The Assessment Process
One of the greatest responsibilities of any church planting organization is the evaluation and development of potential church planters. Church planting organizations who take seriously the stewardship of church planters, their families, and church planting resources understand the need for a formal assessment processes for these candidates. When we look at assessment for paid church planters, we see five basic phases: recruitment, initial screening, initial assessment, in-depth screening (theology, character, chemistry), assessment meeting (1-4 hours), and assessment center (3-4 days).
Good assessment is a question of stewardship on several levels:
- The Assessment Process stewards the life and ministry of the planter--helping the planter gain clarity of life and mission. Vocational church planting is not something to embark on without great consideration.
- Initial Screening provides the early conversations to help set and direct the potential planter on the right path.
- Initial Assessment stewards the resources of the organization. If every potential planter has a four-hour interview (or a four-day assessment at a center!), too many resources are poorly expended.
- In-Depth Screening helps your organization go deeper--to be sure that the initial indicators are correct and that there is theological alignment with the organization.
- Assessment Interviews are the first step where a greater amount of time is spent with the candidate--prior steps should have screened some out. At this point, you are looking at screened and eager candidates.
- Assessment Center Experience --this is the final step to be sure that vocational planters have the ministry skills, planting wiring, and interpersonal ability to plant a church.
It is important to note that we are talking about paid church planters with a plan toward vocational ministry. It would be counterproductive to apply all of these to, for example, house church planters; where ordinary people lead small and reproducing churches in their home. In that case, we would leave out the assessment center, but the other steps would, with modification in some cases, be appropriate.
Recruiting potential church planters is a challenge regardless of the size of your organization or your recruiting budget. For every organization though, there are some things that you can do to maximize your reach and to connect with those who might consider planting a church.
First, cast the vision for church planting widely. Wherever people in your network or organization are talking about evangelism, discipleship, and missions--they should know you and your vision about church planting. Second, equip people in your organization and networks to be talking and recruiting for church planters. Be consistent in casting a vision to help them see how church planting fits into God's mission and how to tell others about it. When you are doing this, you aren't just recruiting church planters but also partners for your future church plants: pastors and leaders of church planting churches (sponsor), coaches, mentors, mission teams, etc. Thirdly, who are the preachers, leaders, teachers and influencers that church planters in your organization are drawn to? Find them, get to know them, and recruit them to help you recruit. Make a point to be at the events where they are connecting with your future church planters.
No matter how big your organization's church planting recruiting budget is, it isn't big enough for you to do the job alone. You have to equip and empower other people (pastors, missionaries, denominational workers, seminary professors) to always be on the lookout for potential church planters, but to also cast the broad vision for church planting.
Initial screening happens in many ways during the assessment process--over cups of coffee, in an office, over the phone, or even a brief conversation after a breakout session. This is the time when informal assessment begins to help the potential church planter and the assessor see if the option of church planting is a good fit all around.
We believe every Christian should be in some way a part of church planting, but we do not believe everyone should be a church planter--especially not a lead church planter, and definitely not a paid vocational planter. It is during this initial screening phase that a good assessor helps someone see the full range of options available for supporting church planting. The initial screening phase should help both the potential planter and the assessor, and it should be the most objective phase of the process.
The initial screening phase should help potential planters see the broadest range of church planting opportunities within your organization. These opportunities typically include funded and unfunded church planting, full-time and bi-vocational ministry, serving as lead planter or as part of a team, and the various methods and models that are the most common in your organization. During this time, it should also be communicated how someone who ends up not being a lead planter-or even a member on a church planting team-can be an advocate for church planting in whatever ministry position they fill.
The initial screening should be helpful for the assessor by giving them quick insight into how the potential planter might do in a church planting situation. The next step is some sort of initial assessment. It is not intended to be a full assessment, but rather an initial indicator that can encourage some to move forward, but redirect others early in the process; both for their best interests and the stewardship of the organization.
Occasionally, an assessor will have a previous relationship with the candidate and already know first-hand how the candidate compares with other church planters. But in most large church planting organizations, this can be a first or second meeting where the assessor and church planter have almost no background information about one another. Here is where we suggest the Church Planter Candidate Assessment (CPCA) developed specifically for the early stages of church planter assessment by LifeWay Research. It is an online, objective, and statistically validated tool that measures 22 characteristics that have been identified with successful church planters.
