What would it be worth if you could pinpoint which pastor candidate will succeed in leading that stagnant church through turnaround?

What would it do for your confidence as a member of that Pastor Search Team if you knew the candidate you’re recommending has what it takes to revitalize your church?

How much easier would your job as a denominational officer be if you could determine which candidate will be able to move that decaying church back from the abyss?

If the possibility of taking most of the guesswork out of pastor search intrigues you, read on. You will be rewarded for the effort.

“Received wisdom” is mostly guesswork

The challenge of and the need for finding pastors who are “hard wired” by God to lead church revitalization is greater than ever.

  • 85% of all churches in the U.S. are in decline.
  • 10% of all pastors are “naturally” gifted with turnaround skills.

American culture will continue to drift further and further from any semblance of a biblical worldview. The barriers to effective witness in post-Christian America will continue to mount. As these barriers grow, the need for church revitalization will grow with them. The need for pastors capable of leading stagnant churches to revitalization will become more pressing as time goes on.

But “received wisdom” – which relies on the tried-and-true process of writing a job description, gathering and screening resumes, interviewing the most promising applicants, phoning references, and perhaps administering some sort of personality typing instrument – is unsuited to finding the sorts of pastors that stagnant and dying churches need.

It will become even more unreliable as the situation continues to deteriorate. Consider the deficiencies in the current “best practices” of pastor search.

Screening Resumes

Early in the search process resumes are the sole determinant of which applicants move forward in the search process. This “received wisdom” is fraught with a number of serious problems. Here we’ll mention just two.

1. The resume is just a case study

Most resumes simply rehearse a candidate’s previous employment, with little (if any) careful evaluation of skills and accomplishments. The clever resume writer will salt a candidate’s resume with “verbs of accomplishment,” but these can be unintentionally misleading. A resume cannot provide an objective way to determine if a candidate’s actions produced the claimed results.

This is a potential trap.

When denominational officers and Pastor Search Teams look for candidates with at least one church turnaround to their credit, they stop. They never think to dig deep enough to identify the underlying causes (from the human side of the equation) that produced the church turnaround. In the absence of objective analysis there’s no way determine if the revitalization was due to the pastor’s leadership rather than to environmental factors.

Another problem with resumes is that, like case studies, they rely on memory and (all too often) some guess work. Are we willing to chance someone misremembering or failing to recall critical information when that risk can be eliminated?

2. Candidates aren’t told what to include

Most candidates want to provide everything that will help with the screening process. But those who preside over the process rarely, if ever, tell applicants what they’re looking for. As a result, applicants must write resumes from their own perspective. They have to guess what to include and what to leave out. It does not help when different denominations all suggest different formats.

The clever applicant will craft a resume to fit the published job description. They will feature their qualifications to fit what the job description calls for. (This is actually a smart tactic for the job seeker. They want to make it as easy as possible for the people screening resumes to see the potential fit. After all, the sole task of the resume is to generate interest and produce a phone call). But this tactic often results in the omission of other information which may be vital.

Once again, a lot of guesswork goes into the process.

If you want to know more about the peril of relying on resumes as a screening tool, check “What’s Wrong With Using Resumes For Hiring? Pretty Much Everything.”

Checking References

Phoning a candidate’s references does little to identify the better candidates. Like the resume, a telephone interview focuses on what the reference remembers about the pastor’s character, preaching and counseling skills, leadership or management, and how the church fared during the candidate’s tenure. A strong relationship between the candidate and the reference means there will be a pretty good chance that the candidate’s weaknesses will minimized.

And, like the resume, the reference will have no objective way of knowing or telling the caller whether the pastor’s ministry actually led to the results the church experienced during that tenure.

References do serve one vital role in the pastor search process: they help identify candidates who are hiding damaging information. This is why Pastor Search Teams should “drill down” into the reference chain. Begin with the references supplied by the candidate, but then ask each one for the names of three additional references who are familiar with the candidate.

Conducting Interviews

The typical candidate interview doesn’t reveal much useful information, and an interview poorly conducted may lead to the elimination of a strong candidate.

  • Interviewing is a skill that requires training, practice, and discernment. The average Pastor Search Team member won’t have these skills.
  • Some candidates, especially those with less interviewing experience, don’t interview well.
  • What does a candidate’s performance during an interview tell you? Only that the candidate is either good or bad at being interviewed.

