One of the harsh realities of any church is that people are constantly cycling in and out. Regardless of the reasons for it, the fact is that we will lose some people. When that happens, and especially when the family leaving is close to the core, the pastor and people left must wrestle with feelings of betrayal, loss, and grief.
Remember that churches are always in a state of flux. In larger churches, pastors may not even realize when people walk out the door. In 200churches, we are privileged and burdened with the knowledge of when a family leaves. Remembering that this is just a reality of all churches helps the pill taste a little less bitter.
Complicating issues further, many 200churches are located in small towns, where the pastor and church members may frequently see people who have left the church. This can cause awkward interactions, and even painful feelings for the pastor, his or her spouse, and the church members. As pastors, we must choose the kind of attitude we are going to have toward those who leave our churches. Having some experience in this area, here are four reflections on how to manage your thoughts and heart when people leave your church.
1. Recognize that the Body of Christ is so much bigger than your church.
This is so obvious, but so pivotal to remember. When a family leaves for another church, it’s important to remember that they have not become an enemy. The Kingdom of God is bigger than our four walls.
2. Allow yourself to feel the loss, but don't take it personally.
Allow yourself to feel betrayal, grief, anger, or frustration. Trying to bottle up your feelings will only backfire in the long run. If necessary, see a counselor or trusted adviser to gain perspective and don’t allow bitterness, resentment, or unforgiveness to take over. And always remember, it’s not personal. Don’t allow someone’s departure to make you second guess every decision and public statement you make.
3. Let their leaving be a learning opportunity.
This will be hard, but is very important. When a family leaves, take a moment and consider if there are some things that should change. Talk it over with your spouse or church leadership, people who will speak honestly to you. Learning from difficulties instead of just being defensive is a mark of a good leader, and the people in your church will take their cue from you.
4. Treat them as though they never left.
Regardless of the terms someone leaves on, we need to speak to them, love them, and treat them exactly the same in any interactions as if they are still attending our church. People might be surprised to be treated with such kindness (especially those who were less than kind when they walked out) but it is our responsibility to do so. Remember, these people are not our enemies simply because they no longer worship with us. If we are the Body of Christ, we are family, no matter what building we worship in.
There is no denying that it hurts when someone leaves a church. The pastor, the congregation, and the people leaving all experience hurt and pain. If you’re dealing with this hurt in your own church, we hope this has been helpful. If you have experience with this and have something to add, please leave a comment!
In a 200church, we have to constantly fight against our instinct to do everything ourselves. We know that people are busy, we think we can do it better, and we assume that we’re better off doing something ourselves than taking the time to train someone else. On top of that, we want to avoid looking like we’re trying to “get out of work” if we delegate tasks we could easily handle ourselves.
In large churches, it is impossible for a pastor to do everything himself, but often in 200churches we can accomplish many if not all tasks solo. Despite the fact that we can do the work, let me encourage you to resist the temptation to do it all. While it might be nice to see things done “right” or to save the time and energy it takes to train a volunteer, there are downsides to trying to do all the work on our own:
1. Your church will be limited by your finite energy level. Even if you’re young and energetic, you’ll eventually tire and wear out. It’s only a matter of time. Too many twenty-something pastors have ended up burned out in their “successful ministry”.
2. Your church will be limited by your gift set. You may be the most gifted person in your church or ministry, but you still don’t have all the gifts. If you don’t delegate to others, the things you are not gifted in or able to do will go undone.
3. Your church will be limited by your time constraints. Even Superman only has 24 hours in a day. The day you delegate is the day you get more than 24 hours – as you allow others to contribute their hours to the cause of Jesus and the vision of your/their church!
The purpose of 200churches is not to pressure you to GROW your church. We think that the Holy Spirit will take care of that. We think that if you are healthy and vibrant in your relationship with Christ, and have committed yourself to life-long learning and servant leadership, Jesus will take care of building his church. One of the ways he will do that is through his Body – you AND your people.
Here are the first steps to delegating/equipping your people to serve alongside you, and not just watch you serve.
1. Get to know the disciples in your church. They are disciples, aren’t they? How are they wired? What do they love to do? What are they good at? What do others pay them to do? What is their personality and background? Get to know them by spending time with them in church and out of church, at their house, the mall, a great restaurant, or the golf course.
2. Ask people what they would like to do. Chances are they are highly gifted and/or skilled in an area where you are not. They are just waiting for someone to ask them to help. Most people don’t get involved because they are not asked – make the ask!