The CPCA gives an assessor a quick and objective overview of the potential planter that can provide clarity to how the first conversations should begin. We call this an initial assessment. The importance of the objectivity at this point in the assessment is key. When we meet someone that we like and we see good potential in church planting, as assessors, we can be tempted to stay too long in the recruiting mode and keep trying to win them over to our organization or system. When you get an objective report in front of you, it gives you permission to ask the potential planter questions about areas of strength and weakness. There is less of a perception that you are attacking them because you are just asking follow-up questions on a survey that the planters answered about themselves. The report is the guide that allows the assessor to discuss the areas that need the most attention if a potential planter wants to stay on track.
It is important to note here that the CPCA is intended to be an initial indicator for a potential church planter's likelihood for success in church planting. It was never intended to be an organization's final phase of assessment that gives a blanket red or green light for future candidates. It was intended to provide objective, statistically validated measures to help organizations make the best assessment decisions possible. Too often we have heard about potential planters and their spouses moving too far and too fast through the assessment process, only to be bumped out at the behavioral interview or assessment center for something that should have and could have been caught much earlier.
Once you and the planter are both ready to proceed, you move to the most in-depth screening process- which becomes more customized for the planter, the potential church plant and your organization. Much of this phase is accomplished through applications and having the planter write out their doctrinal beliefs and understanding of church planting.
Now you will ensure that you and your candidate "fit." Begin looking together at theology, character and context between the planter, your organization, and the kind of church planting that will be happening. First, you need to explore the planter's calling and theology. Can the planter articulate the key doctrines of the Christian faith and the issues that are the most important in your organization? How clear and defined is their calling to church planting? It is perfectly fine to still be in the exploratory phase, but it is important that the planter pause at this point to seek clarification and direction before proceeding to more in-depth evaluation. In the research our team did for the CPCA, we received input from over 30 expert church planting assessors ranging from Peter Sung, to Neil Cole, to Tim Keller. One of the most consistent things they mentioned was how important clarity of calling was for successful church planters. Those with clarity were typically better able to weather the inevitable storms of church planting. It's not that their clarity prevented them from changing or adapting. In fact, it was just the opposite. Their calling gave them an inner resilience and an outer fortitude to adapt when faced with certain obstacles.
Next, you have to explore issues of character. A planter can be the most gifted planter in the world, but they and their church plant will struggle if their character is defined by qualities such as belittling their spouse, degrading their previous employers, or regularly exhibiting poor decision making patterns. Church planters should be known first and foremost as people of integrity. Leadership is founded on trust and people choose to follow leaders they trust. Some of the most impressive candidates outwardly have some of the biggest character problems--they have just learned how to mask the issues with charisma and leadership. Never skip examining areas of character.
Third, you must evaluate the planter's competencies. Here it is important for the assessor to look closely at the planter's history, experience. What experiences do they have from previous ministries and non-church planting endeavors that will help or hinder their work in church planting?
Finally, is there a match between the planter and your organization, and the planter and their potential church planting context? No leader serves in a vacuum. They all serve in a specific place and time among a specific people. So, leadership always must be viewed within a certain ministry context. Some leaders thrive in certain conditions and wither in others. Assessing for context helps a church planter answer this question: "Am I the right fit for this church planting opportunity?"
- Do I fit the doctrine and distinctives of the church planting organization?
- Does my personality and leadership style lend itself to church planting?
- Do I fit the community in which the church is being planted?
- Do I fit the model of the church that is being planted?
Tom Nebel has developed a helpful "assessment of place" to accompany the church planter assessment tool. You can find that here or directly from Tom.
Assessment Interview (2-4 hours)
Once this in-depth screening phase has been reviewed and approved, it is time to schedule a longer behavioral assessment such as the Ridley interview (a behavioral interview developed by Charles Ridley) to more thoroughly explore the specific competencies and experience mix for an individual planter. This is usually 2-4 hours in length and is in an interview format. The interview gives the assessor and the candidate the opportunity to build into the relationship and partnership of church planting. This is also a time to flesh out in greater detail the desirable church planting characteristics that the planter may or may not have as attributes or characteristics.
This is typically a more formal interview than what has been done up until this point. Whatever interview format an organization uses, it should strive to consistent and accountable in how it is being done. A well-trained assessor can find out a great deal about a planter or couple in a fairly short amount of time. The written interview reports included in this phase of assessment are essential guides for those working with the planter later in the process. A poorly-trained or undiscerning assessor can mix the training resource and personal opinion and over the long term do more damage than good to the cause of church planting.
