Site visit considerations: candidate comes to neutral location

A neutral pulpit allows search teams to see a candidate in action without causing disruption in the candidate’s ministry setting and without introducing multiple finalists to the searching congregation. Here are the factors to mull when planning a neutral pulpit.

When should this visit take place?

  • Schedule far enough out so that the candidate can make plans to be away from current ministry setting.
  • Be sensitive to liturgical seasons and special events in the candidate’s current setting.
  • Be sensitive to liturgical seasons and special events at the neutral site.

Where should this visit take place?

  • Depending on judicatory protocols, contact either the judicatory leader to inquire about a neutral location or a clergyperson who might be willing to host the neutral pulpit. The search team should communicate to the point of contact what it hopes to see the candidate do.

What interaction does the search team want with the candidate beyond worship?

  • Will there be lunch with the search team? A formal interview time?

What are the hopes and/or expectations of the candidate and the search team regarding the candidate’s family’s (if applicable) participation in the visit?

  • Be clear with the candidate if family is encouraged to come on the visit.
  • Inquire about the availability of childcare at the neutral location if the candidate has need.

What should the schedule for the visit be?

  • What does the candidate hope to learn from the visit?
  • What does the search team hope to learn from the candidate?
  • What should the candidate expect at the neutral pulpit and any accompanying events?
    • Who will be present?
    • What is the expected dress?
    • What does the candidate need to prepare?
    • How might the presence of the candidate’s family impact the schedule?

Where will the candidate (and family, if applicable) stay?

  • Best practice: Arrange for a hotel room. Even extroverts will need time during which they don’t feel the need to be “on.”
  • Private space is especially important if the candidate will be bringing family on the visit.

How will visit expenses be handled?

  • Be clear about visit-related money matters.
  • Best practices: Pay up front for lodging, airfare, rental car, and entertainment/meals with the search team. Reimburse promptly for mileage and meals en route.

What are tangible ways the search team can extend hospitality to the candidate?

  • Give (or have waiting in the hotel room) a small token of welcome.
    • Water bottles
    • Coffee/tea packets
    • Sweet treats and/or healthy snacks
    • Small goods unique to the community
    • Information about the community
  • If the candidate is bringing child(ren), include child-geared tokens of welcome.