Tips for your search team
What's unique about your church?
Have you created what we call your “elevator speech”? This is the brief explanation of your church and the unique opportunities in your particular church. As the name suggests, this is a pitch short enough to give during a short elevator ride—about 20 seconds.
A good elevator speech keeps your search team on the same page and ensures constancy in the messages that are being given to sources, candidates, and references. In your job postings, it helps candidates understand what’s special about your position.
Unfortunately, most teams’ elevator speeches sounds something like this:
We are a great church in a wonderful city! We have tremendous youth in need of a committed person who can lead our youth ministry.
Compare that elevator speech to this:
First Church is willing to invest in youth ministry. Having just doubled the size of our youth staff, we are seeking a highly creative high school director to focus primarily on our weekly outreach program to youth outside our church walls. Because we have a diverse staff, this person will be relatively free from logistical details and will be able to focus primarily on relationships.
We are a theologically conservative church with a progressive worship style in search of an ordained youth pastor to lead our active and committed group of volunteers. The focus of our youth ministry is discipling students who will, in turn, impact their friends and families. We already have most of the key volunteers in place.
(From chapter 2 of Before You Hire a Youth Pastor)
Have you been clear and complete?
Does your job description really match your vision for the position? And remember that you are selling and filtering at the same time. You want the job to be clear in its expectations, but you also want the position to be attractive when compared to others.
Remember to include:
- Job Title
- Full time or part time
- Key responsibilities or results expected
- Qualifications - remember that hiring by age or gender aren't allowed
- Reports to whom
- Any sales points that might draw someone to this position, e.g., "Our youth ministry is growing." "We have team of 12 long-term volunteers already in place." "Our youth space is newly renovated."
Get several editable job descriptions—and dozens of other Word document templates—with our book and CD, Before You Hire a Youth Pastor.
Other great places to post your opening
There are dozens if not hundreds of places for you to post your job opening. Websites for posting youth ministry jobs often change, and new ones spring up every year. Your team will want to use a search engine to discover the best places to post your opening. Here are a few of our favorites.
Free interdenominational sites
Free denominational Sites
Most denominations offer a job posting service at the national level. Ease of use and effectiveness vary. Here are a few of the more active sites:
- American Anglican Council
- Evangelical Presbyterian
- Lutheran ELCA
- Presbyterian (PCUSA)
- Southern Baptist
- United Methodist (type "youth job" in the site's search box)
Additional posting services
- Contact the career development offices at nearby colleges, universities, and seminaries.
- Contact the publications (web and print) of the regional offices of your denomination.
Our experience is that paid sites do not offer any better or worse results than the free sites. If you want to make sure you have all the bases covered, consider investing in one of these.
“Sourcing”—the secret to doubling your odds of success
Few aspects of a successful search are more often neglected than this one. And ironically, no single aspect of the search process will have nearly as profound an impact on the attitude of the Search Team as this one will.
Sourcing is, simply put, the process of talking to as many people as possible about the position, knowing that some percentage of those contacts will just happen to know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who might be a strong candidate for the open position. As strange as it may sound, sourcing is all about quantity, not quality. The ideal youth ministry search typically involves making a minimum of at least 200 sourcing contacts, though 500 would be far better!
Do the math with me: If team members talk to 100 possible sources, and 10 percent of them have a candidate to recommend (a fairly strong response rate), the result will be 10 potential candidates. By comparison, we like the churches we work with to have 20 to 50 decent candidates they have considered before starting the interviewing process.
Instead, the “normal” church starts interviewing with a small pool of candidates that no one is really all that excited about, often leaving Search Team members feeling desperate, wringing their hands, and complaining about how few strong candidates there are. This sense of desperation is often the primary reason churches choose to settle, rather than wait for the candidate who is an appropriate fit for the church’s needs. We’d much prefer that you approach your decision-making with the confidence that a big stack of good resumes can provide.
We know what you’re asking next: “So where do we go to expand our list of sources?!” Your Search Team can choose from any of the following options. Use as many as you can:
- Publicly invite the entire church to submit names and contact information for anyone they know who might either be a strong candidate or someone who might know a strong candidate.
