Here are 13 common mistakes Senior Pastors make that contribute to sluggish growth, or even decline. Fix these and watch what happens.
1. You Are Afraid To Fire Staff
Bill Hybels once said that the time to fire someone is the first time you think of it. In other words, once you’re convinced they’re not the right person for the job, you either have to move them to another seat on the bus (which often can’t be afforded), or begin what we at CCV call our “corrective action process.”
The goal of this is to help a struggling staff member succeed, not fire them. Only after you’ve exhausted all efforts at correcting poor performance should you terminate someone. That’s only fair. But once they must be let go, don’t postpone the decision. I see churches keep underperforming staff all the time, thinking that it’s the Christian thing to do. Trust me, Jesus would fire underperforming staff if he were in your shoes. Don’t over-spiritualize the decision.
2. You’re Pastoring Regular Attenders Instead Of Your Aggregate Ministry Group
Stop defining your “church” as the sum total of your regular attenders. Your job is to pastor what Doug Murren calls your “Aggregate Ministry Group” – the sum total of all the people who are connected to, but may not be actually attending, your church. In outreach-focused churches, the aggregate ministry group is a group 2-3 times their actual Sunday morning worship attendance. If you are a growing church of 200, that means between 200-600 people consider your place home.
The average Christian leader thinks that if someone visits their church, and doesn’t come back, they’re not a part of their congregation. Not true. Get inside the mindset of a purely unchurched person. One lady came up to me after our grand opening service and said, “This was fantastic. We ought to do this again sometime!” I said, “Um, we are, next week in fact.” Senior Pastors that don’t focus on conversion growth aren’t attuned to the behavior and mindset of the average 21st century non-Christian.
The non-Christians in your area are not church shopping. If they visit, they consider it a one-time commitment. One and done. They’re not visiting your church, and then trying 4-5 churches like yours in the area until they find a church home. Many non-Christians visit, then say, “Okay, I like this place.” Which is their way of saying, “That’s my church.” In their mind, they are a part of your church, even though they may only come back 1-3 times that year. Your job – in your church newsletter, emails, stage communication, vision casting, etc. – is to speak to them and pastor them as if they are already a part of your church community.
3. You Are The New Visitor Follow-Up Process
You know you only are the visitor follow-up process when you don’t have people coming up to you 1, 2, 3 or even 4 years after they started attending your church and introducing themselves to you. Ben Merold once told me he knew his church was ready to grow when a young couple introduced themselves in the grocery store. They said, “Hi Pastor Ben. We’ve been coming to your church for over a year now and we wanted to introduce ourselves.” He realized they got connected and he didn’t even know who they were.
Your job is to be what Carl George calls “a rancher” instead of a hands-on, one-on-one shepherd. Both care for sheep. But the former allows other people the privilege of getting up to the front lines of greeting, following up on, and enveloping new people into your church. If you personally make it your goal to meet every new person at your church in the first six months of their tenure with you, you are virtually guaranteeing that isn’t happening.
4. You Are Afraid Of Killing Programs
You are afraid to eliminate things for fear that people will get upset and will stop giving, or leave. Let them. I guarantee that if we looked under the hood of your church we could identify numerous things that could go on the chopping block, enabling your community of faith to become more streamlined and focused on your mission. Trust me, the dollars and members can and will be replaced. Don’t allow a few long-standing members to hold the future health of your church hostage.
5. You Haven’t Clearly Defined Your Staff Team Values
Average staff members perform above their skill set in vibrant staff cultures, but even highly talented staff members deliver substandard performances in unhealthy staff cultures. Staff culture is king. I’m shocked by how many Senior Pastors haven’t clearly defined their staff values, and then hold annual 360-degree performance appraisals that measure how well staff members are adhering to those values. Reviews aren’t foreign to churches. What is foreign is placing just as high a value on the staff culture as an individual staff member’s performance.
When we do annual 360 degree performance reviews at CCV (meaning everyone reviews everyone), we ask each staff member to answer three questions about the other staff member, and then share those answers in a one-on-one meeting. Here are those questions:
1. What is this staff member doing well?
2. What could this staff member do to improve?
3. What can we do to improve our working relationship?
As a staff we jointly created, and then review regularly, our team’s 11 staff values. When staff members meet to review one another, I want them to speak to one another about how well they are doing on the following:
CCV’s 11 Staff Values
As a staff we will…
- Have fun together!
- Maintain healthy boundaries with the opposite sex.
- Not gossip and only speak positively about one another.
- Commit to having one another’s back.
- Have no unresolved conflict.
- Seek, value, and apply feedback from one another.
- Consider all ministry areas with equal value.
- Work hard, but protect personal and family time.
- Pursue personal, professional, and spiritual growth.
- Pray for one another.
- Communicate with one another with grace, tact, and honesty.
Do you have anything like this in place along with a regular review process to ensure this is happening? Implement something like this and watch what happens.
6. You Aren’t Willing To Spend Money
When giving is low, Senior Pastors quickly forget that churches are not in the money saving business; we’re in the money deploying business. Yes, you have to have clear processes in place for handling and allocating the church’s money, but these are institutionalized behaviors put in place to help you wisely spend the church’s money, not save it. The reason, quite possibly, for your church’s lack of growth is because you are afraid to take some calculated financial risks. You have to spend money to grow, period. Your job is to ensure fiscal responsibility and bold responsiveness.
7. You Don’t View Yourself As The Chief Resource Raiser
If giving is down, whose responsibility is it to fix that? If it’s not yours, you have a problem on your hands. Simply put, until you take responsibility for raising the generosity level at your church, your church will never grow.
