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Want Your Church to Grow? One Surprising Secret

Several years ago, a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches and the growth or decline of those churches.

Their finding?

Approximately three-fourths of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while two-thirds of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years. Their conclusion (with which I agree): Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow. But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.

There is an undeniable relationship between pastoral tenure and church growth. 

While most growing churches have long-term pastorates, and some nongrowing churches have long-term pastorates, it is almost unheard of to find a growing church with many short-term pastorates. Frequent change of pastors seems to negate all the other complicated ingredients that go into a church’s growth mix.

What to do about it.

If you are a pastor, personally and publicly commit to staying in your church for at least seven years. (The average pastoral tenure is less than four years.)

You may get an itch to leave sooner. But if you stay into the sixth or seventh year, you will likely begin to experience unsurpassed effectiveness and fruitfulness.

Once you get past year seven, there’s a good chance you’ll want to stay much longer. I agree with Roger Parrot, who says: “Lead as if you’ll be there forever! Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life” (Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2009, p. 19).

I was curious about pastoral longevity in the Wesleyan Church. A more comprehensive and correlational study should be done, but last week I called the 25 largest churches in our denomination to find out:

1) When the church was founded

2) How long the present senior/lead pastor has been at the church

3) How long the previous senior/lead pastor had been at the church. 

What’s your guess?

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Charles Arn is Visiting Professor of Outreach at the new Wesley Seminary (Marion, IN). He has written twelve books in the field of congregational health and growth, including What Every Pastor Should Know (2013) and Side Door (2013).