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. Using something like a Church Management Software is now seen as a more effective method of maximising church numbers.
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.