Don’t like your Church? Then leave. Or…


Pastorally, a huge challenge in leading and growing a Church is trying to keep volunteers engaged in the ministry. When you’re small, there’s only a handful of people who are either able or available to pitch in and help. As a pastor I get excited when someone wants to help out. More hands lighter load and all that.

I am also keeping a constant eye on those that are helping to make sure they don’t burn out. This isn’t always possible as some people, for wrong and right reasons, don’t always speak up when they’re getting stretched. That is, until they go past the breaking point and disappear over night. By then, usually, it’s too late to recover and restore them. No amount of, “Why didn’t you say something earlier?” will change things. They’re gone. They might re-gather and get back into things later on, for which I am thankful, but it won’t be with me or at my church. That ship has sailed.

So, for those that are still here, what to do? Being a small Church is still exhausting. And, by small, I mean anything below 200-250 attendance. And by Church I mean a single gathered congregation. Anyhow… The problem hasn’t gone away.

Here’s the typical challenge: By some means, a new person, couple or family shows up (Sunday gathering or smaller group – doesn’t matter). They look around and either on that day or in the couple of weeks afterwards don’t find or connect with anyone with similar circumstances to them. They conclude that this isn’t the place for them. Their needs aren’t being met here. So, off they go. Oh, you’re a nice, welcoming congregation and all, but this is just not what I’m looking for. Bye! 

Challenge 2: This is where it gets worse. Someone else who is regular in the Church sees this person come and leave and realises that they probably could have connected if only they had spoken up sooner or made the effort or whatever. The regular then concludes the same thing. It’s time to go. After all, they’ve stayed here for long enough and anyone that they could connect with doesn’t stay around anyway. Off they go too.

I think both challenges could be taken on by the person in scenario 2. When you’re a regular in a small church, you probably are already half way there. The difference will be whether you sit back or stand up. I have had this conversation every single week of my life in ministry. The regular looks around, they see a gap or a need that just so happens to affect them. They approach the Pastor or Church leader and the conversation goes… “The Church really needs to do something about <this need that I have, but I am pointing at others to make it more urgent>

Instead of simply saying, honestly, “This is something I want for myself, but nobody’s providing it, so I am going to take my bat and my ball and go.” They try to dress it up to sound concerned about others. The technical term for this approach is … Bollocks! Ok, there is a stronger more definite term, but you get the idea. To be fair, sometimes people are this honest. That doesn’t change the challenge or the potential solution.

As argued by Dan Phillips on the Pyro Blog, far more eloquently, in a similar vein, the 2nd person could offer the service they are wanting someone else to give to them. That change in tack is the turning point that moves a Church from small and struggling to small, yet thriving and growing.

Too often, the expectation is that either the Pastor or those already serving in multiple other areas will be the ones to step into this “new” need to breach the gap. And, too often, they try, and inevitably set their own trajectory to burn out or be so busy keeping two dozen plates spinning that they have no time to do any one thing with excellence. It is a recipe for death in a small church. So, if this is the case in your small Church, you could go. Bye! Or, you could see a need, and fill a need! Whadayareckon?


9 thoughts on “Don’t like your Church? Then leave. Or…

  1. yes really enjoyed that article Al. seeing problems or gaps is much easier than offering to fill some of them. there is a balance I guess in pastors also providing the strategic leadership when those conversations are had.

    1. Hi Robert, been a while. Thanks for commenting. Agreed 100% re Pastors being willing and being seen as open to people taking initiative. It’s one thing to tell others to use their initiative, but if the Pastor isn’t approachable or is often defensive, that can discourage and create resentment. Got to beware the ditch on either side.
      (& God bless re’ your move to Melton!)

  2. I agree. I am certainly no fan of rosters. However, they are just the front end for program driven churches. Program driven churches are recipes for burn-out.

    For better or worse, Gen Y have rejected the historical ‘membership’ model of church. Even if one does agree to accept a servant responsibility, it is unlikely to be long term. Therefore, I believe the answer is the throw out all church programs (save maybe the weekly sermon) and then direct all remaining efforts into 1 to 1 discipleship. Building a genuine connection (that goes beyond social media) is the platform for real ministry. As discipleship occurs, so will evangelism, spiritual growth, and accepting responsibility.

    I know its radical, but let’s face it the status quo of ‘doing church’ is not working. It also closely mirrors what Jesus did.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts.

    1. That would be very “Trellis & Vine” & would be a good starting point for a new Church plant.
      The transition in an established Church would need to be more carefully lead.
      In both cases, I think faithfulness to Christ & scripture requires that Pastors and Churches aren’t catering to cultural demands but calling people to repentance and worship.

  3. I see a lot of churches creating roles and then trying to fill them with a person – any person. Rather, I wonder if a better way is to explore peoples giftings and passions and then find a role or avenue to express that. Whether that be serving in the local church or in a broader para-church capacity.

    It is similar to what I see in the corporate world. Large multi-national create job descriptions and build large structures requiring large headcount. However, often the biggest impact is made when an entrepreneur takes a different road. Are are churches and pastors stifling gospel entrepreneurs?

    There definitely is a tension for the pastor. He wants to see his small church grow, but ultimately he must equip the flock for the greatest good of God’s Kingdom.

    1. Agreed. Rosters are tyrannical time wasters.
      There’s a fine line for small church pastors to walk that strives towards a faithfulness that may result in no or very little net numerical growth. Thriving doesn’t have to mean large numerical increases.

  4. I agree, yet there is also a problem with the “controlling” pastor who has to be in charge of everything and doesn’t allow congregational members the freedom to fill a gap in ministry. That to me is more disheartening and another reason why people leave.

Comments are closed.