Think of the name of a person who recently told you they’re unhappy and thinking about leaving your church.
Would you believe me if I told you that that person is not an outlier?
What if I told you that that person kicking up dust, threatening to leave, folding their arms in services, talking behind your back, etc., is actually following a well-established pattern of behavior that EVERY SINGLE ONE of your fellow Senior Pastors is dealing with?
I’d like to take you on a tour inside the mind of a disgruntled church member.
My reasoning is two-fold.
First, nothing causes more stress and anxiety for the Senior Pastor of a church under 1,200 than the ripple effects of a disgruntled church member.
Second, once we understand their go-to bag of tricks, we rob disgruntled church members of their power over our peace of mind and the well-being of 99.5% of the amazing people in our churches who are an absolute joy to serve.
The Five Accusations
Every Senior Pastor, regardless of denomination, theological background, leadership style, and philosophy of ministry, undergoes the same five attacks by disgruntled church members. I call these “the five accusations.”
1. “You’re not feeding people”
“I’m not being fed” is hands down the number one accusation leveled against us and usually comes at the hands of self-serving bottom feeding Christians who hop between churches like a swarm of locusts draining the resources of every church they attend before they move on. As you can probably guess, I’m not very fond of these people.
2. “You’ve mismanaged money”
This is not a charge of financial impropriety. If we handle money inappropriately, we should get fired. This is the charge that we’re directing, or championing, the use of the church’s money for things that this person thinks we shouldn’t be spending money on “right now.” This charge usually comes to the surface as an excuse for people to leave the church once they hear what you’re raising money for in a campaign. But don’t worry, they’ll come back once the campaign is over and celebrate what God has done through “us.” In the words of my pastor friends in Mississippi, “Bless their hearts.”
3. “You’ve mismanaged staff”
This charge almost always comes on the heels of firing a staff member, especially if the person making the accusation was either good friends, or a family member, of the person fired. For those of you in churches under 600, this is what makes it hard to fire someone who is terrible: they’re relationally connected to 1/10 of the people in your church.
4. “You’re doctrinally unsound”
This charge almost always comes from the person who has been at your church for less than three years, is a founding member of the “I love John MacArthur” fan club, and listens to 19 podcasts a week by people who use the title “Apostle ______” or Prophet _____ “. It always involves some idiosyncratic pet doctrine that doesn’t matter, and they truly believe in their heart of hearts that if they can just get you to sit down and listen, they’ll get you to change the entire theological direction of your church.
5. “All you care about is growth”
This always happens when you prioritize evangelism and ask people to change their behavior to reach those Jesus called us to reach. I’ve talked before about A leaders (5% of our congregation), B leaders (15% of our congregation), and C leaders (80% of our congregation). This is exclusively a charge leveled by C leaders – people who want you to hold their hands like a personal chaplain. The moment you stop giving them one-on-one personal attention, they try to manipulate you into showing them attention again by trying to castigate your priorities.
So those are the five accusations. Undoubtedly, you can take almost every criticism you’ve ever faced in your ministry and place them into one of those five categories.
But here’s the thing – not only do the accusations you face follow a predictable path, the way in which the person making the accusation goes about airing their grievances follows a similar path as well.
But before we get to that well-trod pattern, I want to briefly touch on five toxic Senior Pastor relationships we should avoid like the plague.
The reason many people level accusations against us is because we began a personal friendship with them, then broke it off, when we realized things started to get strange.
I tell my staff all the time: “Beware the person who meets you at the train station.”
People who quickly rush up to you to be your friend almost always have an agenda. It may take 5 years or 15 years to flush it out, but trust me, it WILL come to the surface.
Here, in no certain order, are the types of relationships we should always run from.
5 Toxic Relationships Every Senior Pastor Must Avoid
I will give, but not until…
I have a problem, and I only want to meet with you.
I’m brand new here and want to take you and your wife out to dinner, and be your best friend, and go golfing next weekend, and go on vacation together, and buy the house next door to yours, and co-parent our children together.
I’m so glad you’re here because I didn’t like the former Senior Pastor.
I will continue to give, and sacrifice, as long as you’re paying attention to me.
It is important to bring up these types of relationships because in most smaller churches the accusations we face often come on the heels of a “break up.”
If we can avoid these types of relationships in the first place, that will go a long way to help prevent a lot of dust getting kicked up before an accusation even happens.
How Disgruntled Church Members Process And Air Their Grievances
The path disgruntled church members take to process and air their grievances is just as common as the accusations themselves.
Step #1: “I’m hurt.”
It always starts with something you did or said that hurt them.
I want you to notice, however, that the reason people STATE for why they are upset is almost never the UNDERLYING reason they’re hurt.
It just sounds more spiritual to say you’re “doctrinally unsound” than it is to say that you don’t call them up to go to breakfast anymore.
Step #2: Looking back to build a case
Once an unhealthy church member is hurt, they look back over their entire history with you and begin “building a case.”
What I mean by this is everyone in your church has bumps, run-ins, problems, and issues with you that they overlook. It’s called living in community with one another. Tiny things. Small things. That time you walked past them in the hallway and didn’t shake their hand. Or visit them in the hospital. Or you made a joke that they took the wrong way.
These are all normal things that happen in every congregation, and they’re never a problem.
But when an unhealthy person gets hurt, they go back in time and start making a list of every single thing you’ve ever done in their time at your church that you’ve done wrong.
Again, 99.5% of the people in our churches are healthy. They follow what the Bible says about conflict resolution and forgiveness, and they’re done with it.
But not for that .5%.
Step #3: Building an alliance
The unhealthy church member takes that list and starts shopping it around, looking for people to join their alliance like on the TV show Survivor.
The people who join their alliances aren’t hard to figure out: they’re always people who are unhealthy themselves. They usually transferred from another church and are looking for a connection, so they bond over their shared dysfunction.
Sometimes this materializes in the form of what we at CCV call “rogue” groups. These are groups of people who don’t want their “group” to be a part of our official Small Group Ministry at the church. Their reason is simple: what brought them together is their shared dysfunction and desire to complain about you. If they joined your small group structure, their sin would be found out.
Like rats starved for food, the sad thing is these people always end up cannibalizing each other, and their kids are the ones most hurt.
Step #4: “Everybody is saying that you… (insert accusation).”
This is a power play.
Whenever someone appeals to a large, growing, unhappy swarming mass of people ready to revolt because you are doing this, and this, and this, ALWAYS ask: “Who is everyone?”
They’ll balk and won’t tell you because there is NEVER a large, growing, unhappy swarming mass of people.
It’s always that person, their spouse, and that 38-year-old guy living in his parent’s basement with 16 cats.
They’re talking this way to try to bolster their case.
Listen, healthy people don’t act this way, so whatever you do, don’t play their game. And it is a game.
Step #5: Trying to cause as much damage as possible on the way out
When they realize that you’re not going to play their game, that person will always try to inflict mass relational causalities on their way out the door.
For instance, we had a situation where a person was asked to step aside from serving because they were involved in an immoral situation.
Wanna guess what they did?
They plastered their grievances all over social media. I mean, they recruited friends and family members to post crap on message boards, review sites, literally everywhere they could post their grievance. Their complaint? I was doctrinally unsound (accusation #4) and didn’t understand the “love” of Jesus and accept their lifestyle.
Wanna guess what I did?
My thinking was, “Wait, you’re willing to gather 5-6 people to spend countless hours spreading the message that our church has moral standards? HOW CAN I HELP YOU WITH THAT?!?”
