When a church or organization is just starting out, leaders usually want to know, “Who should I hire first?” Truthfully, there’s not one right answer to this question. There are too many variables at play to have a one-size-fits-all solution. There is a process you can follow, but first hires are also unique.
While the answer to the “first hire” question varies, I believe there are several “must ask questions” to consider first. These questions will help you gain perspective and establish context before you determine who to hire first.
1. The Vision Question: What is the vision of our church or organization, and which hire will drive us closer to our vision?
The answer to this question will be unique for every organization. No two churches have the exact same vision. That’s what makes them unique. Therefore, hiring decisions should reflect that uniqueness.
2. The Value Question: Which hire will add the most value at the current stage of our church or organization?
Your organization is at a specific stage reflected by its size, needs, demographics, geography, programming, strategy, and barriers. Understanding your current reality, and the limiting factors and opportunities associated with your current reality, is essential. These insights will help you determine where your first hire can add the greatest value. Furthermore, consider the “value question” in light of where you want to be twelve months from now. Reflect on your current stage as well as the next stage.
3. The Growth Question: Which hire will help us grow in key measurement areas?
Every church measures something. I’m not going to debate what you should or shouldn’t measure, but I’m confident that whatever you choose to measure is important to you and your church. That being the case, make hiring decisions that staff your church for growth rather than maintenance. Furthermore, Peter Drucker encouraged leaders to restructure their organizations for every 40% growth. While this may seem irrelevant when you don’t have a staff to restructure, I believe it’s important to consider in terms of your own role and the responsibilities of your volunteers.
4. The Focus Question: Which hire will help you focus on your strengths and achieve a sustainable pace?
If it’s your first hire, that means you’re probably doing everything. Unless you’ve delegated it to volunteers or outsourced it to a company or freelancer, it probably sits on your desk. And if you started the organization, you probably feel like you’re swimming, maybe even about to drown. The focus question helps you make a hire that allows you to achieve a sustainable pace. Before making my first hire, I was clocking 70-80 hours per week. That might work when you first start a church, but it’s not sustainable, or healthy, in the long-term. The focus question also helps you focus more on your strengths. The right hire should not only free up your time, but should also allow you to leverage your time doing what you do best. That’s where you’ll make your greatest contribution to the organization.
5. The Resource Question: Which hire will pay for itself quickly?
While every addition to your staff should add value, some additions enable you to draw more people and attract more resources. You can’t ignore this reality. It’s only one factor in the hiring process, but if handled correctly, it opens the door for additional hires in the future. Before making my first hire, I had a businessman and a church business administrator talk to me about this issue. One man said, and the other agreed, that in a church environment, “If your first hire can’t increase overall income by at least three times his salary, then you’re moving backward.” That may sound like an unspiritual formula to you, but if you’re honest, it makes sense. In fact, some would argue it should be higher (much higher). This doesn’t mean the new hire is responsible for “fundraising.” It means they add enough growth that translates into the growth of resources too.
I want to emphasize, this doesn’t apply to ALL hires. You will hire some staff whose primary focus is on missional activity that doesn’t generate funds. In fact, they usually do just the opposite (because they’re suppose to). However, with your first hire, you need to get to (and beyond) sustainability as quickly as possible. If you don’t, you jeopardize the long-term missional growth of your church because of a shortsighted decision.
When making your first hire, consider all 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.
If you want to learn more about effective hiring, check out my book, Creating Your Church’s Culture.