An interview won’t tell you how a candidate provides comfort to a bereaved family, brings about biblical resolution of church conflict, responds to unexpected interruptions in the workday, manages staff (paid and volunteer), or prioritizes the use of time for greatest productivity. You may gain a sense of the candidate’s self-confidence, but you probably won’t learn if that confidence is justified or not.

These shortcomings can be amended by the deft use of . Where possible, we advise Pastor Search Teams to hire an interviewer who is skilled to conduct the behavioral interview.

An Expensive Solution: Headhunters

The use of retained search firms is growing in popularity, at least among churches and groups that can afford them. Search firms provide useful services to client churches. A firm’s a la carte menu may include church assessment, collaborative development of the job description, screening candidates, making recommendations, assisting the Search Team, and placing the candidate after a vote.

But this is expensive, often beyond the reach of smaller churches and denominational offices with limited budgets. A top quality search firm will typically charge ⅓ of the pastor’s salary, which is paid once the pastor assumes office. These fees will run $15,000 to as much as $50,000. When you tack that on to the additional expenses of candidating, calling, and relocating a pastor, the costs can exceed what the typical church in America can afford.

We have found, when working with a headhunter in the business world, or the well-known Christian headhunter companies in the ministry world, these search firms merely dump candidates to the church at the beginning of the contract and at the end of the contract, with little communication in the middle as they are collecting resumes during that time.  This gives the church only two opportunities to really seize the opportunity to find pastoral candidates.  If the pool was not good at the beginning, then the church has to wait until the near end of the contract to see other candidates.  On top of that, they often “steer” the church towards a candidate rather than listening to the church about their preferences.  This is an expensive price to pay for a cavalier attempt in finding the right candidate for you.

[insert Thomas’ comments re: search firms just dump a bunch of resumes on the search committee]

A Better Solution

There’s a better and more affordable choice now available. It is an option that enables Pastor Search Teams and denominational officers to pinpoint which pastor candidate comes already furnished with the skills required to lead a church turnaround.

It involves examining a candidate’s usual style of going about his daily routines, understanding what he expects of and needs from others and the work environment, and how he operates under stress.

But before I explain the amazing predictive power of these analytics, let’s visit the popular film Moneyball.

The Genius of Moneyball

The movie’s central premise (and the book on which the film is based) is that the collective wisdom of baseball insiders is subjective and often flawed. Received wisdom in scouting and hiring relies on statistics that don’t capture the actual dynamics of a team playing another team. Traditional stats like stolen bases, RBIs and batting average don’t give a clear view of how a team outperforms its rivals or how an individual player contributes to a winning team.

Baseball scouts and managers face the challenge of trying to predict how human beings will act and what they’re capable of accomplishing under pressure. Faced with the daunting task of building a winning team on a limited budget forced the Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and his Assistant Paul De Podesta to search for an affordable team that could win championships.

Beane and De Podesta turned to an innovative way of analyzing baseball statistics known as sabermetrics. The statistics proved that two newer metrics – on base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLO) – are far superior predictors of offensive success. The Oakland A’s discovered that players who excel at these skills are far easier and cheaper to obtain than players with the skills prized by executives who rely on the received wisdom of speed, contact, arm strength, batting average, and RBIs.

If you saw the movie, you know the results. They assembled winning teams by signing players who had the skills that produced champions rather than competing for players who excelled in the old but less reliable metrics.

On Base Percentage in Turnaround Pastors

As in building a winning baseball team, so in selecting the right candidate to be the next pastor. The key to eliminating most of the guesswork from the pastor search process is to know what to look for! OBP is a key metric in baseball.  Are there metrics for pastors?

Recent research has identified seven significant characteristics that distinguish pastors whom God has hard wired as turnaround leaders from their ministry peers. Chapters 4 and of the book Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader reveal these findings and explains how and why they are significant for turnaround leadership in stagnant churches. The seven hallmarks of turnaround pastors are:

#1 Verbal Assertiveness

They are significantly more likely to not only share their opinion, but to “assert” their opinion in a group.

