One pastor recently said, "I would rather ride a bucking bronco of a church than try to prop up a dead mule." It's helpful to know if you're going to get either of those beasts before you mount up.
Just as the search committee is going to be thorough, the candidate needs to be thorough, as well. Asking is critical. Here is a list of strategic questions to help you discern any potential problems when you're seeking that "perfect" church.
1. How would you describe your church?
Does the committee tend to define itself by its past, or is it excited about dreams for the future? Do the core values look inward or outward? Rick Ezell, pastor of Naperville (Illinois) Baptist Church, believes it's similar to describing an individual: "I can say, 'I'm tall, but I'd like to be taller. I'm growing, but I'm not growing like I should.' I'm listing a lot of negative inflections." That may point to some past conflict or a negative spirit.
2. Why was the church started?
Was the church born out of a split? "Even if it's 100 years old," says Leroy Armstrong, pastor of Greater Good Hope Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, "there's a good possibility that through the generations since the split, that spirit of fighting might still be in the church."
3. What is this church's purpose?
Have they defined its mission? Does it have a well-thought-out strategy?
4. What is your unique role in this community?
What sets this church apart from other churches in terms of character, culture, staff? What specific people groups does it reach out to, or what specific ministries does it operate that no other church in this community does?
5. How would a neighbor around the church portray this congregation?
"When I asked this of one search committee, a couple of guys looked at me like, 'Why would you want to know that?'" said John Beukema of the Village Church in Western Springs, Illinois. "That told me a bundle about them. They were not thinking about outreach."
6. What is this church's theology?
Does the church have a commitment to follow Jesus Christ as head?
7. How would you describe the atmosphere of
- small group Bible studies
- board meetings
- business meetings
- special events.
Do members of the committee agree or do they give opposite answers?
8. What are the three areas you feel must be changed in this church? What three areas definitely should not be changed?
The answers should tell you how the church perceives its greatest needs and greatest strengths.
9. How many strong ministries does your church have?
The number of ministries will indicate how involved the membership is.
10. What new ministry initiatives has the church launched in the last five years?
If none, you may encounter the we've-never-done-it-that-way-before syndrome.
11. If you knew you couldn't fail, what would your dreams be for this church?
Leroy Armstrong recognizes that "invariably the pulpit search committee is made up of influential, respected people. If they don't have any dreams, it's not likely that many in the congregation will have any."
12a. What are the statistics on church membership for the last five years?
With these you can get clues to past conflicts or splits, or if the general momentum is up or down. If membership is declining, the key question is:
12b. Why do you think there has been a membership decline?
Churches that are declining or in a plateau may still be healthy. Perhaps the general population in that area is receding.
13. Do you have a plan for growth?
How open are they to a new pastor's plan? Are you willing to pay the price of change that's going to be necessary for this church to grow?