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After understanding your core philosophical convictions, building a healthy staff team requires an interview and hiring process.  At The Austin Stone, we have a process of candidacy, interviewing, assessment and hiring:

  1. Do We Need To Hire?
  2. What Role Are You Trying To Fill?
  3. Identifying Candidates for Your Team
  4. Recruiting Candidates for Your Team
I pray these posts are helpful to those of you hiring people, and those of you hoping to be hired!

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Recruiting Candidates

The following are the places to look for candidates, ordered according to priority and likelihood of finding a match:

  1. Internal to the church
  2. Direct relationship to our team (Friends)
  3. One relationships removed from our team (Friends of friends)
  4. Unsolicited or unknown candidates

Briefly, I will highlight the opportunities and possible difficulties of candidates from each area.

Internal Candidates

In an ideal world, we would always have someone ready to be hired for a position who has been developed internally in our churches.  Internal candidates are a symptom of a healthy culture of leadership development and are most often the most consistent with the DNA of the church.

With respect to hiring internally, there are several observations that I have made.  First, there is both a pro and a con with an internal candidate in that you typically know both their strengths and weaknesses very well.  In a hiring process, I have found that most people tend to weight the weaknesses of an internal candidate more heavily, and look more favorably on an external candidate.  Most people are predisposed to look favorably and hopefully on the unknown, so ensure that you take this into account if you are comparing two candidates.

Pros on Hiring Internally

  • Candidates have a much higher of likelihood of having the culture you are looking for
  • Preexisting relationships and community can make for a seamless transition in community
  • Typically you know what to expect with the individual

Cons on Hiring Internally

  • Because of a relationship, you may have a tendency to overreach on a candidate without the requisite skills or capacity you want
  • Assumed knowledge of the culture can often lead to conflict

Direct Relationships

This kind of hire has been the best pipeline for high-capacity, strong culture fit individuals who can contribute to the team right away.

Pros on Hiring External Direct Relationships

  • The preexisting relationship sets a good tone for culture fit
  • Higher likelihood of high capacity individuals with experience
  • Outside experience can contribute helpful knowledge and culture to your team

Cons on Hiring External Direct Relationships

  • Depending on the dynamic of the relationship, it can be difficult to cultivate an employee/employer dynamic
  • A possibility of unmet expectations based on the candidates understanding of the organization

Friends of Friends

This pool of people is most often tapped for most organizations.  Candidates are recommended based on knowledge of your organization and the candidate from another person.

Pros on Hiring Friends of Friends

  • The preexisting relationship sets a good tone for culture fit
  • Higher likelihood of high capacity individuals
  • Outside experience can contribute helpful knowledge and culture to your team

Cons on Hiring Friends of Friends

  • Depending on the dynamic of the relationship, it can be difficult to cultivate an employee/employer dynamic
  • It can be tempting to not fully explore the area of culture fit, making assumptions in this area based on the word of the outside recommender.

Unknown Candidates

Unknown candidates are interesting, because they are completely unknown quantities.  For the optimist, and unknown candidate has all the potential in the world, but for a pessimist, almost no potential.  Regardless of which way you see the fullness of the glass, these kinds of candidates present some interesting opportunities and challenges.

Pros on Unknown Candidates

  • A distinct possibility of a high capacity candidate emerging
  • If the role is well defined, there is a higher likelihood for expectation match
  • Outside experience can contribute helpful knowledge and culture to your team

Cons on Unknown Candidates

  • Unknown candidates carry a great risk when it comes to culture fit
  • A possibility of a person becoming a “hired hand” rather than a shepherd of the church

What else would you add to this list?

After understanding your core philosophical convictions, building a healthy staff team requires an interview and hiring process.  At The Austin Stone, we have a process of candidacy, interviewing, assessment and hiring:

  1. Do We Need To Hire?
  2. What Role Are You Trying To Fill?
  3. Identifying Candidates for Your Team
  4. Recruiting Candidates for Your Team
I pray these posts are helpful to those of you hiring people, and those of you hoping to be hired!

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Identifying Candidates

After understanding yourself and the role, the next step in building a staff team is to begin looking for individuals who might fit into your culture. Before we get into the details of searching, first let me highlight a few convictions about identifying candidates.

Beginning with Prayer

If there is one thing that I have learned in hiring people, it is that God is absolutely sovereign and the best thing we can do is pray for Him to act.  If you believe that you are in a place of needing to hire, begin to beg God that He would confirm that clearly by providing the called, qualified and gifted individual to join your team in that role.

