’re searching for your next pastor, watch out for these seven common missteps of pastor search committees.
1. They have too many or too few people on the search committee
If you have too many people on your search committee, you’re going to move slower and have trouble coming to consensus about decisions. If you have too few people, your committee may feel overwhelmed with the amount of work in the pastor search process and may burn out quickly.
I recommend that search committees have somewhere between seven and eleven people. You should have an odd number of people to prevent stalemates when taking votes. If you have more than eleven people, you might have too many cooks in the kitchen and lose your ability to be nimble as a team. The more differing opinions and voices that need to be heard on your search committee, the longer the pastor search process will take.
2. They don’t commit to prayer from the beginning
A prayerful pastor search process is crucial to finding whom God is calling to your church. In my book SEARCH: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook, I included a pastor search committee prayer guide to help center your committee on seeking the Lord about who He’s calling to be your next leader.
Share your prayer guide with your congregation and invite them to pray along with your committee. Pray for your new pastor and their family. Pray for wisdom and discernment for your committee and church staff. Pray for your church in this season of transition, as change isn’t easy for any organization. The pastor search process is sacred, so unite your congregation as you cover it in prayer.
3. They don’t establish how they’re going to make decisions
Once you have the right people on the pastor search committee, you must decide how you’re going to make decisions. I often see committees stuck because they don’t establish guidelines up front for how decisions will be made. Will you require a majority vote or unanimity to move forward with a pastor candidate? What is your protocol if a committee member can’t make it to the next meeting?
Set a decision-making process on the front end of the search process to avoid frustration and confusion down the road. There is a Pastor Search Committee Member Agreement in SEARCH that can put your committee on the same page about how decisions will be made as a group.
4. They don’t establish roles on the committee
In your first committee meeting, you should assign roles to each person on the committee. Search committees that complete this step cut down on their search process timeline because they are organized and focused on who is doing what.
Here are six ideas for roles to get you started:
- The Coordinator is organizationally gifted to coordinate meetings and schedules.
- The Communicator heads up the search committee’s communication with the elders, board, and congregation.
- The Prayer Warrior coordinates prayer for the committee and congregation.
- The Follow-Upper is the point person for incoming applications and communication with candidates.
- The Recruiter researches and recruits candidates that the committee would like to consider.
- The Host or Hostess has the gift of hospitality and plans for the candidate interviews.
5. They don’t communicate with the congregation
If a committee doesn’t have The Communicator on the search team, I find that the search committee forgets to regularly communicate with the church. Keep your congregation updated on a monthly basis at minimum. I also recommend you have a website or landing page where people can visit to stay updated on the pastor search process. You might even consider recording video updates about your search that you can post on your church’s website, social media, and in email updates.
6. They don’t have a projected timeline and move too slow with candidates
I see churches lose great pastor candidates far too often because they waited weeks or months to communicate with a candidate in between phone calls or interviews. One of the biggest complaints I hear from candidates is this: “The pastor search committee flew me out for an interview, then I never hear from them again." Take the time to keep your candidates updated on where they stand in the search process.
7. They have unrealistic expectations about the role
The qualifications that many pastor search committees want for their pastoral candidates are so specific that even Jesus wouldn’t meet them (Jesus wasn’t married and didn’t preach every Sunday). While it’s vital for your pastor search committee to have specific qualities you’re looking for in your next pastor, take a moment to ask, "What are the qualities that we must have, and which ones are simply preferences?"
Candidates are much more than just a resume, so spend intentional time as a committee determining the type of pastor you’re looking for and if your requirements are realistic to have in one person. Have a way to consistently and objectively evaluate candidates as a search committee, and you’ll be on the right path to a smooth search process.
I wrote SEARCH: The Pastoral Search Committee Handbook to provide a guide for pastor search committees navigating the daunting search process. I hope it’s a blessing to you and your church as you plan for healthy and effective pastoral transitions. Download the first chapter of the book for free here!