Five Indispensable Steps to Making Your First Hire

Hiring staff is both an exciting and a nervous process. This reality is compounded when it’s your very first hire. The pressure to get it right is undeniable. Here are a few things to consider when making your first hire.

1. Establish a Hiring Process from the Beginning

Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that a detailed hiring process is only necessary in large churches or organizations. Don’t be tricked by this shortsighted attitude. If it’s your first hire, chances are that precious resources are limited. You can’t afford to get it wrong. Here are eight ideas for creating an effective hiring process. Your process also needs to include specific hiring questions

2. Ask the Right Questions Before Answering the “First Hire” Question

Leaders often ask, “Who should I hire first?” There’s honestly not one right answer to this question. Every church and organization is different. Before answering the “first hire” question, carefully answer these five questions:

  • The Vision Question: What is the vision of our church or organization, and which hire will drive us closer to our vision?
  • The Value Question: Which hire will add the most value at the current stage of our church or organization?
  • The Growth Question: Which hire will help us grow in key measurement areas?
  • The Focus Question: Which hire will help you focus on your strengths and achieve a sustainable pace?
  • The Resource Question: Which hire will pay for itself quickly?

You can read a more detailed article on these five questions here. You can’t hire somebody based on the answer to just one of these questions. The sweet spot where your answers intersect will help you clarify your answer to the “first hire” question. From your responses, draft a role description that articulates specific responsibilities. Don’t worry about a title; that’s not important right now.

One last thing: don’t set things in concrete. As you conduct the interview process, you’ll come across candidates that don’t perfectly fit your needs, but they potentially offer extraordinary value. You need to have a certain, subjective flex to the process without letting your emotions hijack the process. A good hiring process, as indicated above, will protect you from hiring solely on a “feeling.”

3. Focus on Generalists not Specialists

This may be a bit controversial, but in the early stages of a church, you usually can’t afford to hire specialists. Even if you can, it’s probably not time to do so. A specialist is someone who only does one thing. They might be a youth pastor, a children’s pastor, or a worship leader. The problem is, you don’t need somebody to invest 40-50 hours per week in any of these areas. Instead, you need a generalist. You need someone who has the ability to do more than one thing well.

Before you scream, “But our staff should play to their strengths!” let me be the first to say that I agree with you. But for some reason, we’ve come to believe that “playing to our strengths” means we only do one thing. That’s rarely the case. Craft a role around a dominant function (say 40% of the time) and two to four secondary functions (contributing to the remaining 60% of the time). Even in such a scenario, I wouldn’t attach a title based on the dominant function. Doing so will only drive the specialist mentality.

4. Consider Non-Traditional Alternatives

I’m amazed at how traditional we are when it comes to hiring staff. In the church world, we have a standard list of hires (worship pastor, youth pastor, children’s pastor, small group/Christian education pastor, etc.). There’s nothing wrong with these roles, but I’m concerned that we hire them because it’s what we’re “supposed” to do. Rather than letting a mixture of vision, wisdom, and innovation drive our hiring strategy, we follow a conformist mentality. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Can the job be done remotely?
  • Can the job be done by volunteers?
  • Can the job be outsourced to a company or freelance alternative?
  • Can multiple responsibilities be merged to form one role?

5. Hire Developers, Not Just Doers

I once heard Greg Surratt say, “There’s too much ministry to be done to hire people to do ministry. You can only hire people who have the ability to equip others to do ministry.” It’s the Ephesians four model. Simply stated: Unless you have an unlimited amount of money, you need to carefully allocate your hiring resources to people who have team building skills. If they can’t recruit, train, and empower teams, don’t make them your first hire. Doers are limited by 24 hours and their own set of skills. But Developers have the ability to get enormous amounts of work done through others (by equipping and mobilizing people to exercise their God-given talent). In the early days of a church, this dynamic is exaggerated even more.

When I say, “hire developers, not just doers,” here’s what I’m NOT saying. I’m not saying you need to hire theorists. Nor am I saying to focus your hiring on idea people. And I’m not suggesting that you hire people who sit in their ivory tower dishing out orders to everybody else because they’re afraid to get their hands dirty. At this stage in the organization, you must hire people who can execute. Just make sure they have the ability to execute by building teams, not just working long hours.

As a church planter, my first full-time hire at 7 City Church was my associate pastor. His role encompasses six responsibilities:

  • Service Design
  • Guest Assimilation
  • Small Groups
  • Volunteer Development
  • Marketing
  • Student Ministry

Looking at that list, you might think I’m crazy. But I didn’t hire my associate to “do” all of these things. I hired him to make sure they all get done. That was only possible by following the five-step process above. Understanding his gifts and abilities, ensuring he had “developer” skills, and knowing how he could add the most value was (and is) a game changer. He doesn’t “do” everything on that list. He just makes sure it gets done. He creates the systems, recruits the teams, and focuses his time on what he does best.

If you want to learn more about effective hiring, check out my book, Creating Your Church’s Culture.