People are smart. They read stupid Yelp reviews and know 1-star reviews that are terrible always come with an agenda and are always inaccurate.
This final step never scares me because I trust our people. Everything these disgruntled people “think” they do to damage the church, me, and our staff, on the way out, ALWAYS backfires.
10 Practical Steps You Can Take
Here are ten things I always share with Senior Pastors I coach that will help you as you deal with the ever-present problem of disgruntled church members.
Realize that this is a .5% problem. 99.5% of the people in our churches are loving, awesome people that are a joy to serve. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
Always be humble and willing to admit when you’re at fault. As a Senior Pastor, you can’t take things personally. Sometimes we say and do things that are wrong. If someone points something out – be humble, admit your error, ask for forgiveness and move on. Making mistakes is forgivable. Hubris is not.
Preach on Matthew 18 once a year. Preach on what godly conflict resolution looks like in action and follow it congregation wide.
Kick people out of your church and the word will spread that you actually follow Matthew 18. Like children listening to empty threats of discipline, disgruntled church members will thrive until they realize that you will dis-fellowship them. You can do this in a way that is gracious and firm, free from authoritarianism.
Do not accept people into your fellowship and grant them membership if they left their former church because of a conflict and left it unresolved. We do this all the time. “Go back and meet with those people, work through Matthew 18, then come back here.” Trust me, do this. Block the contagion before it can spread to the body.
Make sure you teach your Elders that one of their priorities is to protect you. Nobody can possibly know coming into it that forming a line of defense against the crazies so you can minister to the 99.5% is the task of an Elder until we to teach them.
Protect your spouse and kids. I RARELY tell my wife about the dust that gets kicked up my way. And I NEVER tell my kids about it. My kids grew up thinking that being a Senior Pastor was an awesome job, because it is, and because I only shared positive stories around the dinner table.
Understand that people with unresolved issues will “work them out” on you. Father issues. Authority issues. Etc. Don’t let them.
Know that you are worth more than your ministry at that particular church. If you’re in a toxic situation that is unhealthy for you and your family, and you’ve tried your best, find another ministry. There are kind churches out there that love their Senior Pastors. I’m at one of those, and you deserve to be at one too.
P.S. Can I ask a favor? Will you share this on social media? There are undoubtedly a lot of leaders out there that need to be encouraged right now. Thanks friends.
There are a number of factors that contribute to a church’s inability to grow beyond the 100, 200, 400 and 600 barriers. The last place anyone looks when diagnosing the problem is the first place I go: the church’s by-laws.
I want to know whether or not the church is organizationally structured to facilitate growth. Usually they’re not.
Leaders in these churches try lots of things to bring about growth, but find that nothing really works, blind to the fact that the reason they’re not growing has nothing to do with what they’re doing. It has everything to do with the way they’re organized.
In this article I will share why this is the case, and what you can do to fix this. For the sake of brevity I will use “200” to refer to churches also trying to break the 100, 400 and 600 barriers. “Governing board” refers to your church’s eldership, council, etc.
Here it goes…
Churches Under 200
Here is what the organizational structure of a church under 200 looks like as reflected in their by-laws:
[In this picture a governing board of six people run the operations of the church while their Senior Pastor functions as sort of a chaplain, focusing on preaching and caring for people.]
Why did churches under 200 write their by-laws this way?
They wanted to help the Senior Pastor avoid burnout.
One reason a church’s by-laws were written this way is out of a desire to not overburden the Senior Pastor: “Pastor Jim, this is too much for you to handle, so we’ll organize our board to help you. Bill you take children, Jeff you take worship, Larry you’re in charge of youth, etc. This will free you up to just be a pastor.”
They were compensating for a string of Senior Pastors who were weak or unethical leaders.
Another reason a church’s by-laws were written this way is the Senior Pastors the church has had in the past have all been weak leaders, and the governing board members realized that if they didn’t step in and do something, the ship would sink or nothing would get done. On the flip side, if a church had a competent, but unethical Senior Pastor, the inevitable reaction was to tighten the reins.
They were compensating for a revolving Senior Pastor door.
Another reason why a church’s by-laws were written this way is the short-term tenure of Senior Pastors. If the lead person changes every two years, churches will instinctively move into the void to bring stability. This is why I believe Pastors must make at least a five-year commitment to a church to lead it through the 200 barrier.
They were misinterpreting scripture to justify control issues.
The final reason a church’s by-laws were written this way was to mask control issues with the Bible. The New Testament clearly teaches that each local church should be led by a plurality of “Elders” who oversee the church. But it also recognizes that those gifted at leadership, teaching, and administrating the church should be encouraged to take a lead role, alongside and under the oversight of the others. Oftentimes a current governing board will misuse scripture to block changes in by-laws, not because there isn’t biblical support for Senior Pastors taking a more dominant servant-leadership role, but because the current members don’t want to lose control.
Churches Over 200
Here is what the organizational structure of a church over 200 looks like as reflected in their by-laws:
[The Senior Pastor and his staff oversee the operational matters of the church under the oversight of the governing board.]
Three Necessary Changes To Break 200
Here are three by-law changes you must make to ensure your church’s organizational structure doesn’t inhibit future growth.
1. The governing board must transition from operations to oversight.
Every church I’ve seen who can’t find it’s way past the 200 barrier has an unpaid, volunteer leadership team that is set up to run the church. The only way you’re going to grow past this barrier is for the leadership team to transition from collectively running the entire operation of the church to overseeing one person, the Senior Pastor, who oversees staff and volunteers that collectively run the operations of the church. The governing board in turn provides oversight through its regular meetings and by the policies it creates to clearly define what a Senior Pastor can and cannot do so as not to shipwreck the church. These limitations for the Senior Pastor are called Executive Limitations.
In its oversight capacity, the governing board must focus on its five essential duties as it relates to the Senior Pastor:
Serve as the primary care group for the Senior Pastor.
Provide a sounding board for the Senior Pastor as he senses the next steps for the church.
Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the performance of the church.
Serve a fiduciary responsibility to the church by determining salary increases for the Senior Pastor, approving the annual budget, and holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the financial health of the church.
Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.
These are the only tasks the governing board focuses on. Everything else concerning the operational details of the church is given over to the Senior Pastor to manage through the staff.
2. The governing board must focus on the “ends” of the church and hold the Senior Pastor accountable to focus on the “means” of the church.
This language comes from a type of organizational structure used by all churches over 400+ called Carver Policy Governance. What this means is that the governing board becomes a body that defines what the church stands for. It says, “We’re going to be a church that is all about __________ and __________ and __________ and __________.”
One of those things will be, for instance, evangelism. That’s an “end” result for the church. “Are we evangelizing?” is a question the board should ask the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor will then answer, “Yes, here’s how, and here are our results so far this month, quarter and year.”
The governing board has defined the “ends” (ex. evangelism) and is holding the Senior Pastor accountable for the way in which evangelism is carried out in the church, or, the “means” (ex. A class which trains people to share their faith). The board says, “This is important,” and the Senior Pastor says, “Got it. Let me go develop a plan to make that happen and I’ll let you weigh in on it next meeting.”
3. The Senior Pastor must transition from chaplain to leader.
I’m not saying that every church must grow beyond 200, but what I am saying is that if that’s its desire, it won’t happen with a Senior Pastor who wants to be a church chaplain. A church chaplain is content simply teaching and loving people while someone else carries the stress of leading the church. Sometimes this happens because this type of pastor is really good at caring for people and hates leadership. Sometimes this happens because the pastor has bad theology and doesn’t believe people without Christ are lost, thus dampening any evangelistic passion.
