Seven New Trends in the Pastor Search Process

If there is anything consistent about the current state of how churches find and call pastors, it is the inconsistencies of the process for each church. It is inconsistent by denomination and by each church individually.

I have the opportunity to interact with a number of churches looking for pastors, and with pastors who are being considered by churches. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed changes and trends in the process. Let me highlight the seven most frequent changes I’ve discovered.

  1. Social media has become a major reference to check on potential pastors. More churches and pastor search committees are looking at blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media venues of potential candidates. One search committee member told me he read four years of blogs of a pastor their church is considering. He said that he could tell a lot about the leadership and personality of a pastor by reading his articles and how he interacts with those who comment on the blogs.
  2. Two background checks are more common: criminal and credit. Most church search members will not disqualify a candidate who has some issues in his background legally or credit related. But they do want the candidate to be upfront about any issues; and they want to know how he is dealing with those issues today.
  3. More leadership questions are asked. In the past, Bible and theology rightly dominated the questions asked of a prospective pastor. Today those considering these pastors want to know more about his leadership qualities. “We had problems with two of our last three pastors,” one church member wrote me. “But none of those problems had anything to do with their theology; they just had terrible leadership skills.”
  4. Churches scrutinize the prospective pastor’s church website. I have been surprised how much churches depend on a website to find out information about a prospective pastor. They certainly expect to hear sermon podcasts there, but they are looking for much more. Rightly or wrongly, they often evaluate the pastor by the quality and the content of the site.
  5. Fewer search committees are going to the prospective pastor’s church to hear him preach. I am hearing more often that they view such a move as disruptive to that pastor and the church. They have other options available to hear him preach. Of course, they lose the advantage of seeing and hearing that pastor in his current context.
  6. Churches are depending less on traditional resources to seek prospective pastors. More are depending on informal networks to seek these pastors, rather than denominational or similar sources.
  7. More churches are asking questions about the emotional intelligence of a candidate. Is he self-aware? Is he moody or temperamental? How motivated is he? Is he empathetic? Does he have good social and interpersonal skills?

There are several other trends I am watching closely. But these seven are the dominant trends in the pastor search process. Though they are ranked in order of frequency of comment, they are really all very close in their overall importance in the ways churches seek to find and call a pastor.  So the number one issue, social media and the pastor, is not that much more dominant than the number seven issue, the emotional intelligence of the prospective pastor. In fact, the issue of emotional intelligence and leadership is so important that it will be the subject of my blog next Monday.


  1. Rev. Paul David Larrimore says

    Thom I have been working with numerous pulpit/pastor search committees over the last few years and alot of what you report is true. However, I’m from the old school and feel many churches can’t keep pastor’s or go long time without a pastor because they are treating the search process like a normal secular job.
    I hate it when people, even our own conventions website, calls being a pastor a job. It really IS NOT but a call from God to ministry. I’ve seen many with this JOB mentality leave after realizing 90 % of pastor’s are not living on the Hog sort of speak.
    To their credit the search committees are trying to do the right thing but as a 30 yr minister I believe the wrong way. When we put what the candidate looks like, whether he is a certain age, married or with kids, if so how many and whether or not they have family pets, as the criteria as a future pastor they have really gone overboard.
    Whatever happened to great hours of prayer over resume’s and meeting with candidates over their ministry style, background, sincerity to MINISTRY not what kind of car he drives and can we afford him due to that fact.
    I’ve been asked even more mundane and really weird questions from the committees and wonder if it’s not just the case of trying to eliminate candidates and whoever is left, WELL THAT HAS TO BE GOD’S MAN.
    I think our leaders need to re-vamp the pastoral search information packets or at least start setting up seminars to bring the churches back to realizing the true nature of the ministry.
    As a bi-covational pastor most of my ministry I can tell you the shock when they ask me how many hour’s I’m able to give to the church. In my opinion bi-vocational or not, you give your all no amount of hour’s can be specified as it is MINISTRY and that can be at 2:00AM in the morning or on a holiday that the pastor is needed. REGARDLESS OF HIS SECULAR JOB. And in fact the call to ministry should ALWAYS superceed our own tentmaking.
    I wonder how the apostle Paul would treat it today !!!!

  2. Mark Wilson says

    Having just led a mega-church through this process as part of a pastor search committee, this is a very timely article for me. I can validate that for our committee, every point you list is relevant; however, I strongly differ with the practice of many committees you observe in point 5. While a committee can get a preliminary feel for a pastor by watching sermons from a church’s web site, the impression can be very different than reality. Some pastors seem mediocre when watched on-line yet lead vibrant churches that give a radically different feel when you visit in person. Likewise, others that seemed so engaging from their preaching on-line gave a very different impression when visiting their churches in person. I am absolutely convinced that there is no substitute for visiting the church of any serious candidate.
    Having also served on our last pastor search committee 16 years ago, the conventional wisdom this time around was that the internet would reduce our workload and speed the process. I found exactly the opposite. It is unquestionably true that the internet has changed everything; there is virtually limitless data available. The problem is that with Twitter feeds, Blogs, sermons and more, narrowing the focus and hearing God’s voice becomes a much more daunting task. There is always more information available to consider. There aren’t enough hours in the day to run down all the information.
    I can also echo point 4 that a bad web site is a problem for a potential candidate. It is comparable to having a dilapidated building. After a few dozen (or few hundred in our case) candidates, a committee will go no farther than a first page glance if the web site is bad. It just gives the impression that the church is not concerned about connecting with people and that it’s out of touch. Even if you mentally know this may not be the case, it is hard to get past a bad web site, particularly if you aren’t really familiar with the church.
    I do feel that committees can do a much more thorough job now than in the past, but my experience is that the workload is exponentially higher. A committee has to rely all the more on prayer and patience as they listen for God’s voice among the clamor of competing sounds that constantly seek to drown Him out.

  3. Linda Thompson says

    I am preparing to service on my first search committee and would appreciate your prayers,I enjoyed reading this article,it was very helpful.thank you

  4. Dan Farrer says

    #3 bothers me the most. Primarily because nearly all senior ministers in my life’s journey struggle with leadership skills. Our model rarely works and is not Biblical, yet “we” insist on keeping how we do church. God appointed Moses, a man who organized and counted and led to run things. He also appointed Aaron as the spiritual leader; and Aaron was to report to Moses. Why? Because the gifts that makes a good Aaron, i.e. senior pastor, is different from the gifts that God gave Moses. Find a Moses who knows how to lead and organize. Find an Aaron who can lead people to God and you will have a better model.

  5. Faith Smith says

    The importance of a thorough background check including contacting previous church affiliations cannot be emphasized enough. Red flags should be raised when a resume shows numerous short-term pastorates at different churches.

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