Doing due diligence with candidates

It is essential to gather all available information about candidates before extending (or at least finalizing) a call. Failure to do so puts the congregation at risk of litigation and members in danger of spiritual, emotional, and/or physical harm. Candidates with nothing to hide expect that churches will call references, utilize search engines, and run background checks.

Reference checks

When should a search team contact a candidate’s references?

  • What are the search team’s goals in contacting references?
  • Given those goals, when is the best time to contact references?
  • What are the downsides of calling at the beginning of the process? At the end?

What should the search team ask a candidate’s references?

  • What does the search team need to know or confirm?
  • Refer to tips on crafting good interview questions.
  • Focus on specifics and past performance.
  • Ask for stories.
  • Clarify as needed.
  • Look for – and follow up on – what is not being said as much as what is being said.

How should the search team contact references?

Live voice interactions will give the search team the most information. Tone, pauses, and other non-verbal cues say a lot. Follow-up is easier. And references will generally be willing to say more than they are willing to write.

Internet searches

  • Read through the entirety of the candidate’s website or blog, if applicable.
  • Enter the candidate’s name in your favorite search engine. See what pops up.
  • Look up the candidate on social media.

Background checks

  • Some free checks are available through most states, but they are limited in what they information they can access.
  • Many denominations and/or judicatories recommend or require a particular background check service. If yours does not, one option is
  • Thorough background checks include searches of criminal and driving records and sex offender registries, and they utilize county, state, and national databases.
  • Some churches and/or judicatories require credit checks to guard against financial malfeasance.
  • Consider what the line is for your congregation between protecting your church and being overly invasive. When in doubt, consult with the church's insurance agent or an attorney.

What if there’s a red flag?

Ask rather than make assumptions! There might be context that helps reframe the situation, and/or there might have been a misstep in the candidate’s past that the candidate has worked hard to remedy (and possibly has learned much from). If the matter is not explained satisfactorily, contact the church's attorney or insurance agent for guidance.