The main reason I think this happens is because the Senior Pastor hasn’t been given the authority to lead from the church’s by-laws. The by-laws are all about responsibility and authority. In a church under 200 the Senior Pastor has not been given the responsibility and authority, from the by-laws themselves, to lead the operational matters of the church.
Let me give you an example: If something needs to be changed, like, say, canceling the Wednesday night Bible study, in a church under 200 the Senior Pastor can’t do that. If he stands up on a Sunday morning and announces that he’s going to end it because it’s ineffective, he’ll surely be met by members of the governing board after church asking, “Who gave you the authority to make such a decision?”
Well, if your church is organized the way most churches are under 200, the answer the Senior Pastor would give is “Nobody.”
In the by-law model I’m encouraging you to transition to, the question of authority would be clear. And more importantly, decisions like that would have never been made that way. Leaders on the governing board would have heard about the decision to end the Wednesday night Bible study many months prior, would have weighed in on the decision, and would have helped craft the communication of the decision made.
Here’s the deceptive thing: many Senior Pastors think that just because they have a multiple staff that they’ve changed their organizational structure. Adding staff or going to multiple services hasn’t changed anything. Until you change how the Senior Pastor relates to the governing board you have not addressed the fundamental issue. You may not be experiencing problems now, but you will. Trust me. Like wearing a shirt two sizes too small, you won’t realize how pervasively constricted your structure is until you try to move outside your governing board’s comfort zone. For all intents and purposes you are a church of, say, 475, structured like a church of 75.
The governing board serves five functions: (1) Be the Senior Pastor’s main support system (2) Be the Senior Pastor’s sounding board (3) Hold the Senior Pastor accountable for the results of the organization (4) Approve the budget and (5) Hire/fire the Senior Pastor.
The governing board oversees the Senior Pastor, and the Senior Pastor oversees the paid staff team members who oversee the volunteers and ministries of the church.
The Senior Pastor has clearly defined Executive Limitations and functions as a servant-leader, not a CEO.
All staff members report directly to the Senior Pastor who has the authority to hire and fire. No staff members attend the meetings of the governing board. In the absence of any paid staff the Senior Pastor oversees volunteers who lead the ministries of the church who eventually are brought onto the church’s payroll over time.
The Senior Pastor is a permanent, voting member of the governing board.
Future board members are selected by the decision of the current board and the Senior Pastor, not by congregational vote.
Your board meets monthly, or better yet, quarterly, to hear a report from you on the ministries and activities of the church and to offer their guidance. The potential for board micromanagement increases as meetings increase.
The Senior Pastor is the only one who leaves these meetings with an assigned task. All other board members are advisors and decision makers on high-level matters. If board members have concerns with something the Senior Pastor will say, “I’ll check on that and bring a report back next month.”
The governing board members continue actively serving and listening to church members so they have a clear understanding of the current state of the church. That way in governing board meetings they can contribute clear, substantial, and objective ideas.
Suggestions For Leading By-Law Changes
If I woke up in your shoes tomorrow, here’s how I’d go about changing the by-laws in your church
1. Rewrite the by-laws yourself.
If you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect set of by-laws appear, what would they look like? One exercise I give Senior Pastors I coach is to rewrite their own by-laws using CCV’s by-laws as a guide. I would encourage you to do the same. Take our by-laws and rewrite them for your context. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word file. That way you can just delete our church’s name and insert your own. It’s one thing to think about these matters in abstract. It’s quite another to actually put pen to paper
2. Befriend the top 3 decision makers.
If you haven’t heard John Maxwell’s tales about serving in a tiny church in Hillham, Indiana, where the main leaders were a couple named Maude and Claude, you owe it to yourself to look that up. Anytime something needed to happen, John would talk with Claude first, and then Claude would bring that matter up at church meetings. Because of his tenure Claude had more credibility than John did in the congregation, so John made that work for him instead of against him. Are you investing in the Claude’s of your church? Truly work at being their partners. Ask for their guidance. Give them a seat at the table. Work with them, not against them, especially when it comes to changing the by-laws. Give them your reworked by-laws and ask them to edit them.
3. Get a few “wins” under your belt before pushing.
Here’s a caution for Senior Pastors: don’t try to change the by-laws immediately. My suggestion is to start doing things that will cause growth in giving and attendance. Then once you have momentum on your side and excitement is building, introduce the need to change the by-laws. You want to introduce by-law change while momentum is on your side. Otherwise people will misinterpret by-law change as another one of your “hair-brained ideas” that didn’t work.
4. Stress the congregational benefits with your leaders.
Don’t focus on your potential newfound authority in the operational matters of the church, focus on the benefits to the congregation: clearer vision, more effective ministries to meet everyone’s needs, evangelistic impact, increased giving, especially to missions, etc.
5. Stress the accountability you will have.
One of the fears your leaders will have of changing the by-laws is that you will mess things up. That’s a legitimate fear because, when we are left to our own devices, we WILL mess things up. The good news is that a corollary document will serve alongside the church’s by-laws as a way to clearly define your church’s Executive Limitations of the Senior Pastor. This is a document listing all the things you can, and can’t do. The value of this document is that nothing is left to chance. My encouragement is that in the same way you’re going to rewrite CCV’s by-laws for your own context, do that with our church’s Executive Limitations document as well. Email me if you’d like a Microsoft Word version.
6. Stress the way you will need your current board members to lead in this new structure.
Undoubtedly many of the members of your current governing board will have reservations to change the by-laws because they are used to using the governing board meetings to exercise their leadership gifts. Show them how you need them to step up and lead in the new structure. Give them a new seat at the table as either a member of the reconstituted governing board or as a key volunteer in a ministry area. Help them understand that you’re not taking away their opportunity to lead; you’re giving them a better way to leverage their leadership gifts for maximum kingdom impact.
7. Stress that this is a one-time by-law change.
Board members quickly grow tired of constant change. Let them know that the organizational structure needed to break 200, will be the same one needed to break 20,000.
Over time this process of re-writing by-laws and gaining ownership will lead to a vote to adopt this new leadership structure.
If you haven’t rebranded your church in the last five years, your ministry is dated.
Rebranding is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make in 2018 to increase your effectiveness in reaching people far from God.
Rebranding is much more than creating a new logo – it involves identifying who you’re trying to reach, positioning them as the hero in your church’s story, and aligning everything (logo, font selection, color pallet, signage, etc.) to speak to them.
Right now, there’s no church out there more in need of rebranding than ours.
Our website is clunky and dated. We have this mishmash of colors, verbiage, and fonts all over the spectrum. When you get to 400+, it’s common to have a “federation of sub-ministries” as Bill Hybels calls it, where everyone is off doing their own thing regarding external facing marketing collateral.
For us that day is over. Between now and Easter we’re conducting a top-to-bottom rebranding effort here at CCV to bring consistency and uniformity across our entire church.
10 Steps To Rebrand Your Church
My guess is you’re probably due for a fine-tuning yourself. If so, here are ten steps I always encourage Senior Pastors I coach to take. They may help you.