Ridley's thirteen characteristics can and should be rightly explored here. In Ridley's helpful study, he found that church planters manifested certain attributes including: visioning capacity, intrinsically motivated, creates ownership, relates to lost and unchurched people, spousal cooperation, effectively builds relationships, committed to Kingdom growth, responsive to community, utilizes giftedness of others, flexible and adaptable, builds group cohesiveness, resilience, and exercises faith.
For many organizations, this has been the only or primary tool. It should not be lost in the reconsideration of church planting assessment strategies. However, it should not be the only tool in the process. It is too costly to use as the first tool without pre-screening and initial assessment. It is not rigorous enough for those who are to be funded as full time church planters. Other resources include:
- Thompson's Twenty-one (21) Church Planters Competencies
- Thompson's Ten (10) Identifying Dimensions of Church Planters,
- Lonsway's Twenty-three (23) different criterion as measured by the Profiles of Ministry Casebook II (ATS),
- and the work of Hutz Hertzburg.
If the rest of the assessment process has been followed, about one-fourth of candidates should be screened out at this step.
Assessment Center (2-4 days)
After this assessment interview, in many organizations, a planter or a planter and his spouse should be invited to participate in an assessment center experience. The assessment center will typically have multiple 1) candidates, 2) assessors, 3) exercises, simulations, or tests, and 4) criteria or competencies.) They also will consist of three main stages where information is gathered about the candidates. The first stage consists of observing the candidates and evaluating them on the competencies observed within particular exercises. During this time, assessors may make independent notes and ratings of the candidates. In the second stage, assessors share their observations about each participant. Based on this information, assessors independently give provisional final ratings. Finally, assessors discuss any differences in their provisional ratings, and they reach an overall assessment rating for a participant through consensus.
The longer period of time together for the assessor and the planter (and planter's spouse) gives them time to get to know one another better and allows time for observation of the potential planter in group contexts. The strengths of an assessment center experience are the multiple means and assessments provided to the planters to help the assessors see the most complete picture possible of who the planter is.
We would not recommend funding a planter at any full-time level before going through an assessment center experience. An assessment center experience might cost $1000 to $1500, but would save much more money by screening out people who are not prepared for church planting. This is the only opportunity for observations in regard to preaching, vision casting, relating to others, etc.
If the rest of the assessment process has been followed, another fourth of the candidates should be screened out at this step.
Church planting is popular right now--and that's a good thing. Yet, its popularity also creates challenges for planting organizations as they steward their resources. If you have an assessment process that everyone "passes," you don't really have an assessment process. In my view, less than a third of those recruited to consider church planting should make it through the final process and be paid, vocational, lead church planters. The end result will be better planters, better plants, and a more healthy stewardship of people and money in the assessment process.
Here is a video Ed Stetzer recently shot for those interested in going into church planting. Feel free to embed or share it as it is helpful to you.
 Starting the church planting assessment process but not finishing it as a lead planter should not automatically be interpreted as "failure." It should whenever possible lead to launching someone in a catalytic support role of church planting--wherever they end up serving.
 Full disclosure, this tool was developed by my team at LifeWay Research as a part of a yearlong research project sponsored by over a dozen denominations and networks studying the characteristics of successful church planters. There are others as well, and we support any tool that does a good job in such assessments. However, this is the first and only assessment tool to bring this level of statistical verifiability and predictability to this stage of the process. Methodology
 Passion for Planting, "Assessing a Planter's Fit in a Specific Place." Access online http://www.newchurches.com/mediafiles/planters-fit-in-a-place.pdf
 Charles Ridley, Evaluating and Reporting (ChurchSmart Resources, 2000) 130-142.
 J. Allen Thompson, "Church Planter Competencies as Perceived by Church Planters and Assessment center leaders: A Protestant North American Study" (Ph.D. Dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1995) 99, 124-126.
 J. Allen Thompson, "Church Leader Inventory: A PCA Qualitative and Quantitative Study" (The International Church Planting Center, 2007), 38-39.
 Francis A Lonsway, Profiles of Ministry: A Thirty-Year Study (Association of Theological Schools, Commission on Accrediting, 2007).
 Hutz Hertzberg, Personal Characteristics and Ministry Perceptions of Younger Evangelical Church Leaders (Ph.D. Dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2008).
 Robert Wood and Tim Payne, Competency-Based Recruitment and Selection (West Sussex, England: Wiley, 1998) 152-153.
 J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Assessor Manual (International Church Planting Center, 2004), 23.