3. Train people to do the work. My dad taught me how to change oil when I was a kid. First, I watched him do it. The next time, we did it together. The third time, he watched me do it, and eventually he just started sending me out to the garage to do it! As leaders of 200churches, we follow these same steps to train our volunteers. When we invest in people through training, they grow personally and we’re free to focus elsewhere.
4. Finally, we must teach them passages like Ephesians 4, Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12. Delegation is allowing them to serve like Jesus, gifted by his Spirit, for the glory of the Father and benefit of the Body of Christ.
Even when it seems harder, we have to resist the temptation to do everything ourselves. The short-term investment of time and energy will pay dividends when our people are actively serving and we’re free to focus on other tasks.
For several years I was a solo pastor in a small church of about 35. I would go to my basement office to study. I had no computer, no cell phone, iPad, Kindle, or Internet access (it hadn't been invented yet!). I would live for the arrival of Leadership Journal in the mail, where I could read articles from other pastors on issues and situations I faced in ministry, and look at the cartoons!
I recall the day a friend gave me my very first leadership lesson on cassette from John Maxwell. I was blown away! It was soon followed by a bootleg copy of a message Bill Hybels had given to his New Community crowd. I listened to these tapes so many times I wore them out. I was starved to interact with other pastors on the topic of ministry. I needed colleagues and mentors, but had none.
As leaders of 200churches, it’s important for us to learn from a network of mentors. Today, we can learn from a large network of online mentors who provide a rich source of encouragement and wisdom for us. In order to help you get started building a network of mentors, we’ve created a list of online resources for you.
Before we get to the list, let me shamelessly recommend to you the 200Churches Podcast. The purpose of our podcast is to resource pastors of churches of around 200 with some advice, training, inspiration, and encouragement. Our purpose is not to teach you how to grow your church. We think that God uses churches of all sizes to reach and shepherd people. We want to encourage you to serve, lead, love, and be content with the people God has given you to serve today.
Okay, on to some resources!
Have you ever been trampled by a sacred cow in your ministry? I remember in January of 1999 our church announced that the upcoming Sunday evening service would be cancelled to make room for a Super Bowl party. This party would be an outreach to invite friends – you know, you’ve all done it by now. The following Monday morning, a couple (who had been members for over 20 years) stopped by the church to inform us that they would no longer be attending and that they wanted their $3,200 offering check from the day before… back! Sacred cow? Evening service!
Another couple I visited asked if we were going to start singing more hymns on Sundays. I told them that we would likely sing less hymns over time. “Okay, thank you. We will begin going to another church then.” Sacred cow? Hymns!
Another person left our church when I stopped wearing a coat and tie on Sunday mornings. Another sacred cow.
Sacred cows can be buildings, church furniture, service times, platform arrangement, Bible versions, pastoral visits, and even dress codes. How can we as pastors of 200churches change these areas while avoiding stepping and slipping on those fresh, steaming cow patties in our churches? After slipping and sitting in too many of them, I have some ideas for properly killing a sacred cow.
But first, consider these thoughts:
So, for those in the third category, here are a few questions you should ask:
As pastors of 200churches, our people should know how much we love and value them, but also that we are committed to killing sacred cows if they are in the way of us accomplishing our Jesus-mandated mission. For 200churches, the only thing more important than our people is our God-given purpose called the Great Commission. If a sacred cow is in the way, the most important question we can ask is: medium, or well done?!
I pastored my first church for almost three years. My largest Sunday attendance was 50 and my smallest was two… well okay, three if you include me! Most Sundays we averaged about 30. I set up, tore down, taught four times a week, visited, prayed, created the bulletin, copied the bulletin, folded the bulletins, well, you get the idea.
It was easy to get discouraged. Being young, I wanted immediate results. Lots of alone time left me longing for relationships. Often it was like flying by the seat of my pants trying to figure ministry out. In a 200church, you’re perhaps the only staff member and there is no one to bounce ideas off or share frustrations with – there can easily be times of discouragement.
Here’s five ways I’ve learned to stay encouraged over the years:
The foundation of the above five is, of course, time with God. While this one should be a given, it often isn't is it? An authentic and personal friendship with the living God through communication and heartfelt time spent together in so many varieties of ways is absolutely crucial to staying encouraged in ministry. After all, he is our boss, partner, biggest cheerleader, etc. etc.
