If your church is under 200 in attendance every weekend, you’re in good company. Every study out there suggests that more than half of the 300,000 churches in the United States are in the same boat.
The bad news is that the 200 barrier is where congregational and pastoral dreams for evangelistic impact come to die. The challenges that stand before you are extraordinary, but they’re not insurmountable. You must believe your church can grow, and you must believe you are the person to do it, because both are true.
In this article I’ll outline the personal changes needed for a Senior Pastor to lead a congregation through the 200 barrier. In future articles I’ll outline the congregational changes needed.
First let’s talk about you.
1. Commit To Staying At Your Church For Five Years Minimum
It’s going to take a five-year tour of duty for you to spark the momentum needed and make the changes necessary to incorporate 100+ new converts into your church. That’s because, unless you’re a church planter, your people have seen a number of bright-eyed Senior Pastors just like you who had great ideas for change, but didn’t stay long enough to see them through.
It takes time to build credibility and to lead a congregation through change. We’re talking about serving people, not starting a company with venture capital that we know we’ll sell off later and move on. It’s about them, not us as Senior Pastors, which means everything we do has to be done in their best interest, not ours.
The other reason you need a longer horizon is because more than likely you’re a one-man band. There is a massive amount of work that lies before you, and it can’t be done in a couple years. Working 55 hours a week is expected, 75 hours is not. When you boil it down, breaking the 200 barrier is a 13,475 hour job. That’s 55 hours a week + 5 full years – 3 weeks of vacation per year = 13,475 hours.
At about 5,000 hours you’ll notice a credibility tipping point with your church, which, not coincidentally, is just about the time most pastors leave. I ask every staff member that comes on my team to make a five-year commitment. That’s because years 1-2 are all about learning what you have, and years 3-5 are all about hitting your sweet spot.
2. Commit To Growing Your Church Through Conversion Growth Only
This is a decision that you need to make up front. Are you going to pay the price needed to reach truly non-Christian people in your area? Or are you going to lower the bar and attract transfer Christians? The formula for reaching transfers is simple: preach long sermons, sing endless worship songs, and get on the radio and TV. Like pigs coming to slop, you’ll see the underbelly of the Christian subculture gravitate towards your church posthaste.
Resist this tendency and focus instead on identifying and creatively engaging truly non-Christian people in your region. Yes, that means you’ll grow slower and the giving won’t be as strong, but you’ll be setting into motion the kinds of ministries and systems it will take to break the 400 and 600 barrier.
3. Eliminate Time Wasters
Most Senior Pastors leading churches under 200 have either inherited bad systems that waste precious time, or bad theology that places them as the focal point of care and support in the congregation. You’ll need to change both. Concerning the bad systems, here are a few important changes you’ll need to address:
• Write your sermons in one day. Senior Pastors who brag about spending endless amounts of time on their sermons are blowhards. Your sermons won’t be any better with twenty hours of sermon prep instead of eight. Preach to get the job done, not to impress. And by all means, if needed, preach other pastor’s sermons in a pinch.
• Don’t do “drive-by” weddings. Only agree to marry couples where one of them is an active member of the church. Reject every wedding inquiry of people who found you in the phone book. Pastors think weddings are great outreach events, when they’re usually not. Also, require all couples to do six sessions of pre-marital counseling with a paid licensed counselor instead of with you.
• Make it known that you don’t do counseling. You’re not a counselor, so stop pretending to be one and partner with a counseling center in your area. Limit all counseling to professionals and push care to your groups. As I heard Steve Sjogren once say, “Many light touches, few deep touches.”
• Keep email replies to 3 sentences. When someone emails you wanting a 10,000-word answer, respond in no more than 3 sentences and tell them to see you Sunday between services to talk further. 95% of the people who had a life and death urgent question that had to be answered on Tuesday will forget they even emailed when Sunday rolls around. Another thing that helps is to craft 2-3 page policy papers that answer the top 10 questions you get on a regular basis. Having those ready to send will save a ton of time and energy.
• Change your cell phone number. One of the counter-intuitive things I tell Senior Pastors I coach is that they are too accessible. No more than ten people should have your cell phone number. Change it, get caller ID block and don’t hand out the new one. Give out your email instead. “Email is the best way to get in touch with me,” is the phrase church people should hear when they ask what is the best way to get in touch with you. Doing this will create boundaries and reinforce the fact that you’re a leader, not a chaplain on call.
• Stop hosting church events at your house. Since you are the most committed person to the vision, it’s so easy for you to host events at your house. That’s what I did at your size. Then one day I strategically stopped. Putting an end to meetings at your house not only kills the idea that you’re the church’s chaplain, but it creates boundaries and saves you time cleaning up. Put an end to this and you’ll thank me later.
As Peter Drucker writes in his book The Effective Executive,
Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes. Then they attempt to manage their time and to consolidate their “discretionary” time into the largest possible continuing units.
4. Get In The Best Shape Of Your Life
You need to get in the best shape of your life if you are going to break the 200 barrier. The time demands, pressures, and stress of leading the change that needs to take place will add 30 pounds if you don’t. Trust me.
Here are four things you need to do before you embark on leading your church through the 200 barrier:
• Go to your doctor. Get complete blood and cholesterol work done. You want a good handle on where you are right now. Have him/her help you set health goals. If you are at your goal weight, fantastic.
• Go to a licensed dietician. Purge yourself from the collected eating wisdom you’ve accumulated from people, books, TV, and magazines. Get a handle on how to eat well based on science. My dietician has been fantastic.
• Get a gym membership. Find a workout partner or hire a trainer if you can. An active brain trapped inside an inactive body leads to depression.
• Take two full days off a week. I suggest Fridays and Saturdays. Many pastors take Mondays off, which is not wise. You’re tired on Mondays. Reserve that for administrative work. Take your days off when you’re most refreshed.
The best gift you can give to your congregation is a healthy, refreshed, growing, and passionate you. As Drucker says, “Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy.”
If you are interested in learning more about the types of coaching I offer, you can do that here.