1. Order a Ministry Area report for a 10-mile radius of your church.
2. Have staff and elders complete 200 community-wide door to door surveys which ask the following 3 questions:
Community Survey Questions
• Do you attend a church more than 2 times a month? (If yes, tell them thank you and move on. DO NOT FINISH SURVEY)
• If you were to consider going to a church, what kinds of things would they have to offer to get you to attend and come back a second time?
• On any given week what things do you and your family members participate in? Besides work? Like activities, groups, social functions?
(Do not hand them anything at this point. Or invite them to church. Nothing. Trust me on this. Just say “thank you” and be on your way.)
3. Create an avatar which will serve as the prototypical couple in your community. Based on your Percept Study and your community surveys, determine the age of this prototypical couple. Number and age of kids. Greatest needs, wants, weaknesses, desires, etc.
4. Once this information is in hand, buy copies for all staff and elders of Donald Miller’s Building A StoryBrand. It is hands-down the single best book for ministry I have ever read. Period. No exaggeration.
5. Create an overall BrandScript (Donald Miller language) for the church, then one for kids, students, adults, and worship departments.
6. Adjust the profiles you initially created of your prototypical couple based on your BrandScript.
7. Interview 3 different graphic designers. Give them your Avatar and BrandScript and tell them to check out the rebranding examples done by the amazing people at PlainJoe Studios. This will be everything they’ll need to inspire them to create initial concepts of an icon, font options, and a color palette for the entire church. I suggest getting 3 initial concepts from 3 designers because they can be hit or miss. Then once you select a designer and a direction you can finish separate identities for each department of your church that tie into the main identity.
8. Starting with all “outward facing” tools (website, social media, etc.) and working toward inward tools (programs, emails, wall colors, etc.) – bring everything into alignment with new brand.
9. Select ONE person on staff who will be responsible for brand alignment and compliance. Make it their goal to bring everything into compliance within 6-12 months.
10. Do NOT announce what you’re doing to the church at large. Software engineers use a term called “slipstream” where they introduce a change without calling attention to it (ex. the way Apple will update iPhones with IOS version 10,000.6.5 and just send it out. Let the excitement build as they see the transformation. If you announce it, people will expect “Disney” and be disappointed when much of the branding alignment is subtle.
Remember, rebranding is not about creating a “new” identity.
You already have an identity, and so do the people you’re trying to reach.
Rebranding is about bringing clarity to your identity and making it simple for the people you’re trying to reach to be a part of your story.
Then there are Senior Pastors who LOVE every aspect of preaching, but…
Secretly wonder if they would be better suited to be a teaching pastor at someone else’s church so they could focus on preaching while the other person focuses on leadership
Feel guilty because of the amount of time they like to spend reading, studying, writing, planning, and dedicating themselves to the creative sermon process
Who can clearly see the difference it would make to their church if they threw themselves into various leadership tasks, but honestly feel no inclination to do so
Who make it a regular habit of utilizing other leader’s ideas, talks, plans, visions and strategies for their own context
The Freedom to Be One or the Other
The fact is you were DESIGNED BY GOD to focus primarily on one or the other, but not both.
In fact, I would encourage you to envision your role as a Senior Pastor as falling into a 2/3 to 1/3 split between the two tasks.
If you’re a preacher who has to lead, then focus 2/3 of your time on preaching and 1/3 of your time on leadership.
If you’re a leader, who has to preach, focus 2/3 of your time on leadership and 1/3 of your time on preaching.
And don’t apologize for it.
Accept the fact that this is how God wired you and make adjustments accordingly.
Here’s the thing…
Andy Stanley is a freak of nature. So is Craig Groeschel and Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.
They are the outliers. They are the five talent type of Senior Pastors. They are the best of the best of the best in their respective denominations.
They lead like the finest corporate CEO’s and preach like Charles Spurgeon.
I’m sure they would say that they naturally gravitate towards one or the other, but the reality is they are so gifted at both preaching and leadership that their preference is almost indistinguishable.
You and me? Not so much.
The difference between our top passion/gift and our second is so pronounced that to be effective, we have to think differently about how to approach our ministry priorities.
How to Function as a Leader Who Has to Preach
If you’re a leader who has to preach, let me share some things you might find helpful:
When you write your sermons, limit yourself to only writing 1-page sermon outlines that you take into the pulpit.
Free yourself up to be okay with creating content while you preach (i.e. “making it up on the fly”) instead of writing everything out ahead of time.
Use your leadership gift and passion to create teams of people who help you with every aspect of your preaching (research, planning, writing, execution, and promotion).
Write sermons with a group of preachers.
Here’s the thing: we don’t chastise our children’s ministry teacher’s for using “other people’s stuff” do we? Of course not.
So why do you feel guilty for using other preacher’s sermons?
This isn’t an integrity issue; it’s a stewardship issue.
It makes no sense for you to spend 2/3 of your time doing something for which you have neither the gifting nor passion.
Working Together Benefits Everyone
I hear stories all the time about how someone (who is wired to lead but has to preach) who used someone else’s material and got called on the carpet by some moron in their church.
Wayne Smith of Southland Christian Church in Lexington was one of the greatest Senior Pastors of the 20th century. He, Bob Russell of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, and a number of other preachers formed a sermon-writing group and shared material.
Everyone has said that Wayne brought the jokes and Bob brought the material.
One time Wayne was preaching – spoke for a bit about something, using material that Bob had wrote – and while preaching said out loud, “Hey, wait a minute, I disagree with that!”
He literally disagreed with “himself” in the middle of one of his sermons!
Everyone in attendance laughed. More importantly, everyone knew that he didn’t write the majority of his messages and they were totally okay with that arrangement because Wayne was such an amazing leader of people.
Listen to me – people just want a good meal – they don’t care if you prepared it.
One of the most well-known churches in the country employs a full-time staff member who literally writes every sermon preached at the church.
That works for their Senior Pastor, so good for them!
The Secret to Church Impact
The fact is it’s more socially acceptable to steal other people’s LEADERSHIP material than it is their SERMON material for some reason.
This has to stop. Why? Because if you’re going to make it a moral issue, let’s be consistent.
Intellectual property is intellectual property, whether it is an 8-page manuscript or a newcomer follow-up strategy. There are Senior Pastors all over the country that have completely ripped off entire mission statements, vision statements, class outlines, church organizational systems, etc.
And this is exactly how it should be in the kingdom.
Listen, say this to yourself out loud: “The secret to church impact is STEAL, STEAL, STEAL.”
If you’re wired to lead, you don’t have time to reinvent the wheel.
Beg, borrow, re-use, incorporate, cannibalize, and rename everything that anyone will allow you to use and do it knowing that you are doing absolutely NOTHING wrong.
How to Function as a Preacher Who Has to Lead
If you’re a preacher who has to lead, let me share some things you might find helpful:
Know that some of the greatest churches ever built were led by preachers who delegated leadership to other people.
Find someone with executive leadership skills and make them your lifelong ministry partner on your staff team. Let them cover finances, HR, buildings, systems, and strategies while you focus on the ministry of the word and prayer (Acts 6).
Don’t feel compelled to create an original mission statement or church strategy. Survey what’s out there, and what fits you best, and just adopt it. Period.
While you can’t completely delegate leadership (you will always keep 1/3 of your time focused on leadership tasks) make sure you spend that 1/3 finding leaders who can lead. The tendency is to delegate to people who are less-gifted in leadership than we are because we feel intimidated. Always delegate up.
Preach vision rather than cast vision – meaning, if your gift is preaching, then create a calendar in which you are forced to systematically cover certain “vision” matters on a regular basis in your sermons. Leaders cast vision intuitively and reflexively. You will excel at this through planning and consistency.
