Walk into almost any retail establishment this summer and you’ll see the “Help Wanted” sign. Talk to any small business owner and they are likely to tell you that their greatest need right now is reliable employees in a competitive job market. Skim the front page of the Wall Street Journal and you will see the same trend: airlines needing more baggage handlers, hospitals needing more nurses, schools needing more teachers, local governments needing more police officers.
It’s certainly a unique time in the labor market. But for Bruce Smith, CEO of The Job Connection, an online platform that enables churches to connect employers and job seekers, even with increased tension and competition, this is just another season in his decades-long career in connecting employers to job seekers.
Smith found his way into the world of recruiting and staffing from public accounting in the 1990s, and in the process, he discovered a passion for the work. “People don’t look for a job for a living,” Smith says, so he has helped hundreds of people “navigate the job search journey and land in a role they find fulfilling and glorifying to God.” For years, from the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s through the Great Recession and into the most recent economic turmoil, Smith has worked with everyone from executive search firms to everyday job seekers.
In 2012, his career began to serve even more people as he found a ministry outlet in his local church. He began volunteering with Crossroads Career, a jobs ministry at Perimeter Church in Metro Atlanta, and by 2014, he became the leader of the ministry. But in 2017 he acquired a web platform, first developed at Willow Creek Community Church, that had the ability to take the ministry of job placement much further: The Job Connection.
Of course, the internet is full of job boards, but The Job Connection stands out. Smith believes its distinctive importance is that it helps churches be more relevant in their communities by placing the church in the conversation between job seekers and employers in ways that can benefit every party involved. And at this moment, in which so many employers are desperate to find good employees and so many people are open to seeking new employment, it is a crucial time for the church to be in the conversation.
To date, The Job Connection has been the common touchpoint for over 80,000 job seekers and more than 12,000 employers. What makes those numbers most impressive is the platform has been used by fewer than 50 churches. How much success could these numbers represent if 1,000, or even 5,000, churches participated in this kind of ministry?
In Smith’s experience, though some churches have job-placement programs or congregants willing to help in small ways, the vast majority of churches have no meaningful long-term plans or structure in place to help job seekers and employers in their community. Smith believes the use of a simple tool, in this case an online platform, allows church leaders to serve both parties.
Any church that has ever started a jobs ministry knows that finding job seekers is the easy part of the process. In fact, an overwhelming number of job seekers is what causes most churches to start job ministries in the first place. What can be especially challenging, though, is maintaining relationships with employers, staying abreast of openings, and being the relational connection between employers and job seekers in the community. A great benefit of The Job Connection’s platform is that it can help serve as the relational conduit between employers and job seekers, and it does so at no cost to the churches who host the platform on their website. For any church with a jobs ministry, or a church that hopes to start one, The Job Connection provides a basic structure, for free, where national employers can pay to have their job openings posted.
According to Holly Troutman at The MET Church in Houston, Texas, it was actually an overwhelming number of requests for help with resumes that first led the church to The Job Connection. Now that they have a platform, they not only direct people to the Resume Builder frequently, one of the platform’s helpful features, but they have also found the prayer function on the platform to be a great way to pray for their community broadly. In the last month, over 400 distinct users visited their site, many of whom had no previous contact with their church.
Eventually The MET Church hopes to supplement their platform with in-person job fairs and job readiness programs in a new development center at their church. For now, by Troutman’s own admission, the platform may be self-sustaining to a fault. At its current state, it doesn’t exactly provide more resources to churches with existing jobs ministries that enable and incentivize them to connect personally with users on the platform through avenues like career coaching or in-person interview training, but it’s a significantly helpful piece of outreach in the process of beginning a ministry or growing an existing one.
Smith believes the platform has given some employers unique access to faith-minded job seekers, and many job seekers have found The Job Connection to be their first point of connection to a local church in their community: 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, found that almost two-thirds of the people using their platform had no other connection to their church. This first impression communicates just how vital that church believes meaningful work is, and not just for individuals but for their immediate communities as well. And many church-going job seekers notice this too, discovering that their church has much more than a theoretical theology of work.
Amid the incredible turnover many companies are seeing now, as more people than ever contemplate changing jobs or careers, and for churches that want to enter the conversation, The Job Connection is one tool that requires no financial investment from the church, requires limited day-to-day maintenance, and offers the incredible opportunity for connection to countless people in a church’s immediate community. With a strategic platform to structure a jobs ministry, as the job market goes through its inevitable cycles, and as employers and job seekers are in need of help, the local church could be a great place to begin the search.