One of the most important things a candidate can do during the hiring process is ask good questions—lots and lots of good questions. Asking questions allows candidates a better understanding of what they are getting into with a potential church, and it also shows the church that potential candidates are truly interested, that they are taking the job, and all of its entailments, seriously.
In fact, asking good questions might determine whether or not you get the job, or it might determine whether the job you finally get is the one you actually want. A pastor recently told me this was true for him—that one reason he did not get a job was, in part, because another candidate asked so many more questions than he did. Ultimately, it became clear that that particular church wouldn’t have been the right fit for him anyway; but, he explained how thankful he was that the church which didn’t hire him actually cared enough to give him this feedback since he was then able to learn and ask more questions in his next interview—the interview with the church at which he now pastors and has proven a great fit for him.
If you need some ideas to get started, below are 101 questions you can ask a local church. And if you are looking for a job in Christian ministry, but not one necessarily in a local church, they are questions, with a little modifying, which you might ask of a parachurch ministry, organizations like Fellowship of Christians Athletes, Young Life, or a local rescue mission.
Some of the questions I created from scratch, others I adapted, and still others have been asked of me by candidates as they looked for a job. I organized them by categories so that they are easier to use (e.g. General, Theology & Practice, Church Health & Planning, etc.). However, before I list them, here are a few things to keep in mind.
First, not every question is the right question for you to ask. Some won’t work at all, but others, with a slight tweak, can be fitted to your context (i.e. your particular church or organization; your particular role; your particular experience; etc.).
Second, and I hope this is obvious, the goal isn’t to ask every question. That would be painful—for both church and candidate. The goal, rather, is to pick a few that seem appropriate for that stage of the interview process (whether the beginning or middle or end), and to ask those. For example, early on you might ask questions such as, “What are some hobbies among the staff?” and “What are the expectations for a pastor’s spouse?” Then, later in the process, ask about putting the compensation package into writing. If you switch the order, at best you could seem cold and insensitive to the process. At worst, you might not make it to the next round of interviews where you could have asked the more difficult questions.
Finally, as you look at the list, also keep in mind that certain questions must be addressed to certain people. Some questions are better for the search committee, some for other staff members, some for people in the congregation, and others for the elders. For example, don’t ask the current staff if there are problems or if someone on staff needs to be terminated. (Please tell me you know not to do this!) However, if you’re a senior pastor, it is a question you might ask the elders near the end of the process.
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1. Can you give me a 3-4 minute history of the church?
2. How long have you been planning to fill this position?
3. What are the circumstances that created the need for this role?
4. What is the sequence and timeline of the hiring process?
5. When do you expect to call references?
6. When do you hope to have someone in place?
7. How many candidates are still in the running?
8. As I read the job description, I’m wondering how much time you expect to be allotted to the various items listed. Could you help me understand what a typical week might look like?
9. If I am called to your church and it turns out to be a great fit, after a year or so, what sort of things would make you say, “Wow, this is a great fit”?
10. What (if anything) made my resume, application stand out? Why do you think I will help this church?
11. In what ways (if at all) do you think my age might affect my reception both in the church and among the leadership?
12. May I have an unofficial visit to your church to see what things are like before the official interview/candidating weekend?
13. Your website states ____________. What does that mean?
14. How does a person move from “random attend-er” at your church, to member, and then to leader?
15. If “exciting things” were happening at your church (and they likely are), what would they be?
16. What are some of the hobbies of the other staff? What do you do for fun?
17. May I have a copy of a recent newsletter? Church bulletin? Financial statement? Congregational meeting minutes?
18. Does your church have a policy manual? May I have a copy?
19. Please describe your worship style. What are some of the congregations favorite worship songs?
20. How would you evaluate a successful worship service?
21. What qualities did you appreciate about the person who had this role previously?
22. In which ways are you similar to other churches in your community? In which ways are you different?
23. Do people in the community, generally speaking, have a positive or negative view of your church?
24. What ministries in your church seem to be most successful? Why?
25. When did the most recent round of new members join?
26. What do visitors often comment on?
27. Who is responsible for putting together orders of service?
28. Who is responsible for the website?
29. Does your church have expectations for pastors regarding social media?
30. This is hard to predict, but about how many weddings and funerals might this pastor be expected to officiate in the next year?
31. What missionaries and parachurch organizations does your church support?
Theology & Practice
32. What is the church government structure?
33. Does the church have a statement of faith? How was it created? Is it ever re-worked? If so, what is the process?
34. Does your church haven an official position on the end times? Or on God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Or the charismatic spiritual gifts? The age of the earth? Alcohol? Divorce and remarriage?
35. What is the church’s view of male and female roles?
36. How is baptism practiced at your church (frequency, format, who leads, who can participate)?
37. How is communion practiced at your church (frequency, format, who leads, who can participate)?
38. Are you open to making changes to how baptism and communion are practiced?
39. Let’s say I move there and my neighbor wants to check out our church. He is gay. What will his experience be like? Or what would you hope it to be?
40. Does your church have a favorite Bible translation? Do you prefer one to preach from?
41. How do you prefer to preach/teach the Bible: topically, book studies, another method?
42. If a pastor at your church was asked to officiate a wedding, can you see him or her ever saying no? What circumstances might legitimately bring that about?