Don’t over-spiritualize things as a way to “beat the leaders” back into their place and justify yourself as a preacher who doesn’t enjoy leadership. I see this all the time – where a Senior Pastor will make people on their team who focus on buildings, budgets, systems, and processes feel “less than” because they feel threatened by those with leadership gifts.
Reach out to a coach who can allow you to verbalize your insecurities (without fear of losing your job). They can help you put systems into place that other people can run with.
The biggest struggle Senior Pastors who love to preach but have to lead experience is self-doubt.
They can lead.
They just don’t enjoy it as much as they do everything involved with preaching.
Pastor From Your Strengths
My encouragement, to the roughly 60% of you who are in this boat, is to follow the advice Dick Alexander of Lifebridge Christian Church in Cincinnati shared with me a long time ago:
“You must cover the leadership bases until God brings the right person to take over that role for you. Until then just make sure you don’t get in the way. You must develop enough proficiency in leadership that you don’t get in the way of the church moving forward, but stay humble enough that you’re willing to delegate when the time is right.”
That’s about the best advice I’ve ever heard.
Become the best leader you can be, even though it’s not your top strength.
Then pass the baton when you find someone you trust who is content leading from the second chair. They can move the church beyond where you could take it.
Give Yourself the Freedom to Be a Preacher or Leader
Your greatest contribution to the kingdom is going to be where you are most gifted and passionate.
Stop listening to that shaming voice in your head.
Stop listening to the trolls in the pastoral community who try to make you feel guilty for leaning on and incorporating other people’s stuff.
And start enjoying the freedom that comes from accepting how God wired you to impact people’s lives.
Bob Goff says he makes it a habit to quit something every Thursday. I think Senior Pastors would benefit from doing this annually.
There are two things I know for certain about people like you and me:
We routinely do things that self-sabotage our health, emotional well-being, and ministry effectiveness.
We know these things exist, but don’t address them, because we refuse to take time to catch our breath, prayerfully write them down, then drive a stake in the ground and say, “NO MORE.”
Last week I finally made time.
Below is my 2018 “To NOT Do” list.
It’s all the things I’m NOT proud of that I did in 2017.
I’ve asked each of my staff members to create a similar list and bring it to an upcoming staff meeting. We’ll share our lists with each other, then pray for strength to leave our self-sabotaging behaviors behind for good.
I want to encourage you to do this with your staff, and then if you’re willing, share your list on social media. If you do, please tag me.
To make going public easier, I’ll go first…
Brian Jones’ 2018 “To NOT Do” List
I will not allow myself to emotionally eat when I’m under extraordinary amounts of pressure like I did in 2017. I will pre-plan healthy eating options and healthy ways to blow off steam other than eating food, watching television, or surfing the web.
I will not allow myself to view my ministry here as “my” ministry. As the church gets larger, I will work harder to make sure my wife serves alongside me and has ample opportunities to express her giftedness.
I will not allow day-to-day matters to keep me from planning the most compelling sermon series’ possible. Plutarch noted that Spartan mothers used to tell their sons, “Come back with your shield – or on it,” as they went off to war. Because preaching is more important than everything else I do, combined, I will go off-site to engage in advanced study with the same warrior-like intensity and valor.
I will not allow C leaders to pressure me into meeting with them during the week when I have more important priorities to accomplish. I will learn to say no to C leaders so I can say yes to developing the A leaders who will love and lead them.
I will not give out my cell phone number and private email address to people who shouldn’t have them. I will risk looking like I don’t care so I can avoid being pulled in 50 directions.
I will not ignore planning my week’s top 5-6 priorities on Sunday afternoon. I will not allow myself to push them aside when “more important” matters arise. I will make a note of these new issues and incorporate them into next week’s focus.
I will not sacrifice theological integrity to grow this church. I will not play to the theological bottom line, no matter how much pressure I feel as the church grows. I will keep 1 Timothy 4:16 before me at all times.
I will not allow myself to ignore preaching on hard things for fear that people will leave. I will trust that winnowing the presence of people offended by the gospel will only make us stronger. “The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.” – King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3.
I will not accept mediocre sermon content from myself when I know I’m capable of preaching excellent sermons every week. I will prepare for each Sunday like it is Christmas Eve or Easter because, for someone far from God, it is.
I will not work on Fridays and Saturdays. I will trust that consistently working 60 hours a week Sunday through Thursday will be sufficient to ignite long-term kingdom impact.
I will not allow myself to not have a life. I will “pick my head up” from the heat of battle each day and relax, be the kind of friend that others wish they had, and enjoy the journey more.
I will not allow myself to keep unproductive staff on the team because I’m always thinking “I can fix them.” I will remind myself that keeping people who shouldn’t be on the team not only hurts the church, and our staff, but most importantly, them.
I will not allow myself to ignore holding 3-4 Leadership Evangelism meetings a week with the 100 most influential leaders in our region. I will play the long game by investing now in non-Christian leaders who won’t impact our church for 5-15 years. I will remind myself how easy it is to ignore the Saul’s around me, not realizing they are Paul’s in the making.
I guarantee there’s a decision you’ve been putting off that if you postpone it any longer, it is going to cost you dearly.
How do I know this?
Because I have an earned doctorate from Harvard in the science of “I’m so stressed right now and have so many things coming at me and I’m kinda afraid of the potential backlash so I’m going to choose to put _______, ______, _____, and _____ out of my mind so for a while I can achieve some semblance of calm in my life right now.”
Have you enrolled in that degree program too?
I bet you have.
I bet if we sat down and did a top to bottom analysis of your life and ministry we would find not just one or two, but maybe five or six significant decisions you’ve been putting off.
That’s because inaction plagues Senior Pastors.
The Causes of Inaction
We lead underfunded volunteer organizations that put us into a constant state of playing whack-a-mole. Once we put this fire out, three more take its place. Just when we lead to Christ, disciple, and install a fantastic youth leader, he gets transferred to Topeka. Just when we get unified in one area, six more complainers peek their heads in another.
The weight and sheer exhaustion that you face as the point leader of a local church is extraordinary.
That’s why it makes perfect sense for you to occasionally put decisions off. Church leadership is not for the faint of heart.
“Honestly, let’s just wait until the Lord reveals an answer.”
“I just don’t have peace about this decision right now.”
“We need to gather more facts.”
“We’re not ready yet.”
We say these kinds of things all the time.
The simple fact is God has placed a special group of people in the body of Christ to make decisions when there are few facts, little peace, and severe opposition.
These people are called leaders, and as a Senior Pastor, you’re one of them.
The High Price of Inaction
As a way of illustrating the negative consequences of putting off hard decisions, I always point Senior Pastors I coach to the fateful decision made by our founding fathers concerning slavery.
In 1787, when the American colonies ratified the Constitution, they were faced with a difficult problem. Many of the leaders knew that if they permanently banned slavery in the constitution, they wouldn’t be able to get some of the colonies to adopt it. So instead of doing the hard work of facing the problem head-on at the time, what did they do?
They put an article in the constitution which postponed the decision for twenty years. Article 1, Section 9 reads,
“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight…”
You can understand their rationale. Why harm the potential unity of the states over an issue they could address later?
The problem was when they punted the football down the road, the decision became exponentially more difficult.
According to the first census of the United States, the number of slaves in the United States in 1790 was 694,207. Twenty years later, around the time when they would need to “finally” make the decision to end slavery or not, that number had grown 39% to 1,130,781. Then by 1860, that number grew to 3,950,546.