- Have everyone on the Search Team contact at least 10 friends who:
- Are involved in the world of youth ministry in some other church
- Are involved in ministry of some kind
- Are in churches that have strong youth ministries
- Have a strong connection with a Christian camp or college
- Ask each of the members of the church staff for recommendations of possible sources that the Search Team should be talking to.
- Contact the church’s denomination or association headquarters for the names and contact information of potential sources. (A great question would be, “Who are 10 people in our denomination that are doing great youth ministry these days?”)
- Depending on the ideal age of the candidate you are seeking, you may want to contact all colleges that provide a youth ministry major to ask for their recommendations.
- If you are searching for a candidate with a seminary degree, you will want to contact feeder seminaries for churches like yours.
- Contact Christian camps within your general area (or around the country) for names of young people who have served as counselors in recent years who might be searching for a youth ministry position.
- Have everyone on the Search Team scan online for names in youth ministry that seem to occur over and over again, and contact those people for recommendations.
In addition, we recommend that every Search Team select at least 10 “sourcers” who aren’t on the Search Team but might be willing to make 10 contacts of their own.
For a customizable job description and sample script for Sourcers, get our kit: Before You Hire a Youth Pastor.
A strategy for sorting your résumés
Once your team has received 20 resumes or so, it will be time to identify your the top five candidates in your current pile. If your resume pile is thin, you might need to simply take another two weeks to repeat Step 6, beating the bushes just a little more to increase your pool of candidates.
We admit that there is a certain level of uncertainty at this stage of the process. A piece of paper can never convey a person’s total personality, fit, and gifts for ministry, but this “rough cut,” based only on resumes, will help to narrow the field. Rather than identifying each candidate as a “yes” or a “no,” we recommend, at this point in the process, that you place each resume in one of the following three categories:
Category 1: Want to Pursue
The “Want to Pursue” pile will include the candidates whom you think could be a great fit for your ministry, based on
- their resumes
- a strong recommendation
- or some X-factor that particularly appeals to you (like skill in leading worship or a connection to your alma mater)
It’s OK at this point to have a few questions about them, questions like,
- Is she over-qualified?
- Why was he only at his second job for 10 months?
Category 2: I Doubt It
The “I Doubt It” pile will include those, for whatever reason, you see little likelihood of succeeding in this particular position. These may be candidates who have a theological perspective or denominational background inconsistent with your church or whose education or experience level would not be appropriate for your position. This pile might contain full-time students who couldn’t possibly handle a full-time ministry job or people whose resumes give you a negative gut instinct.
If some on your team are queasy about putting anyone in the “I Doubt It” pile, remember that this process is not about judging the worth of a particular candidate as a human being; it is about identifying their fit for your church’s particular needs.
Category 3: Maybe
Once you have created the first two categories, every other resume will belong in the “Maybe” pile.
Typically, you’ll want to wind up with four to six people in the “Want to Pursue” pile. If you have fewer than four, your team can decide either to add in a couple more from the “Maybe” group, or just go after your top three. If you have more than six, you’ll want to come to some consensus about which candidates to pursue first. It will be helpful to remember that you can always go back to the “Maybe” pile if your first rough cut doesn’t produce the caliber of candidates you are looking for. You can also spend some more time beating the bushes and making contacts.
(From Chapter 6 of Before You Hire a Youth Pastor.)
Get the most out of reference-checking
When your team makes reference calls, you may, very infrequently, come across a surprise, like “No, Bobby never actually worked here.” But most references will speak in exclusively positive terms about the candidate.
The key will be to leave every reference call with a little more clarity about the candidate’s unique strengths, weaknesses, and fit for your position. Remember the rule: People (especially in youth ministry) tend to do what they like to do and tend to do well where they have done well in the past, regardless of what their job descriptions say they should be doing.
So one way to get the most out of your reference calls is to listen for the “sweet spot” of the candidate you are calling about
- Be prepared to leave several messages before you actually talk to the person making the reference.
- As much as possible, keep your conversation to 15 minutes or so.
- Let the reference person know that you are both on the same side. They like the candidate; so do you - he or she made the Top 5 list. The message is that the candidate is a person of great value. We just don’t want to saddle them with a job that will make them miserable or set them up for failure.
- Use the script supplied below as an outline for your phone call. (From Appendix J2 of Before You Hire a Youth Pastor.)