When I coach Senior Pastors, we’ll quickly identify what the growth limitations are that keep the congregation from growing – the first 3 are always either parking, children’s space, or seating capacity in the auditorium. As we proceed we’ll always find 4-5 more, and what surprisingly always ends up on this list is the Senior Pastor abdicating his responsibility to lead the way in resource raising.
This is your job, no-one else’s. Trust me, I get the reluctance, but if you don’t do it, no-one else will step up and take the lead. There are five things that never leave a Senior Pastor’s plate: leadership, preaching, evangelism, generosity, and personal growth. You have to master all five. Parts of these tasks can be delegated, but never abdicated. People need your leadership to unleash their generosity. My article 10 Changes That Will Dramatically Increase Giving In Your Church will help in this regard.
8. You’ve Placed The Wrong People On Your Governing Board
You have placed pastoral care givers on your board (i.e. Elders, Council, etc.), instead of pastoral leaders. Consequently, when issues are brought up for them to help you solve, their minds immediately go to individual solutions instead of church-wide solutions that best serve individuals. Your job is to evangelize, disciple, install and release leaders who can simultaneously see the forest and the trees. As you well know, these people are rare.
This is why even though I think the ideal number for this team is 5-7, I’d rather have 2-3 pastoral leaders on this team instead of a large number of people who are better suited to serve elsewhere. And on another note, please don’t tell me you’re powerless to affect who gets on your governing board. Many will tell me that their by-laws have a stipulation that says all governing board members must be elected by congregational vote, which is utterly ridiculous.
Can you imagine the early church functioning this way? Listen, even if this is the case in your situation, this does not let you off the hook. By-laws can’t remove your influence. Lead with all diligence.
9. You’ve Hired Staff Members Who Aren’t Leaders
You’ve hired staff members who can only minister to individuals, instead of being able to envision and run an entire department of volunteers that can minister to individuals. Thinks Acts 6. I believe one of our jobs as Senior Pastors is to know how to distinguish leaders from doers, and then having the right screening process in place to flag limitations before potential staff members come on our payrolls. We’ve all made mistakes in this area. The key is to not repeat these mistakes.
10. You Haven’t Redesigned Your By-Laws To Facilitate Growth
Your by-laws – the organizational guiding documents of your church – are not written in a way to facilitate growth. Yet, you haven’t led the charge to fix them yet. Why? Most by-laws do not have clearly spelled out roles for the governing board, Senior Pastor, the interrelations between both and the staff, and how money is allocated and deployed. Here are CCV’s by-laws, and here’s a helpful guide for transitioning your by-laws. Feel free to steal them if you find them helpful.
11. You Have No Standing, Weekly, Open-Ended Appointments On Your Calendar For Evangelistic Breakfasts Or Lunches
Do you have standing, open apointments on your calendar ready to be filled by meetings with non-Christians? For the first four years at CCV, I scheduled 10 meetings like this a week. I would put an index card in my back pocket on the way to church that had ten circles on it: 2 for each day of the following week – 5 breakfasts and 5 lunches total. My goal was to fill those slots before the day ended with meetings with non-Christian leaders attending our church.
Listen, any Senior Pastor can meet with a non-Christian once a week. That’s called an accident. Meeting twice a week with non-Christians, every week, only happens strategically. Your job is to lead the charge on evangelism, model that for your governing board and staff, and as a result permanently inculcate evangelistic DNA into your church. Trust me, if you’re not trying to help at least two people become Christians a week, you will not grow. James Clear’s “Paper-Clip Strategy” will help you in this regard.
12. You Have Not Built Relationships With Risk-Taking, Entrepreneurial Senior Pastors
I’ve noticed that one thing all Senior Pastors of growing churches have in common is they hang out with other Senior Pastors of growing churches. One thing I’ve also noticed is that Senior Pastors of non-growing churches tend to hang out with one another, usually critiquing the other group – their tactics, preaching, and theology. They do this, in part, because they have unconsciously sought out a peer group that won’t challenge them to change in areas they need to change. It’s much easier to pick apart someone else’s theology than to address one’s own deficiencies.
13. You Allow Yourself To Stay Bored
Trust me, I’ve been there. Many, many times. The problem is when a Senior Pastor disengages too frequently, everything starts to trail off. This usually happens because of one of three things:
1. You are burned out and need to take better care of yourself
If this is the case, you need to put into place what I call the Big Five of pastoral burnout prevention:
- Get to and stay at your goal weight by exercise and nutrition (FYI – if you’re looking for the best nutritionist in the business, make an appointment to meet with my friend Adrianne Delgado. Half of our staff has gone to her. She can meet with anyone nationwide through Skype. Most insurance companies will give you 6 visits. Trust me, make this investment.)
- Take two mandatory days off a week (while still working 55-60 hours a week)
- Go on monthly reflection retreats
- Engage in annual MA programs
- Take routine sabbaticals (see our CCV Staff Policy Manual for how we handle this)
2. You have tried everything, are fresh out of ideas, and are unwilling to seek help
That’s easy to correct. Make a list of the top 10 Senior Pastors you want to learn from, then email them and set up a time to interview them. Let their passion and wisdom lift your spirits and your vision.
3. You’ve stopped taking risks
If you’re not actively involved in some congregational wide initiative that makes you really scared if it doesn’t succeed, that’s a red flag. This is usually a symptom of not engaging in the previous two activities. If you take better care of yourself and then seek out fresh voices to speak into your life, you will take bigger, scarier risks. When that happens on a regular basis, you’ll never be bored again.
As I say all the time, you can do this.