Our Heavenly Father knows exactly what we need, love to give His children good gifts, and delights when we ask Him.  Additionally, being committed to prayer throughout the process will keep your firmly resolved in patiently waiting upon the Lord, rather than simply filling a role out of necessity or obligation.  Some of the most difficult times in leadership have come from being obedient to wait upon the Lord, but the team He has assembled is far better than any of my meager human efforts.

Always Looking for Good People

Adopting a posture of waiting is crucial, but so too is proactively pursuing opportunities the Lord may be putting in front of you.  I never want to miss a moment the Lord might be working, so I try to be diligently alert to His provision in circumstances and relationships.  Practically, I do this in two ways.

First, if someone is searching for a job and wants to talk to me, I try my absolute hardest to never say no.  Quite simply, I want to trust in God’s providence that the circumstance of someone reaching out to me may just be God’s nudging to consider this person.  At the very worst, I’ve been given an opportunity to encourage a brother or sister in Christ and provide some clarity in their calling, even if they would not be a good fit.

Second, regardless of available roles, we are always identifying candidates that would make a good fit for our team internally and outside our church community.  When you are on the lookout for candidates before a position is open, you typically have a good running list of people before the search ever begins.

Relationships Matter

Because we place such a high priority on operating as a family together, we highly value a prior relationship with a candidate and place a strong preference on knowing an individual over time.  Although you may receive an impressive resume, we’ve found that relationships matter far more with respect to long term performance and health.

Some folks would disagree with me on this particular issue, saying that I am limiting my available options.  While I would not discount a cold-call, a random resume, or a person I don’t know that is serving somewhere else, I have to focus my search somewhere.  The relationships that God has given me and my team, while small relative to the “open market”, represent the best possible place to search for those individuals who might fit well.  Secondly, those people we know have a much higher likelihood of joining our team for the sake of calling and culture, rather than a simple progression in their career.

When it comes to identifying candidates for positions, what have you found to be helpful to consider?

The Austin Stone didn’t begin as a church committed to missional communities.  Through several years, we have transitioned our church from a traditional community/small group model to our current model of missional communities.  This series of posts will help you understand how we made that transition over time:

Much of this framework is adapted from John Kotter’s model for leading organizational change.  I pray this series will help many of you that are leading churches through a season of transition!

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Institutionalizing the Change to Missional Communities

To make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization.  A transition to missional community is no different – it must become a foundational conviction about the identity of your church and the teams that lead her.

Many churches would say that they have a core conviction about the foundations of community and mission, but when you take a closer look, that value is aspirational rather than actual.  So how is that you can keep missional community really at the core of what you do?

Embedding the DNA in All Ministries

Part of what has made the transition at The Austin Stone sustainable is that missional communities are the foundation of all the ministries at the church, not just a silo in it.  One of the strategies my team employed to help make this become a reality was patience.  Rather than “forcing” every ministry to adopt our vision, we spent years serving and meeting the needs of those various ministries.  We believed that long term change would come primarily through relational trust and unity in leadership, so we earned the opportunity to influence through serving.  We definitely took some short term hits, but the long term effect was worth it.

As of now, our campus pastors all consist of the team who originally developed the vision for missional community.  Our international mobilization team uses the same form of missional community that we teach the general population of our church.  Our advanced training programs require commitment to an actual healthy missional community.  Our worship teams live together in authentic missional communities.  It’s safe to say that the theology, philosophy and practice of missional community is thoroughly embedded in everything we do!

If you want to institutionalize missional community, you’ll need to take it slow, but continue to champion the value over and over again. Perhaps the most important piece of making the change stick is to continually cast vision for the foundational nature of missional communities with your senior team.  More important that a full grasp of the strategy is that you capture the heart of your senior team…tell stories at any chance you get!

Lastly, as you are hiring new teammates, do your best to involve yourself in the process, regardless of the role.  Always help people looking for staff, and keep a running list of people that have similar convictions for ministry.  The more people that bleed missional community on your staff, the better!

Train Everyone

Another critical piece of institutionalizing the DNA of missional community is to train everyone.  I’ve seen so many churches trying to make the transition that only train leaders in the DNA they are after, but often the people in communities and the crowd only hear the vision cast from a stage.

One of the critical learning points for us was to train entire groups, and also welcome anyone to participate in our training. After we launch a new group, the next step we always communicate is to participate in Basic Training together.  This has two primary benefits:

  1. Everyone in the new community is hearing the vision, values and practices, and therefore you’re creating more people who will hold the missional community accountable.
  2. The leader of the new community can focus on shepherding people through the transition, and our teaching team can focus on inspiring people towards change.  Functionally, the leader gets to be “good cop” whereas my team can be “bad cop”.

Bottom line, the more people that know, love and apply your vision, the greater chance you will actually institutionalize it in people.  At this point, we’ve had over 30% of our entire church body participate in basic training, and missional community is now the prevailing culture – it’s weird if someone want to do something different!

