By George Clifford
Conversations I hear about the clergy profiles and search process managed by the Church Deployment Office (CDO) reveal widespread dissatisfaction and make me wonder if a better, lower cost alternative exists. Many clergy, dioceses, and parishes have already informally opted out of the CDO system. Concurrently, The Episcopal Church faces continuing revenue shortfalls forcing program reductions. As difficult as change can be for some people and organizations, now seems a propitious moment to explore options for improving service while saving money.
LinkedIn is not only free but the premier social networking site for professionals seeking employment and organizations seeking to hire executives. What would happen if TEC utilized LinkedIn, instead of the current CDO system, for helping clergy (and lay employees) and employers (parishes, dioceses, etc.) in the call process?
A couple of preliminary disclaimers are important. Although I have a LinkedIn account, I’m far from an experienced LinkedIn user. Nor do I stand to benefit financially if my suggestion is adopted.
A task force of stakeholders and highly proficient Episcopal LinkedIn users can probably develop a workable set of tactics and policies with relative speed and ease. Hundreds of self-identified Episcopalians already use LinkedIn. Some have connected through existing LinkedIn groups that include school alumni, parishes, ministries to help job seekers, and several dioceses.
To stimulate creativity, suggest the viability of relying on LinkedIn, and to initiate a conversation, here are a few, broad-brush ideas on how TEC might employ LinkedIn for its clergy placement system:
First, TEC could organize two or three user groups. The organizer controls membership in the group, offering a means to exclude the “unwashed.” One group would consist of Episcopal clergy (and perhaps those interested in lay positions); this group would be similar to the CDO profile database. Another group would consist of parishes and other organizations wishing to hire a member of the first group. This second group would be analogous to the CDO database of employment opportunities. A third group possible group would consist of diocesan deployment officers, bishops, and other key players in the call process.
Second, each group might have standard forms or information that each group member completes. This would allow for as much flexibility as a resume designed by the person seeking a call and as much structure as the current profile system for both individuals and calling parishes and organizations. This information could easily include links to a priest’s blog, website of parishes previously served, or a recruiting congregation or organization’s website.
Third, many (most?) participants in this plan would probably know one or more current LinkedIn users, Episcopalian or not, who could provide free, local, and timely coaching. This might increase, compared to the CDO, the number of individuals seeking a call and calling organizations who participate, additionally enhancing the value of replacing the CDO system with LinkedIn.
Fourth, LinkedIn provides apparently adequate security for the personal information (name, address, telephone numbers, email, etc.) that the system requires. Otherwise, LinkedIn’s millions of current users would not find the system sufficiently secure. LinkedIn users must establish a free account with password protection, preventing most unauthorized access to data.
Fifth, LinkedIn’s search capabilities probably match or exceed those of the CDO present system. In other words, the change should not degrade but may improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current system. This also might increase the number of individuals and organizations choosing to rely on the system, again improving effectiveness and efficiency. If LinkedIn did not provide an adequate search capability, neither Fortune 500 companies or professionals seeking positions that pay six figure salaries would bother using LinkedIn. Although the content and tasks of ministry differ greatly from secular positions, the recruiting (or call) processes are very similar.
Sixth, the Episcopal Church would own no infrastructure nor encounter any fees for utilizing LinkedIn. System improvements would be compliments of LinkedIn. CDO personnel could serve as field consultants. Alternatively, TEC might capture some portion, or all, of the CDO budget as cost savings without any program reductions. A free process that works 90-95% as effectively and efficiently as a proprietary system looks like a very good value in today’s austere fiscal environment.
The current CDO system reflects pre-internet thinking, awkwardly updated for the personal computer and then internet eras. Current planning anticipates replacing the printed version of Episcopal Life with an exclusive, online version; the online version already distributes more content in a timelier manner. Prompted by decreasing reliance on newspapers for information, increasing use and availability of the internet, and a continuing need for good stewardship (i.e., to reduce costs), dioceses are replacing legacy communication systems with internet based solutions. Adoption of a clergy placement system based on a free, social networking site for professional placement, such as LinkedIn, will similarly move TEC away from another legacy system with its frustrating limitations and unnecessary costs.
Rumor has it that the CDO is developing a proprietary, interactive system to replace its current system. If so, this probably represents a second-best solution. The Church might exercise better stewardship of its limited funds by not purchasing proprietary computer code, funding beta testing, etc. Instead, using TEC resources to research the most effective search modality and best indicators of a good fit between a priest and parish would probably yield bigger dividends.
For example, which search modality is most likely to produce a rector who stays at least five years: a diocese recommending a single rector time-certain candidate; a targeted search in which the diocese recommends approximately five candidates; or the traditional parish-centered search process? In a minority of instances, an excellent choice as rector may beneficially stay a shorter period of time, e.g., a parish with a recent history of great trauma that needs much healing. Nevertheless, five years is a reasonable proxy for a good fit. Complementing that metric with annual data about number of baptisms, number of confirmations, average Sunday attendance, and operating budget would further refine the accuracy of the assessment. Furthermore, those search modalities require increasing amounts of time, ranging from several months to find a rector time-certain to as much as two years for the traditional search. Vacant cures, even with an excellent interim, generally inflict a toll on parishes. Search processes are also expensive. Yet no research exists about the effectiveness of each of the three search modalities.
God calls us, individually and collectively, to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us. As much as we, God’s frozen chosen, may prefer stolid immobility to change, the business of being the Church is always a means to an end and never an end in itself. Upon what other antiquated modus operandi does TEC rely to its detriment and financial loss? Do other, free alternatives exist that TEC can adapt and adopt to become a more effective, efficient steward of the resources God’s people have entrusted to our care?
The Rev. Dr. George Clifford, Diocese of North Carolina, served as a Navy chaplain for twenty-four years He taught philosophy at the U. S. Naval Academy and ethics at the Postgraduate School. He serves as priest in charge at the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh and blogs at Ethical Musings.