The majority of lead pastors for American evangelical churches (64 percent) are selected by a congregational vote, according to the NAE’s summer member poll. The church board makes the decision for one out of 10 churches. Five percent are appointed by the denomination, and three percent by a selection committee.

political endorsementsEighteen percent of NAE members selected “other” when answering the question: “How is a new lead pastor selected for your church?” Nearly all of these noted that their churches used a combination of two or more of the other options.

“Representational” church government is common among many American evangelical traditions and denominations. In these churches, the congregation votes on leadership appointments, doctrinal changes and membership matters, allowing members a voice in the decision making process of the church. Many observers believe democratic governance contributes to the continuing vitality and growth of evangelical churches in the United States.

Notably, nearly half of NAE members (44 percent) who responded to the poll — regardless of what method they selected — included comments stating that their church uses a combination of methods, though most often the final decision is made by congregational vote.

For example, one member outlined his church’s four-step selection process as:

  1. A search committee interviews and selects one person to present to the church board.
  2. The candidate is interviewed by the church board.
  3. The candidate visits the church for three to five days.
  4. The congregation votes on the candidate, with a two thirds vote of the membership required for election.

Another NAE member described the system for Presbyterian churches as a three-way compact among a congregation that extends a call, a pastor who accepts a call, and the presbytery (regional judicatory) that gives final approval of the call.

In the United Brethren in Christ, pastors are appointed by the denomination after seeking input and agreement from selection committees and church boards. The International Pentecostal Holiness Church utilizes many methods as the conference bishop works with the local congregation board to determine what method is the best option for that specific congregation.

For Further Reading

Charles M. Olsen, Selecting Church Leaders: A Practice in Spiritual Discernment (Nashville: Upper Room, 2002).

“Code of Ethics for Congregations and Their Leadership Teams,” National Association of Evangelicals, 2015,

Thom Rainer, “Changes in Church Hiring Practices for Pastors,” May 23, 2014,