Using Helpful Tools

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of curriculum, but we do use it for one particular purpose – to reinforce the DNA we are after in newly launching groups.  After a group has participated in Basic Training, we then expect them to go through a multi-week curriculum that is like training wheels – it helps them put into practice the vision for missional community.

Whatever tools you use to help solidify a change, let me encourage you to focus on using one or two, rather than consistently adding new content.  Institutionalization is born from repeatedly acting upon the same vision over time, rather than reinterpreting the vision into new language.  The more people you have utilizing the same tools and same language, the more likely the vision is to be codified over time.

Reinforcing the Vision Over Time

Lastly, to institutionalize the vision you’ll occasionally need to revisit it from the pulpit.  For us, this fall was exactly that – we redefined missional community for everyone currently in one and invited many more people into the vision who were only attending on Sundays.  We went from 39% connected as a church to 61% connected to missional community, and everyone in the church is speaking the exact same language.

If there is one thing I have learned in the transition to missional community, it is “practice the art of assuming nothing”.  Never assume that you, your team, your leaders, or your church have it figured out!

The Austin Stone didn’t begin as a church committed to missional communities.  Through several years, we have transitioned our church from a traditional community/small group model to our current model of missional communities.  This series of posts will help you understand how we made that transition over time:

Much of this framework is adapted from John Kotter’s model for leading organizational change.  I pray this series will help many of you that are leading churches through a season of transition!

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Building on the Change

At a certain point in the transition to missional communities, you have executed on the plan we have walked through.  You’ve created urgency, formed a strategic team, crafted your vision, communicated the vision, empowered people to act, and celebrated some wins.

The temptation is to stop after those steps have been completed, and to be honest, the previous steps are the easy part. Transition is not best measured by what you can do in a year, but if you’re doing it 5 years later with greater effectiveness and participation.

For a change to truly take hold in your church, you will need to build on the initial momentum that you build in the transition and form lasting change.  Many people are familiar with the “Diffusion of Innovations” concept.  In brief, you tend to reach a tipping point in an organization when the Innovators and Early Adopters of a group have implemented a key idea and practice.  The organization will naturally adopt a “new normal” over time, with the Early Majority and Late Majority coming on board soon.  The illustration below highlights the concept:

NewImage

A Stark Reality

It would seem that if you have executed the transition plan that we have talked about, by and large you would have significantly won the Innovators, Early Adopters, and Early Majority, but in our experience that was not the case.  While we had thought we were close to a tipping point after casting vision for two years in a row, we were sorely mistaken.

Because we focused primarily on casting vision and telling stories without building simple, reproducible, transferrable practices and a system of coaching and care, we found that ~10% of our communities had taken the vision and run, whereas about 60% were desiring to attempt the vision but were either confused or frustrated at their attempt, and 30% simply went about with business as usual.

After the two years, of the 10% who had adopted the vision, only a handful were really healthy.  Several were tired and close to burnout, and some had even left the church because The Austin Stone “wasn’t missional enough”.  The 60% were lacking relationship and growing increasingly confused and frustrated, and some were very suspicious of church leadership.  The 30% who didn’t make the change remained pretty happy, and some even had an “I told you so” outlook.

Without building on the change, the produce of casting a vision for transition will ultimately produce very little sustainable, long term health.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve accomplished a transition!

Train the Same Thing Repeatedly Over Time

Perhaps the biggest lesson we learned in building on the transition was to assume nothing.  Particularly, we could not assume that people had heard the vision, believed the vision, and were attempting to live the vision.  With that conviction, we doggedly trained leaders and communities in the same theology, motivations, values, and practices from 2009 to 2011.  Rather than continuously adding new material, we taught the same things over and over again, refusing to move along until we had seen a marked change in our missional communities and their effectiveness.

Over that 2 year span, we estimate that we trained almost 1600 people in our church community with basic training, and did not shift the practices we were cultivating or the content we were teaching during that time.  You can see the results of that effort here.  It wasn’t until we had trained the vision on a practical level and reinforced the vision through training communities together that we actually hit a tipping point in the adoption of the vision.

In addition to repeating the same training, Years 3 and 4 of transition were spent in focusing on missional community health rather than multiplication.  Toward that end, we developed training, coaching, assimilation and care structures, as well as establishing a culture of assessment.  Without an infrastructure, real change will likely not happen, and people will simply adopt new language and default to old behaviors.

Continue Improving and Iterating

Creating a healthy system doesn’t just have the benefits of sustaining momentum, but also creates an environment where continuous learning can take place.  When you have excellent communication and oversight, it affords you the opportunity to continuously improve upon the vision you originally created.

