Category Archives: Pastoral Leadership
By Thom Rainer
The meaning of “slump” is more evident in sports. When a baseball player, for example, is in a slump, we surmise that he is not hitting as well as he was earlier in the season.
For churches, however, there is no clear definition. Indeed, some leaders wonder if it is even right to say that a church can get in a slump. Still, some pastors say they church is in a slump if they are not connecting as well with members as they once were. Others declare a slump if attendance or offering numbers are down. Still others have a more subjective sense of a slump that defies a clean or clear explanation.
But many pastors will tell you about times when their churches were in a slump. Some will admit that the slump is present tense. So I asked a number of pastors how they react when this reality hits them. What do they do to lead their churches out of this perceived slump?
The pastors shared with me eight consistent responses. I list them in the order of frequency that I have heard them.
- They sought the advice of a leader outside their specific church. Sometimes that person was the pastor of another church. On other occasions it was a denominational leader or a church consultant.
- They refocused on the vision of the church. A number of pastors indicated that the church had “lost its way.” So they spent time reminding the congregation of the vision of the church. Of course, this approach presumes the church has a clearly articulated vision.
- They led the church to more outwardly focused ministries. Some church slumps were the result of the congregation becoming too inwardly focused. One pastor led his church to “adopt” an elementary school in the area. The members became motivated and enthused as they did whatever the principal and other leaders of the school told them the school needed.
- They sought a trusted confidant to evaluate their leadership. This reaction is similar to number one. In this case, however, the problem was specifically perceived to be the leadership of the pastor.
- They spent more time in prayer. I suspect this and the next response were actually more frequent. Many pastors sought the face of God more intensely and more frequently for guidance out of the slump.
- They became more consistent in their time reading the Bible. Many pastors get into the trap of reading the Bible only to prepare sermons or lessons. I know. I’ve been there as a pastor. But pastors need the consistent nourishment of the Word of God beyond the time they spend studying it for sermons or lessons.
- They became more intentional about connecting with their members. One pastor made a commitment to hand write one letter a day to a church member, write two emails a day to a member, and make one phone call a day to a member. The purpose of each piece of communication was brief encouragement and gratitude. It took him less than 30 minutes to do all of them, and he was consistent in it four days a week. In one year’s time, he connected with 800 members.
- They set aside time on the calendar during the week to dream. Pastors are on call 24/7. Life can become hectic and frustrating. One pastor sets aside two hours a month to go to a private room to dream about the future of the church. The time is a fixture on his calendar. Sometimes he prays. Sometimes he reads about God’s work at other churches. And sometimes he writes ideas and thoughts. The process invigorates him, and he can thus lead the church with greater enthusiasm and clarity himself.
These responses to a slump could really apply to any Christian leader. In this case, I listened to pastors.
So . . . can you sense when your church is in a slump? What is it like? How do you respond?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on September 15, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
You could not help but notice the trend of the past two decades. Numerous churches began offering worship services with different worship styles. It is not unusual to see a church post its times of worship for a contemporary worship service, a traditional worship service, and an occasional blended worship service.
The trend was fueled by two major factors. First, many churches were fighting worship wars. The great compromise was creating a worship service for each faction. Unfortunately, that created divisiveness in some churches as each faction fought for its preferred time slot. Second, some churches had a genuine outreach motivation. Their leaders saw the opportunity to reach people in the community more effectively with a more indigenous worship style.
Though I am not ready to declare a clear reversal of the trend, I do see signs of a major shift. It is most noticeable among those congregations that have moved from multiple worship styles back to one worship style.
So I spoke to a number of pastors whose churches had made the shift back to a singular worship style. I asked about their motivations for leading their congregations in such a direction. I heard six recurring themes, though no one leader mentioned more than three for a particular church.
- Multiple worship styles created an “us versus them” mentality. Worship wars did not really end with multiple approaches. In some churches the conflicts were exacerbated because those of different preferences did not interact with each other.
- The church did not have the resources to do multiple styles with quality. In many churches, inadequate resources meant one or all of the services suffered. It was deemed better to put all the resources toward one style of worship.
- The church moved from multiple services to one service. I heard from a number of pastors who have led their churches back to just one service, a move that naturally necessitates one style. Some did so to engender a greater sense of community; others did so due to excessive space in the worship center.
- The Millennial generation has influenced many churches. This generation is much more flexible in its preferences of worship style. They are questioning the need of multiple styles.
- Worship wars are waning. Many congregations with multiple worship styles created them as a response to worship wars. Now that the conflicts are waning in many churches, the need to segregate by worship preferences is no longer necessary.