Rather than addressing the problem head on in 1787, the inaction of our founding fathers brought FIVE TIMES as many slaves to the United States and eventually cost 620,000 lives in a bloody Civil War to “finally” settle the issue.
Here’s the thing: there are always unintended consequences to inaction, and they’re almost always terrible in nature.
Consider the cost of inaction when we Senior Pastors remain indecisive in the following three areas.
Not Firing Staff
One of the first things I do when I begin coaching a Senior Pastor is perform a complete staff analysis. One by one we’ll analyze each staff member by asking one simple question: when your church doubles in size, will this person still be able to lead in this role? If the answer is no, then that person needs another seat on the bus, or needs to go altogether.
Here’s the thing: if they can’t lead in that seat when you’re twice your current size, then they’re not going to help you get to twice your size. The cost of keeping them in that role dramatically reduces your ability to fulfill the Great Commission as a church. Add in the year of transition it takes to find, train and deploy a new staff member, the cost of your inaction is massive.
Not Preaching On Hard Topics
While this website is dedicated to providing practical tools for leaders in the trenches (hence why I rarely discuss theology), I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the cost of inaction when it comes to preaching on hard things. Every time I preach on what the Bible teaches on homosexuality people literally stand up and storm out of the room. People literally get up and leave likes it’s a bad movie.
Listen, you must preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2). You must teach on the hard things. You must be willing to lose people. Over the last year, I’ve preached on what the Bible says about war, terrorism, bakers serving gays in Indiana, guns, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, transgenderism, sex, and the worst scourge to face our country in years: country music (Sorry. Bad Joke. I’m more of a Jack Johnson kind of guy).
As hard as we’ve worked over the years to reach people far from God, we’ve undoubtedly turned away at least as many people as we’ve spoken the truth to in love. And I’m perfectly fine with that. Remember, our goal isn’t to grow the churches we serve. Our goal is to make disciples. Growth is the by-product of the goal. The cost of inaction in this area? That’s simple: avoid hard things, and you become spiritually brittle as a body. Period.
Our goal isn’t to grow the churches we serve, but to make disciples. Growth is the by-product. Click To Tweet
Not Having a Competitive Compensation Structure
We know we’re not in this for the money. None of us went into the ministry to get wealthy. We understand sacrifice. But I can’t tell you how many Senior Pastors I coach have leadership boards filled with great people who don’t know how to pay them appropriately.
You need a written pay scale in place based on comps from other churches your size and budget. You need to take into consideration your region and denomination. Most important, every position in your church needs to find its place on that scale. I would encourage you to go to MinistryPay.com and work alongside your leaders to set up a fair compensation structure that will grow with you as a church.
There are lots of other decisions that Senior Pastors punt down the field, but I find that because of our desire to not appear greedy, we simply avoid this topic altogether. Stop it. Besides going broke and having nothing in retirement, the cost of inaction for Senior Pastors who postpone addressing this is huge. When you avoid this topic your leadership culture remains bush league. To grow you need to create professional systems in your organization, and that includes financial ones.
At some point – after having worked through everything you need to work through – the only way to break through your next attendance barrier is to commit yourself to what I call “a series of bold moves.”
The good news is the “bold moves” I’m talking about are almost always the same for each attendance barrier. Meaning, if you can’t break the 200 barrier or the 2,000 barrier, chances are your comrades in the trenches trying to break through those same exact attendance barriers will need to commit themselves to making the same bold moves to move the congregations they serve forward.
The bad news is these bold moves can be frightening to attempt, which is why most Senior Pastors never actually try to implement them.
Recently I had Joshua 1:9 emblazoned on the wall of my office in large decals. You know the verse, right?
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9
I wanted to be reminded of this verse every single time I walk into my study.
Lack of know-how is usually not the thing that holds me back. Fear holds me back. Fear of how people will react. Fear of what my ministry would look like if I didn’t self-sabotage it. Fear of being successful. Fear of hard work.
As crazy as it sounds – it’s easier to walk up to a growth barrier and then high-tail it back to Egypt. There’s food in Egypt. And familiarity. And comfort. People complain back in Egypt, but not as much as in the desert. Most importantly, I don’t really need to rely on God back in Egypt. To make it through the desert I must trust that manna will fall from the sky.
Friends, after everything has been tweaked and moved and recalibrated, it comes down to choosing action over fear.
Here are four of the most common “bold moves” that need to be made, and the unique manifestation of them to be found at each size.
Staffing “Bold Moves”
At the 100 barrier, the bold move to be made with regard to staffing is simply to step out on faith and put the Senior Pastor on the payroll full-time.
At 200 the bold move is to bring on a second staff member. Lay leader boards almost always think this person should be someone who covers both youth and children. This is a mistake. It needs to be a worship pastor, then children’s (see my article on The 3 Buckets).
At 400 the bold move is to stop hiring anyone that has a pulse that can simply keep plates spinning, and to hire what I call a single “blue chip” staff member – this is the person who is simply GREAT at what they do. This person is almost always someone you can’t really afford at the time, and could get a job at a church four times your size. Their presence immediately changes your staff culture.
At 600 you should have four full-time staff members (other than yourself) who cover four keys areas: worship, children, youth, and adults. The bold move at this stage will always be to CUT other things to get these four bases covered.
This attendance barrier is almost always broken by hiring an Executive Pastor. Not before this, and certainly not much after this attendance range. My bold move at this stage was to raise funding for my Executive Pastor through a capital Campaign, otherwise, I never would have been able to afford him.
This barrier is twice the size of the 600 barrier, and not coincidentally is broken by having four people covering the same four key departments of worship, children, youth, and adults. The only difference between breaking 1,200 instead of 600 is that to break the 1,200 barrier these four people must be OUTSTANDING and capable of leading their own staff teams of 3-4 full-time/part-time people themselves. At this stage, the bold move is to get the wrong people off the bus, the right people on the bus, the right butts in the right seats, and everyone working together and headed in the same direction.
To break this barrier, the bold move is always related to staff re-organization. Up till say 1,400 or 1,600, a church staffing structure has remained largely intact since the 600 days. To break this barrier, the bold move is to further stratify your staff and have your directors who lead each department to meet as a “Senior Staff” separate from the rest of the staff team.
Facility “Bold Moves”
Getting A Facility
The first bold move with regards to a facility will always be to move from meeting in a home, like when we had 26 people meeting each week in my house, to a rented facility. Taking on additional rent that you can’t really “afford” can be frightening, but necessary. That’s why it’s called a “bold move.” I remember those days. Geez, that was scary.
The next bold move after that is to buy land and construct a permanent church home. If you think committing to rent was terrifying, just wait for this bold move.
Thankfully the days of the missional fad have almost waned, and the critical ways church planters have talked about permanent facilities has almost come to an end. Having a building is an essential key to your growth and impact strategy. The key is to avoid the three pitfalls of church construction: too small, too ugly, and too expensive.
Jettisoning A Facility
Some of you ARE in a facility that is too small, too ugly, or too expensive. Your bold move is to jettison that thing so you can emerge from under its weight.
Going back to a temporary set-up for 5-7 years may just be what the doctor ordered. Or it may be the stupidest decision you could possibly make.
Expanding A Facility
Most Senior Pastors aren’t going to pitch their facility. Most simply need to rebrand and expand it. I always send leaders facing this challenge to my friends at Plain Joe Studios and have them skim through their portfolio of rebranding work.
