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25 Questions for a Prospective New Pastor to Ask a Church

I have been asked frequently for questions a prospective pastor can ask a church. There are lots of resources for churches who are interviewing their next pastor, but I personally believe the pastor needs to equally interview the church.

In the few times I have interviewed with a church, and in the dozens of times I have coached people interviewing with churches, I asked or encouraged lots of questions. Additionally, I ask to see the church budget (including payroll for staff), bylaws, personnel policies, most recent business meeting minutes, and current financial statements.

There will still be surprises – and, none of the things you learn should singly determine whether or not you accept the position. This should be a matter between you and God – even more than you and the church. But, the more you know the more prepared you can be to lead and the less surprises will get in the way.

In my experience the process of hiring (or calling) a pastor is long enough there are plenty of opportunities to ask questions. I decided to list some of my favorites, and I’ve changed and tweaked these over the years – adding questions I wish I had known to ask.

Here are 25 questions for a prospective new pastor to ask a church:

  • What is you average weekly attendance currently on Sunday mornings? (Adults and children total)What were you averaging five years ago? 10 years ago?
  • When was the highest average attendance in the life of the church?
  • Are you currently making budget? If not, when was the last time you did?
  • What other measurements does the church track regularly?
  • How much debt does the church have? How old is that debt?
  • What currently is the biggest obstacle and the biggest opportunity to grow the church?
  • What are the greatest needs of the community and how is the church addressing them?
  • Who are the current paid staff and how long have they been at the church?
  • How did you select your pastor search committee? Who are they and what role do they play in the church?
  • What is your governing structure? How are major decisions made?
  • What is the church known for in the community? What would people say is the church’s reputation?
  • What are the stated (or unstated) core values of the church? If you were to describe the church in a few words, what would you say?
  • How many continuous committees/teams do you have? Which does the pastor typically attend? Is the pastor a voting member?
  • What percentage of Sunday morning attendance are in some sort of Bible study program?
  • How open is the church to trying new ways of reaching people, such as technology, changing service times, adding or subtracting services, or altering worship styles?
  • What do you think a new pastor needs to do most to be successful?
  • What are the non-negotiable’s when it comes to changing something? What is off limits?
  • What was the last major change the church experienced?
  • What are the demographics of the community closest to the church? Do the demographics of the church mirror the demographics of the immediate surrounding community?
  • Who are the largest givers in the church? Does everyone know who they are and what power do they have/attempt to use?
  • Are key lay-leaders (deacons, elders, committee chairs, etc.) involved in Bible study? Tell me about their walk with Christ?
  • What was the last major church argument? Has there ever been a church split or large exodus of people?
  • Why have the last few pastors left the church? Are they still in the community/connected to the church?
  • How are staff hired or fired?
  • How is God moving in the church right now? What was the last thing which occurred only God could have done?

Those are some of my suggestions. Obviously some answers will trigger follow-up questions. Be thorough in the process. Of course, if God is calling you here the answers won’t matter, but they will help you prepare to lead. And, I believe God often gives tremendous latitude in where we serve. He has lots of places where we can live out our calling.

What questions would you suggest?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • Dave says:

    The question about debt is an easy one for pastors to miss, especially inexperienced pastors going for their first church. If a church has crippling debts, you are being asked to do a job with a hand tied behind your back. It can make it more difficult to lead a church forward when you don't have the resources you need at hand.

  • James says:

    Wow, what a help this was. One question I’d add concerns what fraction of the church is from the local community, and who is from elsewhere. I’ve ministered in two congregations. My first had no one born or raised from that community. What a struggle that was in terms of fellowship, soul winning, and being a force in the community. My second work has been the opposite, with many fruitful efforts. Great post! Keep them coming.

  • Bruce says:

    I once served on a seminary search committee for a preaching professor. A candidate asked a marvelous question and requested an individual answer from each member of the search team. I think any prospective pastor would get great insights by asking it of a pastoral search team: "What is the Gospel to you?"

  • ronedmondson says:

    I like these. Good adds

  • summathetes says:

    Although I understand the need to ask the practical questions, there are some issues that I feel would be well worth asking that are less pragmatic. For example:
    In what way(s) have the individual believers in the church grown in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus? (1 Peter 3:18) How do you assess this spiritual growth?
    What are you giving yourselves to that results in growing disciples and not merely growing in attendance? (Matthew 28:18-20)
    What kind of things do you see are evidence of "a demonstration of the Spirit and power" in the life of your church that has resulted in your people putting their faith in God? (1 Cor 2:1–5)

  • Brett says:

    According to Ephesians 4.11-12, my role (along with the rest of the pastoral staff) is to equip the members to do the work of ministry. On a scale of 1-10 how well do you think this approach to ministry is being accomplished in your church, and why?

  • jimpemberton says:

    Great list to start with! I might add some question designed to reveal the spiritual state of the church. For example, if the church had been losing members, I'd ask what they thought the cause was. They are either going to have a good answer that shows they've been keeping tabs on the trend and are looking for a pastor who knows how to reverse it, or they will answer in a couched complaint with the hopes that the prospective pastor would agree with their side. The former is a good sign. The latter isn't.

    And it's not necessarily a deal-breaker if you detect serious challenges within the church. It might be the thing you were cut out for and you think you have what it takes to revitalize the church. On the other hand, you might sense the need to leave the church up to another prospective pastor who would be a better fit for the particular set of issues they have.

  • Brad Gilbert

    Great list. Here are a few that I asked, but unfortunately didn’t follow up on:

    How many Pastors have you previously had?

    Why did they leave?

    How may I co tact them?

    • ronedmondson says:

      Good ones. Thanks for sharing. And you're right, the follow up to responses is key.