Your church and your ministry matter huge to the Kingdom of God, no matter the size of your church! In a way, Jesus’ church never got above 12! So stay encouraged!
One issue that faces all church leaders is determining the standard for how things should be at your church. We all face a reality in our churches that there are areas and ministries that are not operating in the way that they need to and the way that we would prefer. This could be as simple as having hideous curtains in the sanctuary to as serious as having the wrong people on your staff. In either of those scenarios, and every imaginable one in between, there is a disconnect between how things are and how things should be.
What we've realized is that one of the biggest hurdles between moving from how something is to how it should be is the dreaded phrase "it's not as bad as it used to be." This "not as bad as it used to be" mentality can show up in any area: is the person teaching Sunday School not getting the job done? At least they're not as bad as the last person used to be. Is there a room being used for storage now that could be used in better ways? At least what it's storing isn't as useless as what used to be in there.
The truth is, as long as something is "not as bad as it used to be" we're often content to leave it the way it is. If this is a hurdle you're struggling with right now, here are some questions to ask to help you move forward:
1. What is the mission and vision of our church?
2. How is the person/room/resource in question moving our church closer to our mission/vision?
3. How could this person/resource be used more effectively in moving our mission/vision forward?
These can (and will) be tough questions, but they're questions that need to be asked in order to determine how something should be. If we set the standard for how things are at "not as bad as it used to be," eventually our churches will be "worse than they've ever been"!
So what are some areas/people/ministries in your church that need to be re-evaluated? Where can you begin to move from "not as bad as it used to be" toward being mission and vision focused?
In the late 1990’s I was on the pastoral staff of a church that shifted so dramatically that we lost 150 people in six months, and then gained that many back in the next twelve months! It all started when our entire staff team took a trip to, you guessed it, southern California.
Our outgoing senior pastor was convinced that we needed to move in a purpose-driven direction as a church, so as his last leadership act, he took the staff to a Purpose-Driven Church Conference at Saddleback Church. For me and my wife, it was one of the best and most memorable experiences of our lives. We absolutely loved it, and so did the rest of our team.
Over the following two years however, I learned four important lessons:
For so many reasons we had a ton to learn from Saddleback Church in 1997, but for twice as many reasons, we should not have used it as a model for our church immediately upon our return. This resulted in what would become years of problems, issues, division, and lost growth toward the Kingdom. Ultimately, we failed, and someone else had to pick up the pieces and start over again. Thankfully, it is moving in a positive direction today.
We had a blast at Saddleback! I have returned six more times since then and am so thankful for what I have learned and how I have grown. Rick is an awesome pastor and leader and his church family truly is second to none.
Today I am also thankful for my church of 200 in Orange City, IA! We are making advances for the Kingdom of God in our community, people are growing, serving, building relationships, using their gifts, and living lives of worship. My church matters and my leadership matters huge in the Kingdom of God!
No matter the size of your church, so does yours!
For a long time we have wondered why there has not been (m)any podcasts created to encourage pastors of SMALLER churches. More than 75% of the churches in America are under 200 people, yet most ministry podcasts come from leaders of churches over 10,000, which account for only the top one tenth of one percent of churches in our country!
Actually, 94% of churches in the U.S. are under 500 people. Think for a moment, how many podcasts are directed at those pastors, not to encourage them to grow bigger, but for the sole purpose of affirming them, encouraging them, and validating their importance in the Kingdom of God - just the way they are? We have not discovered one, amazingly! There may be one, or some, but we haven't found them.
We have not created a podcast and blog designed to push pastors to grow their churches. Instead, we think pastors of smaller churches need to be affirmed, supported, and encouraged. They need to recognize the immense Kingdom value of their leadership and their church - in their community.
We are not putting a premium on stagnancy or smallness, but we do think that way too many pastors of smaller churches come away from the majority of leadership resources out there feeling guilty, inadequate, and incompetent to "grow a bigger church". God doesn't create every church to be "bigger", but we think he wants to use every pastor and every congregation, no matter the size, to minister boldly for the Kingdom of God in their community!
We want to encourage these pastors to be the best leaders of their 50, 100, 150, or 200 member churches they can be - knowing that their pastoral leadership matters huge in the Kingdom of God!
That's why we started the 200churches Podcast and Blog - to encourage and support lay pastors, bi-vocational pastors, and solo pastors in smaller churches. So many great Christian leaders have come from small, humble churches. In your smaller church, what is God doing as He works to build his Kingdom of Christ followers? Your 200church matters!
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