A member of a growing church recently reflected on how he saw this characteristic in a new pastor who led the church off the plateau:

I have been a member of my church for forty-six years. For the last seventeen years our church was in plateau or decline. During that time, we had a pastor that sounds exactly like what you are describing as the general characteristic of a non-turnaround pastor. “John” was a “hands-off,” democratic style leader. If you asked him what he thought about something, he would just say, “What do you think?” We have a new pastor now, “Bill,” who has been here a couple of years. Bill seems the exact opposite of John. He is more direct and assertive. He speaks up and gives guidance. Boy, our church is really thriving now under Bill’s leadership. We just had to take the pastor’s office and change it into nursery space!

#2 Relish Variety: 

They are comfortable with shifting priorities, remain flexible, and are patient with interruptions. Quoting once again from Pastor Unique:

People in ministry wear lots of hats: marketer, counselor, cheerleader, theologian, leader, preacher, manager, supervisor, teacher, officiate at rites of passage, servant, receptionist, and more. NTAPs prefer one hat at a time while TAPs thrive on constantly shifting between roles.

#3 & #4 Personal Independence:

 (3) They think independently and take initiative, and (4) expect an environment that encourages independent thought and initiative.

Because of their Freedom Usual Behavior, Turnaround Pastors – who tend to be individualistic – initiate their own course. Their Freedom Need scores mean that they want freedom in action and thought. They push against control and traditionalism. These free-spirited mavericks march to the beat of their own drums.

#5 Decision Making: 

They are on average more thoughtful, reflective, and cautious decision makers. This was a rather surprising finding in the research results. People who like variety, independence and change are called “The Maverick at Work.”  That seems at odds with being thoughtful and cautious.  Pastor Unique explains:

Turnaround pastors need to take ample time to evaluate options, weigh opinions and think about consequences. They need to seek the counsel of others and to take time to discuss things with others. Turnaround pastors will spend time staring out the window, pondering the nuances and various shades of gray that constitute any important decision.

(6) Musical Interest: 

They are more keenly attuned to sound. As you read the following quote from Pastor Unique, bear in mind that “interest” does not mean “talent.”

They are likely to create (or have a hand in creating) musically beautiful worship services. They pay attention to planning the sounds and music and “feel” of the service as much as to the words that will be spoken. Higher Musical Interest scores indicate that the pastor will pay attention to how a sermon sounds. This will influence its delivery. Turnaround pastors may not be better preachers, but they will have greater concern for how they sound. They will pay as much attention to how they say it as they do to what they say.

(7) Social Service Interest:

 They are more concerned to see that care is provided, while their ministry colleagues who are not natural turnaround leaders are more interested in providing care. The significance of this finding becomes apparent upon reflection. This is how we evaluate the issue of providing care:

This is the only item in which natural turnaround leaders scored lower than their colleagues. This does not mean that they are uncaring. It simply means that they express that care differently. The familiar shepherd and rancher metaphor neatly explains the difference. The shepherd likes to care for the sheep personally while the rancher makes sure the sheep are cared for. Ranchers are not less caring, they just realize that if they do all the caring themselves, they will be out of harmony with Ephesians 4: 11–16, and they will limit the church’s growth.

Knowing the behaviors and needs of turnaround pastors is groundbreaking! Now, using The Birkman Method, we can assess any pastor and “see how they are wired.” If their metrics are 50 to 60 percentage points different than a turnaround profile in a majority of the 7 areas, don’t ask them to lead in turnaround. They may be very effective pastors, but they should serve in other ministry roles.

You need a high slugging percentage (SLO) batting fourth in your lineup as the cleanup hitter. You need a high on base (OBP) percentage for a lead-off hitter. Don’t ask a SLO to fill the role of an OBP, or vice versa.  Don’t ask a pastor wired fundamentally different than a turnaround pastor to try and be one.  (Note: all pastors can learn best turnaround practices, and pastors closer to the profile can be mentored as turnaround leaders.)

Slugging Percentage in Turnaround Pastors

Leadership Style:  Have you ever heard of a church that didn’t want a good preacher? Probably not. Every church wants a competent communicator.  A close second to a good preacher is a good leader.

But what kind of leader?

Only 12% of the population are “natural born leaders,” not unlike the percentage of turnaround pastors. What should you do? Everyone exhibits some leadership behavior and has a “leadership style.” At a particular time in the history of a church, one leadership style may be preferable to another.

