Pastor Search

5 Rules of Communication for Pastor Search Committees

One crucial area of the pastor search process that is often overlooked is the Pastor Search Committee’s communication approach. It is imperative that the Search Committee communicate effectively with their congregation and potential pastor candidates. 

Search Committees who communicate well often find their congregation more patient and understanding, and they also find potential candidates to be appreciative and receptive to their efforts. However, Search Committees that fail to communicate effectively harm themselves with multiple self-inflicted wounds. 

During my work with churches in transition, I have observed several “rules” of communication of the most effective Pastor Search Committees. These rules can minimize frustration for the Search Committee, the congregation, and potential candidates if followed. They will likely build trust as well. Check out the top five rules below.

Rule #1: Commit to confidentiality

The cardinal communication rule of the pastor search process is to commit to confidentiality, and this rule is non-negotiable. Due to the sensitive nature of the search process, Search Committees must maintain confidentiality. No exceptions!

When working with specific candidates, no identifiable information should be shared (in public, private, or social media) until the appropriate time. Releasing (or leaking) this information prematurely could cause significant problems if a candidate is currently serving as a pastor of another church. This is especially true if the candidate’s current ministry position is in the same geographic region.

I cannot overstate this point. Search committees simply must maintain confidentiality throughout the search process. Failure to do so could have devastating consequences for the candidate or the church.

Rule #2: Provide regular updates to the church

Search Committees should establish a regular communication schedule to update the congregation on their progress. Those updates could be provided weekly, monthly, or another specified timeframe. 

While respecting the confidentiality of specific candidates, Search Committees can still provide general updates throughout the process. For example, they can let the church know which phase of the search process they are currently in. They can share the number of resumes they have received. They can share that they have narrowed the search down to their top candidates. Sharing regular updates allows the congregation to have confidence that the search is progressing and minimizes unnecessary frustration.

Rule #3: Establish a primary contact for candidates

When multiple Search Committee members communicate with a candidate outside of interviews and other scheduled interactions, they may share conflicting information or send mixed messages. Therefore, it’s best to designate one individual as the primary contact. 

This person is responsible for contacting each candidate to set up interviews and other meetings. This person responds to any questions or requests for information from the candidate. The candidate knows this individual’s contact information and can reach out anytime he needs to. 

As the number of individuals in a group increases, so does the opportunity for miscommunication and confusion. Establishing a primary contact for candidates will go a long way to minimize this confusion.

Rule #4: Don’t ghost candidates

Depending on the number of resumes received, it can be difficult for Search Committees to maintain regular contact with everyone who applies for the position. Therefore, many Search Committees send a standardized response indicating receipt of the resume and a brief explanation of the search process.

Unfortunately, many Search Committees don’t even send this simple confirmation, leaving candidates in a perpetual state of limbo. As a display of common courtesy, Search Committees should (at the very least) let each applicant know that they have received their resume. 

Furthermore, the Search Committee should notify applicants at any point that they cease to be a candidate for the position. Don’t simply cut off communication. Ghosting a candidate is disrespectful to them and could hinder their search for their next ministry assignment. It is also a poor reflection on your church and dishonoring to the Lord. Search committees can – and should – do better.

Rule #5: Communicate with integrity

Search Committees must communicate with integrity. If they prove themselves trustworthy throughout their interactions, Christ is honored, and the church becomes more attractive to potential candidates. Sadly, the opposite is also true.

Search Committees will often highlight their church’s strengths and either minimize or ignore their weakest areas throughout their interactions with pastor candidates. While this is an understandable approach, Search Committees must commit to communicating with integrity. If the church is facing significant challenges, the Search Committee should be honest about those challenges. If the church has some sacred cows, they should be forthright in communicating those to their pastor candidates.

Similarly, communicating with integrity means that a Search Committee should follow through on any commitments to a potential candidate. Their yes should be yes, and their no should be no. Failing to do so implies that the Search Committee (and by association, the church as a whole) can’t keep its promises. This is a major red flag for most pastor candidates.

The Importance of Effective Communication

Effective communication is vitally important during the pastor search process. Search Committees who communicate well will reap the benefits. Search committees who communicate poorly will, unfortunately, suffer the consequences. If you are serving on a Pastor Search Committee, I pray these five rules of communication will help you to communicate clearly and effectively.

If you found this post helpful, check out my book The Church During the Search, which explains six commitments every church member needs to make to honor the Lord during the pastor search process.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

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