- Multiple generations are becoming more accustomed to different types of church music and worship style. Contemporary music, in some form, has been around a while. It is not this strange aberration it once was to many congregants. And many church members who did not grow up on traditional worship are hearing those hymns in new and meaningful ways. Simply stated, there is a much greater appreciation for different forms of church music than in the past.
Again, I am reticent to declare a major trend to be taking place. But, anecdotally, I am seeing more congregations move to the singular worship style approach.
I would love to hear your perspectives. If you have any specific information about this trend, please bring it to this community so we can all benefit.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on August 30, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
We have republished Clarence Macartney’s great book, “Lincoln and the Bible.” Please click on the cover for free sample material.
Leadership gurus will tell you that a primary skill of an effective leader is the ability to manage time for maximum productivity. Out of curiosity, our research team asked over 200 pastors to provide us an hour-by-hour calendar of a typical 168-hour week for them. Keep in mind that 168 hours represent all the hours in a week, so their reports included such mundane items as sleeping and eating.
Impressed with the Effective Leaders
Our study included 101 pastors that we called effective leaders because their churches ranked in the top five percent in conversion growth in American churches. A comparison group of pastors of similar number were leading churches that did not have significant conversion growth.
Our researchers were impressed with the time management skills of the effective pastors. Perhaps the best way to show their skills is to compare their use of time with that of the leaders of the comparison churches.
Differences in Priorities
Without comment, let us highlight some of the most significant differences between the pastors of the effective churches versus the pastors of the comparison churches. You may be surprised at some of the findings.
- Pastors of effective churches sleep slightly over six hours per day. Pastors of comparison churches sleep almost eight hours per day.
- Pastors of effective churches spend twenty-two hours in sermon preparation each week versus four hours for pastors of comparison churches.
- The effective church leaders spent ten hours each week in pastoral care compared to thirty-three hours for the comparison group pastors. Pastoral care included counseling, hospital visits, weddings, and funerals.
- Effective church leaders average five hours per week in sharing the gospel with others. Most of the comparison church pastors entered “0” for their weekly time in personal evangelism.
- Comparison church leaders spend eight hours a week – more than an hour each day – performing custodial duties at the church. The typical custodial duties included opening and closing the facilities, turning on and off the lights, and general cleaning of the building.
- Leaders of effective churches average 22 hours a week in family activities. The comparison church leaders weren’t too far behind with 18 hours of family time each week.
Priorities and Balance
The time allocation of effective leaders seems to complement the way they describe their own leadership styles. In order to accomplish what they considered priority functions, they had to sacrifice in other areas. The leaders of effective churches spent over 40 hours per week with their families and in sermon preparation time. In order to fulfill these priorities, they obviously had to let some things go.
Thus the effective leaders cannot do many of the responsibilities often expected of them as pastors. They cannot make all the hospital visits. They cannot counsel everyone. And they cannot perform all of the custodial duties that may be expected of them. But as leaders they can see that those things get done.
Leaders of effective churches thus make certain that their family and work life is balanced. And they make certain they have time to be missional and all about the Great Commission.
They also give priority in time to prayer and to preparation in God’s Word for the sermons to follow.
They almost sound like they are following the pattern of the early church leaders: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the preaching ministry” (Acts 6:4, HCSB).
Biblical. Missional. Evangelistic. And powerful preaching.
How are you spending your time?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on July 1o, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
By Thom Rainer
If you really want to hurt your pastor, then this blogpost is for you.
This past week alone, I had conversations with dozens of pastors. These pastors love their churches and the members. They are really committed to their callings.
But they are real people who can really be hurt.
The pastors I spoke with this past week shared with me seven common themes of the things that hurt them the most. So, if you really want to hurt your pastor, follow these guidelines carefully.
- Criticize the pastor’s family. Few things are as painful to pastors as criticizing their families, especially if the criticisms are related to issues in the church.
- Tell the pastor he is overpaid. Very few pastors really make much money. But there are a number of church members who would like to make the pastor feel badly about his pay.
- Don’t defend the pastor. Critics can be hurtful. But even more hurtful are those who remain silent while their pastor is verbally attacked. Silence is not golden in this case.
- Tell your pastor what an easy job he has. It can really sting when someone suggests that the pastor really only works about ten hours a week. Some actually believe that pastors have several days a week off.
- Be a constant naysayer. Pastors can usually handle the occasional critic. But the truly painful relationships are with church members who are constantly negative. How do you know you’ve succeeded in this regard? The pastor runs the other way when he sees you.
- Make comments about the pastor’s expenditures. I heard it from a pastor this past week. A church member asked, “How can you afford to go to Disney World?” Wow.
- Compare your pastor’s preaching and ministry unfavorably to that of another pastor. Many times the member wants you to know how much he or she likes that pastor on the podcast compared to you. If you really want to hurt your pastor, you can make certain he knows how inferior he is.