- In order to keep our search process moving according to schedule, we’re asking that you shoot for completing your reference call within 1 week of being assigned the call.
- You’ll want to ask the chair of your church’s search team for a copy of the “elevator speech” they have created that defines the position and the kind of person your church is looking for.
- Turn in a one-page summary of information gained from your reference call to the chair of your church’s search team.
- Make sure you end the call be thanking the reference and affirming something positive about the candidate.
Sample script for reference checking
Hello, my name is and I’m with church. We’re talking with ____________ about a position in our youth ministry job. He/she is one of our favorite candidates, and he/she gave your name as a reference. Do you have a few minutes to talk now, or can I make an appointment to call you back?
(If the reference person is available, ask the following questions):
- Can you tell us a little bit about how you know ________?
- I’m assuming you know a little something about his or her work in youth ministry. Could you give me your observations?
- How would you describe ____________’s personality?
- What can you tell me about ___________’s faith and how he or she expresses it?
(If the reference person has no personal knowledge of the candidate’s ministry experience, you can move to question 6).
- To your knowledge, what responsibilities did his or her previous youth ministry job entail?
- Can you give me your impressions of what kind of a job did he/she did?
- If I could talk to parents of the students _________________ has worked with, what would they likely tell me?
- In his previous youth ministry position, what would you say would be his most significant achievement? (You may want to follow up here by asking “Can you tell me a little more about…”)
Our purpose in our search isn’t just to fill a slot but to find a good match for the position that our church has.
- Having said that, would you think _____ would flourish better in a job that emphasized organizational tasks or relationship tasks?
- Would you expect him/her to be better in small group settings or in big group settings?
- What parts of a normal youth ministry position (as you imagine it) might _________ struggle with?
Would you have any reservations about ________ working with your own child?
- Let me tell you a little about the position and the person we are looking for: (Give the Search Team's elevator speech here) From what you know of ________, what parts of this position would be a perfect and which parts might be a bit of a reach?
There are two questions we have to ask in every reference call:
- Do you have any knowledge of ___________ ever being charged with a crime?
- Are there any other people that you think we should talk to before deciding whether _________ should work with youth?
Thank you for speaking with me. This has been a great help to our church.
It takes more than a new youth pastor
Before You Hire a Youth Pastor and HireAYouthPastor.com were developed by YMA's founder Mark DeVries and Vice President of Consulting Jeff Dunn-Rankin. Before You Hire a Youth Pastor is a book for search committees available for purchase here. HireAYouthPastor is a job board website for youth pastors and churches. We hope you'll check them both out in more detail. Meanwhile, we're glad you're here and we'd love to serve your church.
Churches today face a tough reality: They want to build thriving ministries to teenagers but very few churches know how.
Most simply resort to handing the entire responsibility to young, inexperienced youth directors who are then asked to bring “their own visions” for youth ministry to the church. This is a hit or miss proposition at best. If the hired youth director happens to be a superstar, the church is thrilled by all he or she brings to the table (at least until that irreplaceable youth director leaves in a few short years…or months). If the youth director is less than stellar, the youth ministry can easily become mired in a climate of criticism and complaint, as the parents and church staff members become increasingly obsessed with “fixing” the current youth director. We’re excited you found HireAYouthPastor.com. It was developed by YMA to help you find the right person for your congregation.
But thriving, sustainable youth ministries can never be built on a parade of young, enthusiastic leaders trying to piece together a disjointed collection of ideas from popular models, books and seminars. Churches remain frustrated and floundering in their youth ministries – not because they can’t find “the right staff,” but because they haven’t determined their vision and established a structure for their ministries. At Youth Ministry Architects, we believe there is a better way, a better way than one-size-fits-all training events and quick-fix searches for superstar staffers.
It all starts with building intentionally.
So, like architects, we don’t tell churches what they want to build. We start by listening and then show them a blueprint of exactly how they can move from where they are to where they want to be. And then we walk alongside them to make sure that they build the kind of infrastructure they will need to create the youth ministries they dream of having. We have made it our mission to help churches establish sustainable, deep-impact youth ministries, one church at a time. Over the last four years, Youth Ministry Architects has begun to emerge as the standard for excellence in youth ministry consulting, effectively transforming struggling youth ministries to thriving ones.