05 September, 2017

A Truthful Look at Our Smaller Churches

The following is part of a conversation that took place on Facebook a year ago. It came up today and I thought this needed to be shared again... especially the second part, which was a comment made by my friend and fellow pastor, Jon Prain. There were many other comments in the discussion, but I chose only to share my original post followed by Jon's post. 

I spent some time chatting with one of my former members tonight who was very upset because her pastor had announced his resignation yesterday and is moving to a new church. In talking with her she was telling me how the church had been in a bit of a decline for the past year, but as we talked about the situation it turns out that no one has actually left the church at all. In fact, there are new people attending. The issue is that a good number of people from the church are gone every week, so even though the same people are there, the average attendance and giving is down by about 20%. I asked her if she had considered how the fluctuating attendance and giving makes a pastor feel. I asked if she had considered that it might really hurt the pastor when people feel no responsibility to be there every week or to pay tithe regularly? She said she'd never really thought of it. I told her that I could tell her first hand that if feels like a punch in the gut and leaves the pastor feeling very unappreciated. Then, I asked her if she had considered how a pastor might feel his church is showing little appreciation, respect or concern, and then another church begins wooing them, telling them that they want them to come be their pastor? She thought that was selfish of a pastor to feel that way. As I told her... "Don't you think we pastor's have feelings too?"  The truth is that when people stay away and cut their giving, we tend to take that very personally and it hurts. People wonder why pastors leave. The answer is not always that God has spoken to them... but the people sure did!

(Jon's comment)
Pastors typically get blamed for declines in church membership, attendance, and giving---even though the pastor is often times NOT the source of such declines. 
1) Many towns (especially in Illinois) are shrinking in population. 
2) Schools are consolidating due to small enrollments (i.e. there are less families with children in the community). 
3) In general, in our country, church attendance and church membership are down in most denominations. Thus, as older church members die, younger people are not coming to ANY denominational church in order to replace the dying members. 
4) Average household incomes have dropped by close to $5,000 during the Obama years. At the same time, expenses--especially healthcare costs--have gone through the roof. 
5) Percentage wise, less people are in the U.S. workforce now than at any prior time in our nation's history.

Yet, church members (and denominational leaders!) will hold THE PASTOR accountable for drops in attendance and membership. THE PASTOR will be blamed for a lack of young families and children in the church. The PASTOR will be blamed for a drop in giving--or be blamed when church expenses are higher than church giving (even if giving is increasing). Even if the primary cause of a church's numerical and financial decline is the death of older members---THE PASTOR will be blamed. For some reason, national trends, declining populations, fewer young families in the community, the world economy and the death of elderly people are THE CURRENT PASTOR'S FAULT.

What makes matters worse, is that church people (erroneously) think that changing their pastor will create a long term solution to the problems that their church is experiencing. (As if rearranging the deck chairs could have stopped the Titanic from sinking!). 
NEWSFLASH: The next pastor won't be able to change the economy and population any better than the previous pastor!).

Experience (and research) show that people tend to come to a church, stay at a church, and LEAVE a church more due to the actions of their fellow LAY PEOPLE than due to the actions of THE PASTOR. Yet, churches will get rid of their pastors LONG before they get rid of problematic lay people and long before church members change THEIR OWN behaviors (in an attempt to attract and retain members). When a church is experiencing financial issues, a church is more likely to change PASTORS (and/or reduce the pastor's salary and benefits) before the members will increase their own financial giving.

Church members are quick to want a change in pastoral leadership. However, that is becoming more and more of a risky pathway for churches to pursue. In most U.S. denominations, there are more churches that NEED pastors than there are people who want to be pastors of those churches. Many churches are having trouble attracting QUALITY pastors. However, many quality pastors have many churches to choose from--IF they wish to continue in the ministry AND if they wish to serve the struggling, contentious, low paying, and pastor chewing churches that are seeking new pastoral leadership. 
If you get rid of your current pastor, the chances are pretty good that you might get an even WORSE (and less qualified) pastor the next time. (While your pastor is probably going to step up to a somewhat better position). So, churches would be well advised to work with the pastor that they currently have--than to think that a pastoral change will make things better.

No comments: