How Search Committees can gather information
I blogged already about information a Search Committee should gather to present to candidate-pastors. Is there other information a committee should gather for themselves? YES-- and here are a few ideas for getting it:
- Survey the congregation. It doesn't matter how well the Search Committee represents the needs of the congregation• ; there are issues, problems, personal grudges, and special needs that no committee can fully comprehend unless there has been an opportunity for congregation-wide input. There is a good congregational survey in an appendix to Joseph Umidi's Confirming the Pastoral Call (see the link below); one thing it lacks, however, is enough whitespace for members to comment on things that quantitative questions can't include. Give your members plenty of room to speak their piece.
- Think hard about congregational readiness for change. Change is inevitable with a new pastor-- even with a new staff member. How prepared for change is the congregation? Umidi provides a good survey to assess this, as well, but there are other ways of doing it. Does the church want an innovator or a maintainer? A fast mover or a slow one? Someone to bring new ideas and ministries into fruition, or someone to revitalize the existing community? Assessment of change-readiness will answer these questions and more. Umidi has some helpful information about this as well (this book is worth the purchase-price for the appendices alone). Another excellent resource for assessing this is Thom Rainer's Surprising Insights from the Unchurched (see the link below), which also includes good survey materials.
- Be aware of contemporary pastoral matters. One Search Committee I know of started the process by, among other things, having the whole committee read Dr. Bryan Chapell's Christ-Centered Preaching (see the link below) because they wanted the committee to be familiar with what goes into a good, biblical sermon. When they know that, they know what they are looking for, to some degree. There are great books on leadership, shepherding, teaching, revitalization, vision-casting-- you name it. Now, you can't expect any candidate to be on the cutting edge of all areas, but a Search Committee that knows the needs of their church (see the first point on surveying the congregation) will know which areas to focus on; they should expect candidate-pastors to be familiar with those ideas, if he is to lead them adequately.
- Have a list of questions ready. Some committees overdo this, others neglect it completely. The key issue is this: what will a committee ask a candidate-pastor during the formal interview process? And, what things will they be looking for in the more informal moments? An interview weekend must be a very deliberate process, and every conversation matters. Committee members, and committees as a whole, should know exactly what information they are gathering-- what questions they are trying to answer. Then they might employ different strategies to get to those answers. But it starts with the questions.
- Be prepared for hard questions. A well-prepared candidate-pastor will have his own list of questions-- and will be leveraging for their answers every chance he gets. The committee should anticipate what (at least some of) these questions will be, and know what the answer is. That is not to say that they should devise answers that are inaccurate, but they should know how to be honest and and forthcoming in a tactful and appropriate way. Off-the-cuff answers to hard questions often downplay, embellish, or caricature the truth, rather than giving truly accurate depictions of reality.
- Talk to the pros. Not every church needs to work with a professional church consultant to handle their search well-- and not every church can afford to (though if they can, they should consider it). But most denominations have staff that can offer invaluable insight into the search process. There are certain things in which inexperience and unfamiliarity are actually good things; weddings come to mind as a good example, and pastoral searches are also in this category. A church that hasn't done a pastoral search for 20 years shouldn't expect that they know how to do it; calling in someone to guide them shows maturity and humility, not weakness. Professional consultants like Dr. Phil Douglass (who I work with) and others can be invaluable resources; however, they are not the only option. Contact your denomination's administrative office to inquire about what sort of assistance they can provide with the search process itself. Or call a consultant and see if they will work with you; often they will discount their fees for certain circumstances (denominational affiliation, an exceptionally small or difficult church situation, etc.).