Can you imagine what would happen to your church culture if you made a series of bold moves and completely rebranded the overall look and feel of your ministry facility from the website to the front door to the worship area?
Rebranding a facility can be done rather inexpensively compared to the long-term payout. Every five years a facility needs to be re-branded, or within seven years it will quickly look dated. Consider it the cost of owning a facility.
Lay Leader “Bold Moves”
To move past the 400 barrier, you must move to a policy-governance government system (see my article 3 By-Law Changes Needed To Break 100, 200, 400 and 600). The problem is this shift almost always has to be voted on by the congregation (per the by-laws) and comes via losing some or all of your governing board in the process.
I believe this transition doesn’t have to be a fight, and doesn’t have to involve the shedding of metaphorical blood to make it happen, but the only reason this transition is capable of happening is because the Senior Pastor is willing to commit to both.
Only when the Senior Pastor is willing to die on this hill, but doesn’t, will the governing board that holds the Powers Strings take their leader seriously.
Annual Lay Leader Development Process
I have a friend whose church grew from 1,200 to 8,000 over ten years in the suburbs of Chicago. When I asked him what the tipping point was to make that happen, he said, “I found the ten best leaders I could find every year and started pouring my life into them.”
At every stage of growth, the bold move that always serves as the “lead domino” in a growth strategy is finding, pouring into, and deploying your best leaders and givers.
For many Senior Pastors, their boldest move is saying no to the clamoring of their C leaders and strategically replicating themselves with the top 5% who can move the ball down the field.
Fundraising “Bold Moves”
Developing A Donor Development Strategy
The first and most important bold move any Senior Pastor can make regarding developing a funding strategy is to actually think through and document a strategy for developing donors.
“Passing the plate” isn’t a strategy. Neither is simply praying that God meets your church’s needs. God has already answered your prayers. It’s called leadership, and leaders know that hope is not a strategy. It’s abdication of responsibility.
There is a very clear reason why people give, just as there are proven strategies that help them connect the dots between their generosity and changed lives. Senior Pastors who make the bold move and say “I own this” and seek coaching and pull together their best minds to formulate (and execute) a strategy always end up having the funding they need for the vision God has given them.
When I’m talking about a “donor development strategy” I’m talking about what happens the first time a new person gives $10, to your preaching calendar, to your approach for getting 75% of your church to give via online avenues, to campaigns, etc.
Relational Donor Strategy
The biggest move, by far, comes when a Senior Pastor views it as their job to know who the top 5% of the givers are in the church and to develop them to their highest capacity.
Romans 12:8 tells us that high-capacity giving is a spiritual gift. Why would you take the time to develop someone who has a teaching gift, but not take the time and develop someone who has the gift of giving?
After a donor development strategy is in place, one of the boldest moves Senior Pastors I coach are most reluctant to make is to shift their thinking from “not knowing” to viewing relationship building with their highest donors as one of their top priorities.
Show me a Senior Pastor who makes this shift, and I’ll show you a leader who serves a congregation that has the resources needed to break barrier after barrier after barrier.
Like I said, after everything has been tweaked and moved and recalibrated, the only way to break through your next growth barrier is to choose action over fear and commit to a “series of bold moves.”
U2 just released the lead single off their upcoming album Songs of Experience (due December 1, 2017), and if the album is anything like the single, it’s going to be simply terrible.
Just as bad as the album before it, Songs of Innocence, released in 2014.
And just as bad as the album before that one, No Line on the Horizon, released in 2009.
Not since 2004, when the album released How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, 13 long years prior, has the band produced anything that reaches out and grabs you by the throat.
Don’t believe me? Name one song they’ve released in the last decade that you know by heart? That appeared as a track in a movie? That gained critical acclaim? That shaped the next ten years of a genre?
I think I know why.
The Demise of U2
Soon after songs like “Vertigo” forced their way into iPods and car stereos everywhere in 2004, Bono became one of the most famous people on the planet.
And one of the most ridiculed.
He began walking out of the halls of Congress and into the punch lines of late night comedians.
You tell me that didn’t affect him?
He’s human. Of course, it affected him.
Five years later they released No Line on the Horizon – their most sleep-inducing album to date.
Why did that happen? How did one of the greatest rock bands of all time produce a complete flop?
I believe it’s the same reason Senior Pastors stop being effective. U2 began asking the single most damning question any leader can ask, “Will people like this?”
In 2004, they released songs that grabbed you by the shoulders and demanded that you wake up and pay attention.
In 2009, they released songs that made people yawn.
“The best art divides the audience,” said the legendary record producer Rick Rubin.
Having shepherded such diverse, genre-defining artists as Jay-Z with his “99 Problems” to Adele’s 21, he understands what drives great music.
“People want things that are really passionate. Often the best version is not for everybody. The best art divides the audience. If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well. Because it is pushing the boundary.”
The Lesson for Senior Pastors
Pastors, did you hear that? “If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well.”
Insert “sermon” or “vision” or “philosophy of ministry” or “leadership style” for the word “record” and see how that sounds.
“If you preach a sermon and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well.”
U2 used to be great BECAUSE Bono had a messiah complex. BECAUSE they started as a punk band and WANTED to tick you off. BECAUSE he stood up to American Christians who called themselves followers of Jesus but had abandoned those with Aids in Africa.
Most Senior Pastors I begin coaching tell me stories about how they used to be risk takers. They used to preach with boldness. They used to not care what bottom-feeding church hopping consumer Christians thought of their sermons.
And they had IMPACT because of it.
Yes, they divided their hearers. Some of their people weren’t too happy. They got criticized, received notes in the offering bowls, and got flame mails no Christian should ever have to read.
The opposite of creating division by pushing the boundaries with a timely message from a holy God is not congregational unity, but disobedience.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
The best sermons divide the audience.
The best mission statements cause some people to leave, and others to rally together.
The best leaders, worship, outreach, and a long list of other ministry activities – all have the same effect.
Have the guts to reach deep down inside and make a radical commitment to be your most authentic self.
Forget the critics.
Forget the crowd.
Forget wondering whether people will like what you’re doing.
Grab the world by the throat and watch what happens.
Notice I did not say IF you lose confidence in yourself.
I said WHEN you lose confidence in yourself.
It’s going to happen. You WILL lose confidence in yourself. Multiple times over the years in fact. It is not a matter of IF but WHEN.
The question is why?
In my experience, Senior Pastors lose confidence in themselves when they are unable to lead their congregations to grow numerically, increase their offerings, and generate conversions.
Changing Attendance is Harder Than You Think
Offerings and conversions are unquestionably the easiest things to change in the life of a church.
You can change your financial situation in a matter of months. If you’re willing to follow the admittedly hard to hear advice I have in my article “What To Do When Facing A Massive Budget Shortfall” and combine that advice with THIS article and THIS one, you’ll change your financial situation in 90 days. I promise.
Conversions? That can change in 90 days as well. If you’re willing to do THIS and THIS and THIS AND THIS, things will change almost immediately.
But changing a church’s attendance is about as easy to fix as that underperforming restaurant in your area that’s been in decline for years.
Things won’t change for that Chinese restaurant by whipping up a new Kung Pao Chicken recipe or printing new menus. There are systemic things to address like location, management, branding, supply chain management, facility appearance, maintenance, etc.
