How Can a Declining Church Find a Turn-Around Pastor?

Are you involved in or familiar with a church that is in decline or stuck on a plateau? Often churches in either of those conditions carry on as if there is no problem. However, sometimes members understand that their church is headed in the wrong direction. They don’t want their church to die and they would love to see it thrive. They want to do something, but have no idea what to do. Many times, no one says much about the direction of the church until it is between pastors. Then, some blame the last pastor, and he/she may well have been a factor, but churches can spend a long time in decline or plateaued. Several pastors could come and go.

If a congregation really wants to turn around, it needs to find the right kind of pastor. A turn-around church needs a strong leader: a man or woman who sees God’s vision for the church and can clearly communicate that vision. He/she should be someone who will challenge the church to do new things and make changes that are probably long overdue. The leaders of the congregation have to come to the place where they are willing to help the pastor implement a program that may seem foreign to them, but which can give the church the chance to reach its community for Christ.

The pastor cannot do it by him/herself. He must be a shepherd-style leader that can lead people where they need to go (knowing it may not be where the people want to go). The lay leaders need to become lead sheep and get behind the vision. Then the pastor can outline the vision and they will help him communicate it to the rest of the congregation. That way they can help the pastor lead.

If a congregation wants to turn around, the new pastor must be a hard worker and a self-starter who will use his time to do things that will help the church realize God’s vision. The search committee should do its homework to find out if the prospective pastor has been this kind of hard working self-starter. Check not only with his listed references, but also others who may know him/her. Here is a dirty little secret: Solo pastoring at a small church can be a great place for a lazy person to be lazy. He can fake it and look busy, while getting very little done. A church has to trust their pastor to work. The key is getting a trustworthy, hard-working person in the office.

If a congregation wants to turn around, it must not overlook the person who is considered a bit of a “rebel.” It may be a rebel that the church needs. If people call him a rebel because he is not big on tradition and he wants to make radical changes, he may well be exactly the person the declining church needs. The things the church has been doing have become ineffective or it wouldn’t be declining. A rebel can lead the church to rebel against decline.

The congregation that wants a turn-around pastor needs to figure out a way to pay him/her enough so that he will not have to work another job to support his/her family. I admire bi-vocational pastors. It is very difficult to juggle two careers. (I tried to do it many years ago as a church planter.) Leading a church to turn around or get off a plateau takes the full concentration of the pastor. Sometimes, declining churches have money in the bank. They have saved it for a rainy day, but they deny it is a rainy day even as the storm rages and threatens to destroy what is left of the congregation. Perhaps, they use the nest egg from time to time when expenses, like utilities and building repairs, exceed income. Often, they are willing to use their savings to sustain the bricks and mortar of the building but are unwilling to use it on personnel and/or ministry programs. A declining church can survive a long time doing that, but it will not thrive. People in declining churches sometimes forget the church is not the building, but people whom God is using to build His Kingdom.

If a church hopes to turn around, it needs to realize that turning around depends on competent leadership and ministries that attract people to the church and enable them to grow in the Lord. A turn-around church will pay the pastor as well as it possibly can. They will give him fair vacation times and, if they are smart, they will insist that he take his vacations. Some pastors are so wrapped up in their work that he has a hard time taking time off. On the surface this is admirable, but he needs the down time to recharge his battery. This is another reason to pay him/her enough that he doesn’t need additional employment. If he has another job, he may not be able to get vacation time from his other employer and get the rest he needs. A church that wants to turn around will realize they won’t turn around on the cheap, and the pastor’s salary is not a place to cut corners.

Declining churches, the next move you make is pivotal. The choice you make concerning a new pastor may well determine whether or not your congregation can turn around and once again be a force for God’s Kingdom in your community. Ask God to guide you to the right person and to help the right person recognize your congregation as the place He has for him/her.  

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Ray Houser
A veteran pastor, Ray now is the administrator of Tina Houser Ministries, coaches pastors and consults churches. He is excited about helping churches that are plateaued get going again and seeing declining churches rebound. Ray believes there is hope for these churches, if they want to become agents of God’s love, hope and forgiveness in their communities. Visit his blog at rayhouser.blogspot.com, and e-mail him at [email protected] for more information.

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