43. What doctrines excite the leaders of your church? What doctrines do you prefer to avoid?
44. How would you counsel a person who accepts Christ but remains in a sinful lifestyle?
45. Are there particular authors and pastors that you admire? Who?
46. What theological trends, broadly speaking, create concern among your church and leaders?
47. How is church discipline practiced? Can you give me a few examples?
Church Health & Planning
48. May I please have a copy of the annual budget and some information on monthly giving from the last year?
49. How many attend your church each week?
50. What is the total church membership vs. regular attendance?
51. Do you have a small group ministry? If so, how many people are currently in small groups?
52. If it was decided that more people could be reached for Christ by changing the name of the church, would you be open to that?
53. Do you own your church building/property?
54. What are the limiting factors to growth with respect to facilities (e.g., parking, sanctuary size, class rooms, other)?
55. Is there adequate funding in the church budget for your leaders and staff to accomplish the tasks placed before them?
56. Where do you see the Spirit of God working in your church?
57. Have any former staff members left the ministry? May I contact them?
58. Are there regular times of prayer among the staff?
59. What mechanisms are in place to help the staff avoid burnout?
60. What are the demographics of your church? How reflective are they of the local community?
61. If your church continued to grow for the next 5 years, what changes would do you anticipate?
62. In regard to ministry style, can you give an illustration of another church that you are trying to model this church after?
63. What ways do you see teamwork taking place among the staff?
64. In which areas would you say your church is “understaffed”?
65. How long have the other employees worked here?
66. Besides calling a pastor, what other items are top priorities in the next year?
67. Has the interim period been healing? In what ways?
Leadership, Structure, & Conflict
68. What has been the most controversial thing in your church during the last year?
69. What issues have regularly caused friction in this church? Among staff? Among the elder board?
70. Do you have weekly staff meetings? If so, what do they look like?
71. What is your church polity? Are there elders, deacons, ministry leaders, etc.? How do they relate to each other?
72. What is the relationship of a staff pastor to the elder board and congregation from the perspective of authority and structure? Does your church have an organizational chart? Is so, may I see it? If not, could you explain it to me?
73. Is this church affiliated with a larger movement or denomination? If no, what are some means and methods to cultivate healthy, structural accountability?
74. To what extent are the non-staff elders involved in the planning of sermons and sermon series?
75. Can you recount a time of church conflict that resulted in a form of discipline?
76. Have you had to let someone go in the last two years? If so, what were the circumstances?
77. What current leaders in your church, staff or non-staff, are considered indispensable? Why?
78. What happened to the previous pastor or staff person in this role? What were the circumstances for their departure? May I contact them? What are they doing now?
79. How many previous staff members have been terminated? What were the circumstances for their departure?
80. If you could go back and change how a situation was handled in the last year, what would it be and why? What would you do differently?
81. Are there issues among the current staff that once the new hire arrives, will need to be addressed? Or are there even staff members that will need to be (potentially) terminated by the new hire?
82. How is the annual budget prepared and approved? Who is responsible for keeping spending in line with the budget?
83. What are the expectations for my spouse?
84. What roles do the spouses of other staff at the church play?
85. What are the expectations for my children?
86. How many nights a week do you expect the person who is hired to be away from home?
87. If my children were to attend a youth group at a neighboring church, would that be a problem?
88. If I had a Christmas party (with neighbors, friends, church people) and alcohol was served, would that be an issue?
89. Among families with children, is there a particular mode of education most common (public school, home school, private school, Christian school)? Is it an expectation?
90. Is there a certain proximity to the church that, though unspoken and unwritten, the pastor should live?
Money & Job Performance Reviews
91. Do you do performance reviews at the end of each year? If so, what do they look like?
92. Can you please write up the salary package (including things like salary; health, life, and disability insurance; health savings account; continuing education and conference money; money for ministry “tools” such as books and computer software; cell phone; moving expenses; vacation; retirement; contribution to FICA; etc.)?
93. Is there a church parsonage? If so, and if the candidate desired not to use it, would compensations be adjusted accordingly?
94. If in 3 years I felt called to pursue an advanced educational degree (perhaps an MDiv or DMin or something else), how would that be received? What support, if any, could I expect from the church?
95. Does your church have a sabbatical policy? If so, what is it? If not, would you be open to creating one?
96. Does the congregation have a policy of reviewing the pastor’s salary package each year?
97. How will success be measured, formally or informally? And by whom? And how often?
98. If I have to move to take this position, what, if any, moving costs are covered?
99. What are the time expectations in the areas of preaching/teaching, counseling, visitation, office hours?
100. Is there any allowance for a pastor preaching/teaching “away,” whether at another church, a conference, a seminary, or somewhere else? If so, what support might a pastor receive for this (e.g., help with travel expenses, time to work on the messages)?
101. The question of who “owns” the material produced by pastors (sermons, curriculum, etc.), is a complex issue. Some feel it belongs to the pastor because he or she is technically self-employed (per tax code). Others feel that the church owns everything in the same way that when a business hires a consultant, at the end of the day, the business owns the work produced by the consultant. Have you thought about this before? Do you have an opinion about this? Would you be open to a discussion about it?