The list of things to address is massive, and rarely does one know where to start first. Like Senior Pastors of declining churches, the owners are busy running the restaurant and putting out fires and trying to keep everyone paid in the midst of mounting personal despair.
After helping dozens of Senior Pastors like yourself find a path forward, I’ve learned ten undeniable truths about church attendance – the way churches decline, how they pull out of a spiral, and what this does to a Senior Pastor’s soul in the process.
Ten Undeniable Truths About Church Attendance
Once a church’s attendance stagnates, it’s about 50-50 whether they’ll ever actually grow again. Most churches reach a certain attendance threshold and then stay there until the church disbands. Chances are that whatever attendance you’re at right now, you will NEVER grow beyond that.
No matter how bad it is right now, it’s only going to get worse with time.
Even if you wanted to grow again, it takes 3-5 years to re-engineer the culture, staffing, facility, and resource base needed to make that happen.
Since there’s a LONG lag time between the desire to grow and the ability to grow, frustration quickly mounts, and it’s almost always self-directed frustration by the Senior Pastor.
The leaders around the Senior Pastor almost always have more faith in the Senior Pastor than the Senior Pastor does. However, after a few years, even the most loyal of leaders start to get antsy.
When this happens, Senior Pastors become outwardly defensive and inwardly depressed. I know because I’ve been there.
Few Senior Pastors in this state are willing to make the emotional investment needed to change themselves. That’s because they’re too inwardly obsessed and broken.
While the Senior Pastor may not have been the cause of the church’s decline, they will most certainly be the church’s only ticket out of a spiral. Churches will not grow unless their Senior Pastor leads the charge. Period.
Unless the point leader can find a way to (a) go out and find the tools/insights needed to lead the church in growth and (b) stay motivated in the 3-5 year “pit of despair” when things are being tried with few tangible results, they’ll eventually give up hope.
There’s always hope.
How to Recapture Your Edge
Are you in that long lag time between the desire to grow and the ability to grow?
Let me give you three things to ponder that will help you re-calibrate the frustration you’ve been feeling.
1. Make Sure You’re Comparing Apples to Apples
Much of what passes for church growth these days is either (a) larger churches stealing church members from smaller, under-resourced ones or (b) more entrepreneurial churches “adopting” churches as their campuses.
There’s a ministry friend in the Midwest who is an entrepreneurial genius. He’s a multi-site madman. He approaches dying churches with good properties in towns of 25,000 or less and appeals to them to become a satellite of his church. He then gets the church to deed the property over to his church, hires a campus pastor, rebrands the facility, and pipes his sermons in via satellite every Sunday morning.
It’s a great strategy.
Until people start talking about how amazing he is at “growing” his church.
His church didn’t “grow.” You realize that, right? All he did was re-baptize Sam Walton’s strategy for launching new Walmarts.
Personally, I think this is a GREAT 21st century evangelism strategy. I laud him for his vision and sacrifice. I especially laud him for his sincere faith and humility.
When in one week his church “jumps” by 200+ people in attendance, he knows all he did was “take over” a church. He rejects any comparisons because he knows that comparing your singular non-growing church to his is comparing apples to oranges. He fights against this comparison with every ounce of his being.
I have another ministry friend in Texas whose church is one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. It’s one of those churches everyone visits and fawns over for his amazing leadership and clarity of vision.
The problem is I know him. When a Senior Pastor of a megachurch down the road – a church five times his size – faced hard times, he told me, “His people have started visiting my church. I’m going to go after them. I need their giving.”
Sure enough, three years later, his church had literally doubled in size and was on the “fastest growing churches” in America list.
I bring up these two examples to simply ask: are these the people you’re comparing yourself to?
If so, STOP IT.
You must compare apples to apples, and you’ll find that when you do, the absolute vast majority of Senior Pastors who are in your shoes are facing the EXACT kinds of situations you’re facing.
So, turn the shame volume in your head down a few notches and take Third Eye Blind’s advice and “step back from that ledge my friend.”
You don’t suck as a leader.
You are normal.
2. Create Your Own Conferences/Learning Experiences.
One of the keys to finding a path forward as a congregation is for you to stare at yourself in the mirror and admit to yourself that you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
I mean that.
Tell yourself, “I haven’t the foggiest idea what to do next.”
Nothing happens until you get to that point because until you can admit that to yourself, you can rest assured that you’re not hungry. You don’t really want it bad enough to go out and find the answers. You’re not in search mode yet.
The problem is that most elder-board situations aren’t healthy enough for you to just blurt that out at your next meeting.
Instead, you have to find people OUTSIDE of your church with which to bear your soul and from which to seek objective advice.
Besides coaching, one of the best ways to do that is to create your own conference. Early May is one of the best times to plan a trip like this for late summer.
About six years ago I stopped going to Exponential and other regional church conferences for pastors – not because I don’t find them inspiring (they always are), I just don’t find the information shared very practical for my specific situation.
What I decided to do was “create my own” conference each year. Here‘s what I did:
I picked a large metro area where I could easily find a ton of churches.
I located churches that had recently grown through the same attendance barrier we were facing.
I then set up meetings with the Senior Pastors of 8-10 of those similar-sized churches. I created a list of questions I asked each of them, and then ended by sharing my situation. I asked them, “If you were in my shoes what would you do?”
Then I had that Senior Pastor take me on a tour of their facility. I stole all their literature and took a million pictures and videos to take back home.
In the last six years, I’ve been to Orlando, Los Angeles (twice), Las Vegas, Northern California, Denver/Colorado Springs, and Dallas. I simply took the same amount of money that I would have spent on a conference and created my own.
There are some very practical benefits to making these trips.
I realized I wasn’t the terrible leader I had convinced myself I had become at each barrier I faced.
I had a ton of fun. I made 3 appointments in the mornings/early afternoons and then did fun sightseeing stuff in the late afternoons and evenings.
I realized I have to “see” a place. I have to walk into an auditorium at the next stage of growth. I need to count the parking spaces. I need to sit in on their staff meeting and see how it looks with a few more people at the table.
It greatly helped my staff and elder board to “see” these churches as well. I’ve gone back to the videos and pictures from these churches countless times. “Need an idea for what to do to that kids’ classroom? Here, look at Eastside or First Christian’s color scheme. It’s really cool.”
These trips gave my wife and I an opportunity to fall in love with ministry again. Words cannot express what it meant to us when Rick Stedman and his wife Amy took the time to meet with us over lunch so many years ago. They were such an encouragement. Suddenly we didn’t feel alone.
3. Refuse to Play the Victim
I get it.
In 2008, the same month the stock market crashed, we broke ground on a $6,000,000 facility expansion.
In a matter of 9 months, we went from a rapidly growing congregation garnishing national attention to a church whose lender couldn’t pay the contractor’s bills.
Over the next four years, I went through personal ministry hell.
Staff had to be fired.
We burned through every cent we had and accumulated $500,000 in unpaid accounts payable.
I gained weight.
Went on an anti-depressant.
And dug an emotional hole in which to crawl and simply hang on and survive.
If it weren’t for the amazing leaders on my Leadership Team, I simply wouldn’t have made it.
When did it turn around?
The day I admitted to my Leadership Team I had no idea what I was doing, but that I was going to visit other churches and find out. In fact, over the next four years, I visited 30 different churches around the country. Over time I found a path forward and found my confidence again.
More specifically, things turned around for me and the church the day I stopped viewing myself as a victim facing impossible circumstances and instead began to view myself as a leader who wasn’t going to go down without a fight.