Is Cultural Fit More Important Than Skill Set for Campus Pastors?

March 25, 2022

Have you ever worked with someone in ministry who had all the necessary credentials and background but never seemed to jive with the rest of the staff and get things accomplished? Hiring the wrong person can be a significant drag on the effectiveness of an organization and ends up draining precious time and resources.

In my experience, cultural fit is critical when it comes to hiring a successful team—and it’s even more integral when it comes to the church. A campus pastor can have all the skills, organizational disciplines, and experience in the world, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to added value for the team.

You Can Always Train Skills 

Don’t get me wrong. A campus pastor needs skills and the ability to function well with their team. But when push comes to shove, which should you prioritize? Do you take the person with the ideal resume, or do you choose the person that seems to align with everyone else?

The truth is that you can often help someone develop new skills, but it is not always possible to alter someone’s wiring or cultural fit.

It can be very tempting to hire someone who can hit the ground running with little to no training. But sometimes this can hurt you more than help you. The damage that a single negative person can do to your team can be devastating. They can affect the entire team’s attitude and drive, costing your church much hurt, conflict, disruption, downtime, and money.

Don’t Ignore the Value of Skills 

Obviously, expertise is still essential. If all of your employees lacked the skills they needed in their roles, the ministry initiatives would go undone. So we don’t want to completely ignore competence when hiring. But while we look for the right skill set, we need to check for cultural and missional fit.

Why Cultural Fit Is Vital 

Research demonstrates that the people who are aligned with their organization and fit well with their teams end up enjoying their job more, performing better, and staying longer with their organization.

A good fit ensures that your teams collaborate and use their skills in a way that support one another. The difficulty lies in the fact that cultural fit is not easily trainable. It is part of who they are. It is how they are wired, how they see the world, and how they react in specific situations. If your church culture does not connect with a pastoral candidate innately, the connection will be difficult to manufacture later.

Here are some steps to consider before you start the hiring process to help you find the candidate who will mesh with your church’s culture.

1. Know what makes you tick. 

Hiring should flow from a deep understanding of the church you are creating. You should be able to articulate your mission and values clearly. You should know what draws people to your church. Is it your location, your size, your demographics, or your leadership? What are your absolute musts when it comes to hiring? What character traits are essential (humility, enthusiasm, optimism, etc.)?

2. Describe what you’re looking for. 

When posting the job description online or in denominational spaces, save yourself some time and clearly define what you are looking for. Use words that attract the right person to fit your position. Focus not just on describing the skills you want, but make sure applicants understand the kind of person you are looking to hire.

If your campus pastoral position is not going to require preaching, make sure you don’t attract someone who wants to teach each week. With clear language, you will eliminate any false expectations on what is required in the position.

3. Ask the right interview questions. 

Naturally, you’re going to want an understanding of a particular candidate’s skills and experience. But do not neglect the importance of discerning whether their attitudes and perspectives fit your culture.

Ask questions like:

    • What gets you excited about coming to work?
    • What are people surprised to find out about you?
    • What is the biggest challenge most teams experience?
    • What are the characteristics demonstrated by the best leader you have ever worked with?
    • Describe a time when you were asked to work on a project that you did not want to champion.
    • Describe the team dynamics in your last position and how you fit into them.

4. Be deliberate about implementing your culture. 

Creating a healthy multi-campus culture requires effort. You will need to be intentional about it. This means you have to have a plan in place to shepherd your leaders. You need to know how you will invest in them. You need to understand what you are willing to teach or train and what baseline attitudes and behaviors you expect.

When you have a strategy for hiring and raising leaders, everything gets easier. You don’t have to guess at the minimum viable traits and skills; you know exactly what you are looking for—and where to begin once they start.

5. Match the candidate to your ministry fit model. 

Your ministry model essentially has its own ideal personality. When you are able to match your candidate’s personality or trait pairings to the position, you will create a better match. No one likes going to work each day and hating the duties they are required to do—why not put a person in place that God naturally wired for the position?

Ministry Fit 

Church staff will stick around when there is a synergistic fit within the team. Working with people who share the same values, mission, and vision leads to greater job satisfaction. They will last longer in your organization and create significant connections with others, leading to organizational health. This ultimately supports the bottom line by saving time, money, and resources.

If your church is going to grow and attract new members, look for people who fit the culture, as well as ones who can handle the complexities of managing the requirements of a new campus. Your ideal campus pastor hire will support and enhance your culture and help develop a thriving campus.

Lori is the Executive Vice President of Organization Development for Buzz Oates. She consults a wide variety of industries, including but not limited to, banking, insurance, medical/dental, technology, religious organizations, construction, and distribution.

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