Don’t Expect Me to Grow Your Church

Photo Source: The Central texas Conference of the United Methodist Church
Photo Credit: The Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church

When someone is in the market for a call, he or she will invariably come across a number of church profiles that indicate a desire for a pastor to who will help their church grow. I think this is akin to a Hebrew family in Goshen painting their lintel and posts with the blood of a lamb;  it’s a sure-fire way for your church to get passed over.

This is a classic red flag for anyone who’s been in ministry for longer than a minute because it suggests your church might have unrealistic expectations of what a pastor does or can do. We get it — for whatever reason your church is clearly not happy with its size. Maybe numbers have dwindled in recent years (as is the case with most churches). But instead of doing the hard work of looking inwardly and outwardly for why this may be happening and maybe even accepting this trend may be around to stay for a while, you are looking for a person in whom to put an inordinate amount of hope and to ultimately blame when their presence doesn’t miraculously usher in a new era for your congregation.

This expectation puts the onus of church growth solely on the pastor. To be clear, it is God and God alone who gives the increase, but that increase comes at the heels of some intentional planting, watering, and tending on the part of the entire community of faith. A church can have the most gifted pastor in the world, but all those gifts cannot take the place of the congregation. Liturgy literally means “the work of the people.” In other words, the people must work! It’s simply unfair to expect a pastor to initiate and complete a work that could have at least already been started by the congregation.  A relationship between a pastor and a congregation is one of mutual ministry. Particularly in my tradition, we are all ministers. Pastors/Teaching Elders may be called to a particular service, but the work of ministry belongs to us all. No congregation should forget that, and no congregation need put its life on hold waiting for Superman — or Wonder Woman.

Yet, I understand that sometimes what’s needed to start said work is effective leadership, and I respect a church that can recognize it has that need. Even still, it can be unrealistic of a congregation to expect growth if it’s been reluctant to adopt practices that would open the door for growth. Definitely do not expect a pastor to grow your church if:

  • You’re not already consistently, intentionally, and lovingly inviting your friends, neighbors, and family to come — even if you think they’ll say “No.”
  • You’re not willing to come to church more than once a week when necessary.
  • You’re not willing to enter into deeper relationships with one another. Just because you’ve served coffee and pastries alongside each other after church for years doesn’t necessarily mean you know each other.
  • You’re not willing to welcome the new people who come through the doors as they are, not as you want to “help” them be.
  • You insist on harping on what the church doesn’t have and can’t do instead of what God has and can do through us. No church can grow from an attitude of lack.
  • You intend to bristle at any suggested change, small or large, because, “We’ve always done it this way.”
  • Your church has had contentious relationships with pastor after pastor — and somehow it’s never  the congregation’s fault.

Not an exhaustive list, but you get the picture. And even if a church does all of this and more to encourage and welcome growth, it still may not see a growth in numbers. Perhaps the growth comes from within in the form of more mature and effective Christians. Greater numbers don’t indicate that a church is effective. Jesus did just fine with only twelve dudes and a handful of women!

If a church grows at all, whether spiritually or numerically, it’s because the entire congregation has caught the vision of what it means to be community, not a tribe. Tribes are necessarily exclusive and rigidly have their boundaries and cultural norms set and agreed upon with little interest in deviating from them. Some churches, whether they know it or not, are tribes.

Simply put, your church won’t necessarily be rescued from decline simply because you called the right person. The Church already has a Savior, and I assure you he’s not currently looking for a call.

11 thoughts on “Don’t Expect Me to Grow Your Church

  1. You absolutely NAILED it! Sadly the churches who need to hear this won’t for above said reasons. But thank you for your bold and insightful words. God’s blessings as you seek God’s call from a retired Chaplain who is back in the parish after 21 years 🙂

    1. Thank you, Michael! And I may have to pick your brain about chaplaincy. Been considering AFRC Chaplain Corps pretty heavily lately (AF Brat over here).

      1. Michael Moore would be a great person to chat with re chaplaincy – peace be with you as you ponder. Appreciate your post, too – for its’ implications for me as well as for the “others.”

      2. Would be glad to chat with you. As you are in the DC area, the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel, is headquartered there. Don Wilson, who is the Associate Director is a friend of mine and we served during the same “era” in the AF.

        Give me a shout (ScotsIrishPadre@gmail.com) and we can talk!

  2. Excellent points. It’s sometimes hard for congregants to really live out the priesthood of all believers. I think it’s also sometimes hard for some of us pastors/teaching elders to not take the hook and think that this time we really might be able to do it all.

    1. Say it again, Lander! We don’t do ourselves or the congregation any favors by trying to do and be it all.

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