Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Pastor and Growth of a Congregation

In my last blog, I talked about the dynamic of the size of a congregation, how long it has been that way, and how these dynamics predict the possibility of growth in churches. I learned this from Lyle Schaller.

According to Lyle Schaller, the second dynamic that comprises 80% is contained in “Who is the pastor and what does the pastor know about growing a church?”

To be more specific, what Schaller was asking was on a general level and a specialized level. The general question is “what does the pastor know about growing anything?” The principles of growth extend to many areas of life. For example, a farmer knows that she will have to prepare the soil, plant seed, fertilize, weed and eventually harvest. A business owner knows that he will have to identify a need, meet the need, and make this known to his market. This kind of knowledge about growth is translatable into congregational life.

Unfortunately, many clergy believe that by preaching sermons, offering the sacraments, and making pastoral visits is all that is needed lead a church toward growth. Of course, it is important for every pastor to be faithful to our pastoral duties. I am just saying that carrying these out faithfully will not lead to growth. I usually phrase this as “managing a church and growing it are not the same thing.” Here seminary education can also be a hindrance because what professors think their students should make a priority is not what leads to growth in congregations. Consequently, armed with such seminary training, new pastors go out and are ineffectual in growing their congregations.

The specialized question is “What does the pastor know about growing the size congregation that he or she is leading?” Growing a pastoral size church with 100 people attending each Sunday is very different from growing a congregation with 400 in attendance. The pastor needs to focus on the activities that matter for each size.

For example, when I was working for the Diocese of Texas, I was meeting with the young vicar of a congregation with an ASA around 40. The priest was just out of seminary and new to the congregation. He was what I would call a warm- hearted evangelical (a Trinity Seminary graduate) who wanted to lead folks to Christ and to grow the Church. But after leading it for about a year, there had not been much growth. So I asked him, do you know what a priest in a congregation of this size has to do to grow the congregations? He speculated about evangelistic preaching, bible study and a few other areas but said that he had been doing these and didn’t see any results.

We were at lunch so I took a napkin and said, let me write down the five things you will need to do to actually grow this place. I did and then handed the list to him. He read the first item and looked surprised. He then said, “That explains our two new families.”

The first thing I wrote was this; Spend 15 to 20% of your time with un-churched people. In a smaller church, the pastor needs to nurture relationships with people who have no church affiliation. The two families were a result of his helping coach his son’s baseball team. We then discussed the resistance that his congregation would have to him doing this. By the way, when I have told this story at clergy conferences over the years, the most common question I get asked is “What were the other four?” I respond that it doesn’t matter if you don’t do number 1.

Of course, the creative management of staff is critical to the Rector of a Resource size church. So to is creative planning of new areas of ministry. The pastor of a large church must also see to developing an effective assimilation program for the church.

Moving beyond these two specific questions, I would point to the following as important issues for pastors that relate to the growth potential of a congregation.

1. Does the pastor have a contagious spirituality?

2. Can the pastor communicate the mission of the Church and of this specific congregation?

3. Does the pastor like people and is willing to spend time especially with un-churched people? I find too many clergy today who spend too much time in the office and at their computers. Christianity is about people, their relationship with Christ and one another.

4. Can the pastor disciple present members with an eye toward their sharing their faith with others?

5. Does the pastor believe that becoming a Christian is absolutely important?

6. Does the pastor believe that people are “lost” and that lost people are as important to Christ as present Church members?

7. Does the pastor fear conflict and spend too much time trying to please present members?

8. Can the pastor explain “how” to become a Christian to someone who is not a church member?

9. Can the pastor communicate enthusiasm and inspire others?

10. Is the pastor a life-long learner who has a curiosity about leadership and is willing to change and grow?

I know these can be tough questions, but they are worth asking ourselves.

Lastly, I am asked frequently if the skills for growing a church can be learned. The answer is yes, but most frequently the skills needed are learned from a mentor or another pastor who has them.