The church receptionist plays an important role in the church, so you don’t want to throw any warm body in front of a phone. You’re hiring a trusted gatekeeper to bring order out of chaos.
When filling a receptionist position, you’re not just hiring a set of skills. You’re looking for a cultural fit—someone who will contribute to the overall character of the entire church.
Attributes of an exceptional church receptionist
The key to filling any position lies in distinguishing between attributes they should start with and skills they can be trained to do. Instead of focusing on skills that you can teach them, target those traits you want this man or woman to possess.
Here are six characteristics you might want to elevate—and some suggestions for drawing them out in a job interview.
1. Christian faith
I’m completely convinced that someone can excel as a church receptionist irrespective of their faith. An organized atheist is a better hire than a well-intentioned but scatter-brained believer—but I still think you should consider a Christian for this position.
A church secretary is going to occasionally find themselves in positions where they have to tell people no, and then deal with the annoyed responses. They’re also going to be have some knowledge of various congregational troubles. This means that they’ll know about issues like physical or substance abuse in prominent church members.
I’d hate to put anyone in a situation where the failures of certain individuals could be used to justify their disbelief in the transformational power of Christianity. It only takes a couple terrible situations to convince a non-Christian that they’re right in believing that it’s all nonsense.
It’s not that you’d want to shield them from imperfect Christians. It’s just that you don’t always have the time or opportunity to temper these bad experiences with an understanding of God’s grace and the one-step-forward-two-steps-back nature of spiritual maturity.
The fact is that many churches swear by outside hires for this position. The things that would make this position difficult for a non-Christian can also make it hard for someone who has to worship there. You might consider hiring a member from another church.
Interview tip: Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employers with at least 15 employees to discriminate based on religion. But most states have enacted laws that dovetail with this statute allowing churches to hire (or fire) based on religious views (but it needs to be followed consistently).
That said, it’s still a mess to ask someone if they’re a Christian in their interview. Instead, try and figure it out from their past experience. If that doesn’t work, you can also ask them about their church experience.
The pastor might be the only person in a church with more awareness of church mechanics than the secretary. The receptionist is going to be aware of confidential stuff like tithing records, counseling sessions, and other sensitive issues.
In a world where information is a form of emotional currency, you need someone with discretion. They need to be able to fight the urge to gossip, or treat people differently because of the sensitive information they posses.
Interview tip: If you simply ask someone if they are discrete, they’ll tell you yes. You can get a better idea of where they’re coming from if you ask them to give you their own definition of discretion.
Follow that up by asking how they combat the temptation to gossip or overshare. I’m going to trust someone who admits that this is a struggle and talks about how they deal with it over someone who blows it off as a non-issue.
3. Technologically competence
How we use tech in the church is constantly changing. You probably use a number of applications to keep your church scheduled and communicating smoothly. Not only will your receptionist be using these tools, but they also need to be proficient at them—and willing to embrace the next tool that comes along.
If you hire a receptionist who isn’t confident in this area, they’re going to use little arguments to stick with the tools they are comfortable with. They’ll contend for the status quo and resist tech-related change.
This can be particularly difficult when church members come in for help regarding a new tool or software solution. If someone in the church doesn’t know how to use your mobile-giving app, and comes in for some help, you want the secretary to make them feel hopeful and optimistic about change. You want them to help put that church member at ease and walk them through the process.
Interview tip: Ask them about how they use technology throughout their day.
4. Organizational skills
This is not the position for an absent-minded individual (unless they have specific behaviors that help combat their natural inclinations). You’re looking to your receptionist to make sure the trains are all running on time.
It doesn’t matter if you have the most robust church-management software available. If this person isn’t making sure all of the information is entered and up-to-date, it’s worthless. It’s imperative that you don’t hire someone who struggles to stay on top of the details.
Interview tip: Ask them, “If you know that your organizational skills was the most important part of this job, how would you prove to me that you’re the perfect fit?”
5. Friendly disposition
The receptionist is going to be the first contact for many people reaching out to your church. In many ways, they’re the face of your organization. You want a friendly, professional person in this role who puts others at ease.
A short, terse, or impatient secretary will turn people off before you ever have a chance to talk to them—and you won’t even know it. No one wants to go to a church where they feel like an imposition when they call.
Interview tip: It’s probably good to bring this issue up right off the bat and see how they respond. Remember, everyone in a job interview is going to tell you that they’re patient and good with interruptions. Pay close attention to their body language and eye contact.
The secretary’s job is not easy. This person is going to have to lay down the law occasionally—even when they’re being confronted by angry church members. Maybe a homeless person will wander in and the receptionist finds themselves in a position that’s tough, uncomfortable, or potentially scary.
While you want someone who is friendly, you also want to hire someone who can hold their own. This isn’t the position for a timid person. They should be able to speak up when they need to.
Interview tip: The kind of person you want has probably ruffled some feathers in the past. Ask them to tell you about a time when they got in trouble for sticking up for themselves.
Most interviewees would probably downplay moments like that so that you don’t think they’re pushy, so pay attention to the ones who aren’t afraid to give you an example.
I hate to be overly dramatic, but a church receptionist can be a make-or-break position. Your choice here will have an impact on the entire organization. It’s up to you to make it a good one!