By Marv Knox
LEWISVILLE–Can a headhunter replace a search committee?
Maybe not completely, but churches would do a better job of selecting ministers if they accepted outside help, David Lyons believes.
That’s why he founded MinisterSearch, a professional recruitment firm that specializes in helping churches find pastors and staff members who fit their needs.
Lyons, a lifelong Baptist and a corporate executive head-hunter, got the idea for MinisterSearch when his brother-in-law, a minister, began talking about changing churches.
“I already understood what churches do to find staff. They ask the seminary for a list of resumes, talk to the staff of their association, ask other ministers for recommendations,” he said. “And how does a minister look for a church? He activates his resume (with a seminary) and calls his buddies.”
That’s a disjointed process for finding God’s will–for a church and for a minister, Lyons reasoned.
It’s also not very successful, he added, citing a couple of problems.
First is the long time required to fill most staff vacancies.
“Church growth is inhibited, if not stopped, by a vacant position. A church often sees a decline in souls saved, and the vacancy often impacts the budget,” Lyons said. “This particularly is acute if it’s the senior pastor, but it also happens with other positions.”
Second is the short tenure of many ministers, often as few as two to four years.
“We don’t believe God calls a guy and soon ‘uncalls’ him,” he noted. “Our goal is to help the candidate and the church discern the Holy Spirit’s calling. We believe we haven’t sensed the Spirit’s call enough in the traditional search process. …
“Are we searching most effectively for our ministers? No. We need a process to develop candidates, to find the top candidates and match them with the churches, so they’ll minister more effectively and stay longer.”
After praying and talking with pastors he respected, Lyons started MinisterSearch, based in Lewisville, in late 2001, utilizing a process he implemented in corporate executive recruitment.
A staff of eight workers place 1,000 to 1,200 calls each week. They network across the country and across denominational boundaries to maintain a database of ministers who are doing the most effective ministry and who might be interested in moving to another church.
MinisterSearch’s recruiters store data in customized computer software, tracking such information as ministers’ interests, skills, experience and geographical preferences for service.
They work on behalf of client churches, comparing church needs with candidate abilities. About 30 percent to 40 percent of MinisterSearch’s open positions are with Baptist Churches, Lyons said, noting Baptists comprise the largest denominational group of clients.
Before a MinisterSearch recruiter starts a candidate search, the recruiter spends time with church leaders.
“We go through a discovery process that can be extensive,” Lyons said. “We get to know the pastor, staff and church leaders. We learn about the vacant position and why the previous staff member left. From Day 1, we want to ask the hard questions.”
The MinisterSearch consultant works with the church to develop a job description and a candidate profile. Then that data, plus intangibles such as “chemistry,” are processed by the recruitment software to seek suitable candidates.
Typically, MinisterSearch’s research compares the church profile with as many as 200 candidate profiles to provide a church with three to five possibilities whose skills and calling match the church’s desires.
“A typical church may receive five to 20 resumes for a vacancy, and they pick the best candidate from that small list,” Lyons said. “We don’t support that concept. Too many candidates are overlooked. What we bring to the table is the ability to look more broadly.”
“All too often, a church accepts whatever comes to them through the traditional means,” added MinisterSearch’s director of consulting. “That is not the universe of possibilities.”
“The top three or four candidates we provide will be better qualified than the church’s best candidate,” Lyons contended.
After the candidate profiles are provided to the church, MinisterSearch works with candidates and the church–either a staff member conducting the search or a search committee–through recruiting conversations, interviews and the calling process.
The MinisterSearch consultant can help mediate between the church and candidates, making certain all issues are discussed, Allen said. The most sensitive can be compensation, but MinisterSearch doesn’t back away, understanding that disagreement over compensation often is a factor in short tenures.
A MinisterSearch consultant even may urge the church and a candidate discontinue discussions if the match doesn’t seem right.
“We’d rather stop the process than see a staff member get hired and leave in six months,” Lyons said. “So, if there’s a reason to stop the process, let’s stop it now.”
The group also pledges not to provide churches with resumes of incompetent ministers. “We’ll love them, but we won’t recommend them to a church,” Lyons noted.
About one-fourth of MinisterSearch’s searches are for senior pastors. When other staff members are sought, MinisterSearch encourages the pastor to be involved, even if a search committee is leading the process.
They believe their method of recruiting ministers is at the front of a trend.
“We want to be able to minister to the church, to bless the church,” Lyons said. “Ten years from now, this will be a standard process.”
That’s true, said Todd Rhoades, president of ChurchStaffing.com, an Internet-based ministry-matching firm.
“MinisterSearch is an up-and-coming thing,” Rhoades said. “It’s a huge possibility for churches to consider. Something like that would look very good to a lot of search committees.”