Each successful (and unsuccessful!) community provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.  It allows you to learn what practices that are useful and which practices can be discarded.  It also allows you to innovate on the original vision and embed it more thoughtfully and precisely into new contexts.

Our different campuses at The Austin Stone all have a unified vision for ministry, but each group of people presents unique challenges and unique opportunities to embed the vision for missional communities into different parts of our city.  The insights we have gained from having multiple teams committed to the same vision in different contexts has allowed all the teams to continue learning and improving upon the vision!

An Exhortation

As a final word in this post, I encourage you to consider the process of transition as a 5 year commitment, rather than a 1 year experiment.  I’ve been around several churches who have been excited about the idea of missional communities, but have reverted back into other paradigms of ministry because they did not see the fruit of the change in the span of a year.

More important than desiring the fruit of missional ministry is a core conviction that you can’t do ministry another way. Don’t start the transition if you’re not willing to fight tooth and nail over several years!

The Austin Stone didn’t begin as a church committed to missional communities.  Through several years, we have transitioned our church from a traditional community/small group model to our current model of missional communities.  This series of posts will help you understand how we made that transition over time:

Much of this framework is adapted from John Kotter’s model for leading organizational change.  I pray this series will help many of you that are leading churches through a season of transition!

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Celebrating Wins in Transition

I have to confess that celebration is not my strong suit.  For one reason or another, my greatest challenge in leadership is consistently enjoying and celebrating the work that the Lord has accomplished in and through my team.  This post is one that I need to read and re-read myself, but I pray it serves you well despite my own flaws.

While the Gospel, the Spirit and the Word are the bedrock of any motivation, urgency and vision are certainly powerful motivators in leadership when it comes to starting something new.

Celebration, on the other hand, is probably the single greatest sustainer for the work of ministry.  Without celebration of what God has done, over the course of time, your team implementing the transition will likely succumb to joyless, mechanical leadership, or worse yet, burnout.  So how can we foster a culture of celebration?

How Should We Celebrate?

I’ve already confessed my weakness in this area, and early in ministry I thought celebration just meant I had to acknowledge past work, and then would simultaneously cast vision for the future and plow forward into the next task.  It turns out that can pretty demoralizing!

I’ve learned that you need to do two things to celebrate effectively:

  • Take special moments and events to ONLY celebrate
  • Celebrate small victories every time you gather

With respect to creating special moments dedicated solely to celebration, I realized my weakness in this area when we hosted an event to do only that with our MC leaders, and people had a hard time figuring out how they should respond.  Some wondered why we should gather if we weren’t talking about “business”, and others just kept waiting for us to do a bait and switch, casting some kind of vision.  They were somewhat surprised when all we did was have a great meal together, and enjoy some quality fun!

After that event, I knew that I had failed to cultivate a culture of celebration simply because the people I was leading found it unfamiliar.  Our team still struggles somewhat in this area, but by God’s grace and through active repentance, we are changing into a more celebratory people.

Part of that repentance is taking the opportunity in every environment – team meetings, leader gatherings, coaching meetings, pastoral appointments – to encourage one another and celebrate the grace of God in our lives, our church, and our city.  I’ve been asking God to give me and our team a spirit of encouragement, which means that we are seeking every opportunity to identify and rejoice in the work of Christ and verbalizing it.  Creating a culture of celebration means making it a discipline, not just throwing an occasional party.

Celebrate in Two Things

I once had a friend say to me “metrics motivate your thinking and stories stir the soul”.  I’ve taken this thinking to heart, and it is the primary grid that I use to encourage celebration.  Especially with respect to a transition, you need to establish some short-term, observable wins for your team.  Simply “transition your groups” is not an accomplishable goal.  Think through something like “have individual conversations with 90% of leaders and cast a vision for transition” as a good short term metric.

For medium term goals, you can see how we assess missional communities over time in the series on “Assessment“, and the trends over time in a transition in “Data and Conclusions“.  While metrics are important, they cannot be the only way you celebrate.

I cannot emphasize enough the need to share stories – they bring life to metrics.  If you simply report out percentages without stories attached, it is far to easy to forget that you are leading and discipling real people with real problems and the real Jesus is actually moving in your midst.  Stories inspire the heart to persevere, so find a way to celebrate them!

On a practical note, take time in every meeting to ask for and share stories of what God is doing in the transition.  I would also recommend that you share stories not just of radical success, but also attempts that have produced failure.  When you share where people are trying and struggling, you will both encourage those who aren’t seeing amazing fruit in leadership, as well as identify potential barriers that you probably weren’t aware of.

Stories are a powerful way to celebrate, so continue telling them!