So, if your life’s goal is to hurt your pastor, one or more of these approaches will work just fine.
But, if you are like most good church members, you want the best for your pastor. So just do the opposite of these seven.
And if you are worried that your pastor will not remain humble unless someone puts him in his place, don’t worry. There will always be plenty of those other church members around.
Do you identify with these seven items? What would you add?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on June 16, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
As the president of an organization that has huge investments in both print and digital assets, I watch the trends related to the two closely. Current discussions focus on a few basic issues. First, digital communication is pervasive and growing. Any metric will affirm that reality. Second, print as a form of communication is suffering in most areas. Third, print will have occasional rebounds that will give print adherents hope that it is not going away. In the past couple of years, for example, print book sales have stabilized.
But a recent article by Henry Blodget in Business Insider shed some fresh perspectives on this issue. He notes the allegiance to print media is highly influenced by the age of the readers. Simply stated, the older you are, the more likely you are to like, or even prefer, print. Of course, that information is really stating the obvious.
The Stark Reality of the Future of Print
But Blodget notes recent research that is almost breathtaking. The research looked at media preferences for different age groups. The stark reality of the future of print is most noticeable in the 16-to-24 age group and the 25-to-34 age group. The Millennials have absolutely no loyalty to or preference for print media. Blodget’s words are worth repeating:
“Media consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s, and 30s have no such print alliances. To them, the idea of printing on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful. To these folks, paper-based publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears. For those who weren’t raised on paper, digital is superior in almost every way.”
Wow. Those words are painful for an old print adherent like me. But facts are our friends, and I would rather deal with reality than deny reality.
Five Implications for the Church
Of course, after I read the article, my mind traversed quickly to implications for local churches. I see at least five at this point.
- Churches not fully acclimated to the digital age need to do so quickly. It’s a matter of gospel stewardship. There is no need to compromise biblical truths, but there is a great need to be relevant.
- More of our congregants will be turning on their Bibles in the worship services rather than opening them to a print page. Some pastors view this practice as troublesome. One pastor recently commented to me: “How do we know if they aren’t looking at sport scores or something else?” We don’t know. And we don’t know where their minds are wandering if they don’t have a digital device with them.
- Church leaders should view this change as an opportunity to be more effective missional leaders. We would not expect international missionaries to go to a place of service without learning the language and the culture. The language and the culture of the Millennials are all digital.
- Leaders must keep current with changes in the digital revolution. While old guys like me will never be as conversant with the digital culture as our children and grandchildren, we must do our best to understand this ever-changing world. What is current and relevant today may be dated and irrelevant tomorrow.
- Social media is a key communication form for the Millennials; churches and church leaders must also be connected. I recently wrote an article on this issue. For now, a church not involved some way in social media is neglecting a large part of the mission field.
Implications and More Implications
I recently was reading a print magazine article to one of my grandsons who was cuddled in my lap. He saw a photo on the page and tried to swipe it like he would on an iPad. When nothing happened he declared my “picture was broken.”
That is the age and the era that are quickly approaching. The implications are many and staggering. But we in churches cannot be complacent. The very communication of the gospel is at stake.
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 14, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.
If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.
What, then, are some of the most significant changes? Please allow me to offer some trends from anecdotal information, church consultations, and objective research. As a caveat, some of the data based research comes from an excellent study, The National Congregations Study by Duke University. This study, fortunately, is longitudinal, so it is able to look at changes over many years. But the study is also dated, with the latest data reported in 2007.
From these multiple sources, I have assembled nine changes that have come at a rapid pace in many churches. Please note my perspective. I am offering these from the perspective of a researcher; I am not making qualitative assessments. Also, with every trend there will be thousands of churches that are exceptions to the norm. But these are the changes in the majority of churches in North America.
- Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
- Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
- Screens are pervasive. Some of you remember the days when putting a projection screen in a worship center was considered a sacrilege. Now most churches have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
- Preaching is longer. I will soon be in the process of gathering this data to make certain the objective research confirms the anecdotal information.
- “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
- Attendees are more diverse. The Duke study noted the trend of the decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
- Conflict is not increasing. In a recent post, I noted the decreasing frequency of worship wars. The Duke study noted that overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
- More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
- Sunday evening services are disappearing. This issue has stirred quite a bit of discussion the past few years. I plan to expand upon it in my post this coming Saturday. Stay tuned.
I have tried to present these changes from a research perspective instead of injecting my opinions or preferences. Obviously, I have my own, but I would rather hear from you. The readers at this blog are much smarter than I am anyway.
Do you see these trends in your local congregation? What would you add?
This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 7, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.