Has the church just experienced a split? A moral failure? Are you looking for a lead pastor or a staff position?  Are you looking to rethink the ministry after a season of growth? The answer to these questions will affect your leadership .

The Birkman Method Leadership Style Grid falls into four quadrants.  The Red and Green styles at the top will be more “extroverted leaders.” We could call the Red, “task- oriented leaders,” and the Green, “people-oriented leaders.”

The Yellow and Blue on the bottom will be more “low-key leaders,” with Blue leaning toward ideas and people, and Yellow toward systems and tasks.

Carefully read the descriptions of these styles. Now read the Leadership Goals below that correspond to the four styles.


Now ask yourself, “Which style best fits our situation and position?”

If you want a pastor with the right SLO to “hit a home run,” you need to be able to answer that question.

A savvy Birkman consultant can integrate the Leadership Style and Goals with other relational components, interests and needs of the candidate.  You now have gained a holistic perspective on this person and their leadership!

Again, what kind of leader do you need?

Find a pastor that has the right SLO for the church through an objective assessment of their leadership style.

So there you have it. Measure what really matters to take the guesswork out of pastoral selection. By measuring what matters you can find a candidate hard wired for turnaround and discern the kind of leader you need.


Predictive Power


The predictive power of selecting a turnaround pastor based on these seven distinctive is explained in the Epilogue of Pastor Unique.

Greg’s success as a turnaround pastor could easily surprise people if they relied solely on instruments such as the DiSC or the MBTI. His profile in those instruments marks him as unlikely to be an effective Turnaround Pastor. He is different than “all pastors” in significant ways. For example, all pastors tend to be “direct and straightforward” and “friendly and easy to get to know”

Greg is the exact opposite in both these Relational Components, and in several others. However, if you had access to his Birkman profile, you would see that he very closely matches the Turnaround Pastor profile in six of the seven distinguishing traits!

Based on that fact alone, you could predict that Greg would be an effective turnaround pastor. His story gives us a great deal of satisfaction on two levels. First, it shows the Birkman’s predictive value in identifying turnaround pastors with great reliability….

And in fact Greg is an effective turnaround pastor.

But he would not “make the cut” in churches or denominational offices that rely on the received wisdom to identify candidates capable of leading a congregation off the plateau. His resume (a Ph.D. in Semitics) and his conduct in interviews (shy, hard to get to know) will cause his being eliminated for consideration in most situations.



The process for pinpointing which pastoral candidate has the skills required to lead a church turnaround is simple. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your needs. If our consulting services will be valuable to you, we administer a questionnaire to the candidate(s) you are considering, analyze the results to “match” the candidates for the requisite turnaround leadership skills, and submit a written report ranking your candidate.

The cost of this service is several orders of magnitude more affordable than the cost of a retained search firm.


Calling a pastor with turnaround skills is essential, but there’s more to winning the game than hiring a slugger. character, theological compatibility, and spiritual discernment are essential.  Spiritual dynamics matter and no inventory can measure them. Also, besides a skilled pastor, a church turnaround also requires a willing congregation. In our practice we have seen turnaround pastors stifled by a church unwilling to make the changes required for revitalization.


To insure a successful placement – one that results in a revitalized church – the church or denominational office must develop a cogent job description and conduct a thorough church assessment. Again, for the sake of emphasis, please note that it is very important that the church’s “willingness” be evaluated. Since naturally gifted turnaround pastors are in short supply, it would be poor stewardship to place them in a church that is set on going nowhere. Place these pastors where they will be free to succeed.

Once the resumés have been received, it’s time to perform those due diligence duties: review resumés, contact references, listen to sermons, and talk with the pastor in a variety of settings to get a sense of “chemistry” or “fit.”  Seek God in prayer, ask for wisdom, and listen for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

But before pulling the trigger, set aside the received wisdom handed down to us from the insiders of generations past. Evaluate your favored candidate(s) to insure that  they possess the skills that distinguish effective turnaround leaders from their peers.

If you would like to know more about how we can help pinpoint the right candidate, check our website or contact us by email.


If you take the recent research into the quantifiable and significant distinctions of natural turnaround leaders into account during the pastor search process, you’re far more likely to sign a player who can get on base when he needs to.