Friday, May 3, 2013

If You Want Growth, Stay Put!

Last fall I made the decision to change churches. This wasn't an easy decision to make, even though I rarely attended the church of which I was a member. I had gotten married in that church. Five of my six children had been baptized in that church. Three of my children were confirmed there. My in-laws were fairly active members there. But, it just wasn't the place for me. I had felt that way for many years, but never did anything about it - other than slow down my attendance to Christmas, Easter, and the occasional baptism/confirmation.

Nearly a year ago, I got to know the pastor of another church in our small town, and slowly found myself drawn to his church. This wasn't just because of him. Nearly everyone in that church made me feel like I belonged, even before I attended any services there. When my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago, there was an outpouring of support from the pastor and congregation, even though none of us were members or attended services there. I knew I found a home. I started attending services. Weekly. Since leaving home at 18, I had never attended church weekly... or even monthly. So, I made the decision to officially switch our membership. I just knew in my heart it was the right decision.

A couple weeks before we stood in front of our new church to become members, the pastor informed me he was leaving. He'd only been there a little over two years. I was hurt and angry. And confused. And, I'm still confused. We did become members. And I am more active in church than I have ever been. I love being in the church. I'd go two or three times a week or more if I could. But, I'm still bothered by this pastor leaving. And, not just this pastor... there are several pastors who have only stuck around for 2 years - in this church and many others. How can these pastors walk away without recognizing or caring about the effects it will have on the church?

Growing up, I was used to pastors sticking around for long periods of time. My first church I went to for 8 years - we had the same pastor those entire 8 years. When we moved to a new town and found a new church - we had three pastors. The first retired a couple years after we moved. The second was still there when I left the church at 18. And the third was a youth pastor who had just come in a few years before I left home... and was still there when I left.

What's the difference between these churches?

The churches I belonged to when I was younger were strong. The small town church didn't experience a lot of growth... but there was some. And it never declined. People wanted to be active in the church. They wanted to help and learn and grow. The church in the bigger city - growth. There was always growth. New members coming in... the only members leaving were generally because of death or moving out of town. People wanted to be active. They looked forward to going to church.

The churches I've experienced since then - the ones with a revolving door for pastors? They stay stagnant. Or shrivel and die. Members leave for something better. There is a disjointedness. The congregation isn't a congregation - it's scattered little groups, rarely acting together.

Now obviously we can't blame this entirely on our pastors. As members of a congregation, we should be taking it upon ourselves to stay connected - to stay a strong congregation. But every flock needs a shepherd. And they need to trust this shepherd. And if they're getting a new one every year or two...

I found a good post with some statistics on church growth and the length of time a pastor stays. How Long Should You Stay?   I recommend people read this - especially those of you whom are pastors, and may be considering leaving your church. There is one statement in this article which I have found, in my limited experience, to be very true:

"Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow. But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow."

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