10 Reasons Why Small Churches Stay Small

3. Domination by a few strong members.

The process by which a man (it’s almost always a man) becomes a church boss is subtle and rarely, if ever, the result of a hostile takeover.

The pastor of a small church leaves for another town. The pastorless congregation looks within its membership for leaders to rise up and “take care of things” until a new pastor arrives. There will be pulpit supplies to line up, a search committee to form and train and send forth, and a hundred details to see to for the operation of the church. So two or three faithful and mature members (we assume) are chosen. They do their job well.

If the next pastor leaves after an unusually short tenure for whatever reasons, the congregation resorts to the fallback position: they enlist the services of those same two or three mature–and now experienced–leaders.

That’s how it happens that one of them or possibly all three began to look upon themselves as the church itself. They make important decisions for the body, and everything works out. When the new pastor arrives, they let him know that anything he needs to know, he should call on them. He quickly sees that they have set themselves up as the board of directors, a layer of authority between the hired man (the preacher) and the congregation.

The bosses explain that they are protecting the congregation. “We don’t like to upset them with matters like this.” “These things are better off handled by just a few.”

The longer this situation continues this way, the more entrenched these men become in their dictatorship. Pity the young idealistic pastor who walks into that church unsuspecting that they lie in wait for him, to–ahem–“give direction to his ministry.” Or, as one said to me, “We thought you would like to have some help in pastoring this church.”

In almost every instance, such self-appointed church bosses exist to frustrate the pastor’s initiatives, block his bold ventures, and control his tendencies to want the church to act on (gasp!) something he calls faith!

Result: the church stays small. No normal church family coming into the community would want to join such a church.

The remedy: the congregation must see that key lay positions in the church rotate, that no one stays chairman of deacons for thirty years or church treasurer for a generation. Members of the congregation must stand up in business meetings and ask questions: “Why was this done?” “Who made the decision that our church would do that?” “Why was the congregation not informed on this?”

The one thing church bosses cannot stand is the light of day shown on their activities. Even though they convince themselves what they are doing is in the interests of the congregation, they don’t want others to know about it. “They wouldn’t understand.”

Oh, we understand all too well. (Read about Diotrephes in the little Epistle of III John. He “loves to have the pre-eminence.”)

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.