Archives For Thom S. Rainer

Exhausted

Perhaps the autopsy metaphor is not the best choice. After all, the person is not deceased. But the pastor who is burned out feels like life is draining out. Unfortunately, I have spoken with too many pastors for whom burnout is a reality or a near reality.

What lessons can we learn from those pastors who burned out? Allow me to share 13 lessons I have learned from those who have met this fate. They are in no particular order.

  1. The pastor would not say “no” to requests for time. Being a short-term people pleaser became a longer-term problem.
  2. The pastor had no effective way to deal with critics. I plan to deal with this issue more in the future. What types of systems do effective leaders put in place to deal with criticisms so they respond when necessary, but don’t deplete their emotional reservoirs?
  3. The pastor served a dysfunctional church. Any pastor who leads a church that remains dysfunctional over a long period of time is likely headed toward burnout.
  4. The pastor did little or no physical exercise. I understand this dilemma, because I have been there in the recent past.
  5. The pastor did not have daily Bible time. I continue…

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I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it…

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Clearview Church

I find great joy in hearing the stories of churches that had successful building programs. By “successful” I do not mean just the adequate funding and completion of the project. I mean that the church continues to have a momentum in ministry, outward focus, and internal unity.

Unfortunately, a number of churches complete a building program only to see more challenges than opportunities. They often become discouraged and disillusioned. The building program was perceived to be a significant answer to their needs. Instead the church finds itself with declining ministries and attendance, and with greater debt and facilities to underwrite.

So what is the difference between the successful and unsuccessful churches in building programs? Why do some thrive in the aftermath, while others hit difficult times? Allow me to offer six keys to successful programs.

  1. Intensive and extensive prayer preceded the decision to build. I recently spoke to a pastor whose church went through a season of prayer culminating in a 24-hour prayer vigil. All of this prayer momentum took place before the church made any commitment to build.
  2. The ministry need for the building was clear and articulated. Some churches are able to…

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A seismic shift is taking place in American church facilities, a shift that will become even more noticeable in the years to come. Church worship centers or sanctuaries will become smaller than they were the past 40 years. As church leaders decide to build, a large number of them will decide to build smaller than most of their predecessors have in previous years.

The trend for the past four decades has been to build increasingly larger worship centers. And while the large worship center will not disappear, you will notice more intentionality to build or buy smaller. Why? As I look at the church landscape in America, I see seven reasons, and only two of them are related to declining attendance. I will note those two first.

  1. Decreasing frequency of attendance among church members.  I noted this trend in a previous article. The informal definition of an “active” church member a decade ago was a member who attended worship services an average of three to four times a…

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In my previous post, I addressed the issue of very sick churches, noting that as many as 40 percent of the American congregations fall in that category. Several readers commented that they would like me to write about possible solutions to the problem.

I love to be a dispenser of hope. But I refuse to be a dispenser of false hope. The current reality is that most of the churches in this category will not reverse their trends. Again, the process may be long, but it seems so inevitable for many.

Will God Reverse the Decline?

Where is the hope in God? Do I not believe He can perform the miracles necessary to reverse the courses of these churches?

Of course I do. But in Scripture, God usually works with a willing people, at least a willing leader. When He delivered the Jews from the bondage of Egypt, he had a leader named Moses. That leader was initially reluctant, but eventually He obeyed and the people followed.

The rebuilding of Jerusalem was not easy after the exile, but God used Nehemiah to lead in…

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I confess.

I used to hate meetings.

In fact I was very vocal about meetings being a waste of time. In most meetings I attended, I daydreamed about a dozen other ways I could be spending my time more productively.

Over time I would discover the problem was not the meeting per se, but the way the meeting was managed. Today I am a shouting proponent of meetings, at least the productive ones. And I have found that church staff persons, whether full-time, part-time, or volunteer, are among the most notorious for having bad staff meetings.

Over the past decade I have been on a quest to find highly effective church staff meetings. I have been fortunate to observe several, and I emulate them in my own staff meetings. Though all of the good meetings have several diverse characteristics, I found seven characteristics consistent in the highly effective meetings.

  1. The meetings begin with prayer for the church and her members. Effective staff meetings have core to their purpose the need to pray for the church. These prayers are not quick and perfunctory, but sincere and well thought. The staff comes…

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By the time we hear of a leadership failure, any attempts at intervention to save the leader are usually futile. The damage has been done. The family or organization suffers as their leader has fallen or, at the very least, made a major mistake.

Most great leadership failures, however, don’t begin with some stupid action. The leader usually has thoughts about the action well before he or she actually makes them. Some of those thoughts can be warning signs to heed. They are like the bright, flashing red light that demands we stop. Failure to stop can result in great harm.

I’ve had the opportunity through the years to listen to leaders talk about their biggest victories and their greatest failures. When the latter takes place, these leaders reflect that, most of the time, the failure took place in a deadly thought pattern. They lament they didn’t recognize these deadly thoughts for the warnings that they were. Here are the seven most significant warning thoughts I’ve heard:

  1. “It won’t hurt to compromise a little.” So the numbers get fudged a bit. Or the private meeting with someone of…

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Most churches—more than eight out of ten—are busy. Too busy. These churches need to slim down their plethora of programs, activities, and ministries. They need to go a busyness diet.

Unfortunately, many church leaders equate activities with godliness or ministry fruitfulness. For certain, churches must have some clear plan of discipleship for their members. Sadly, some of the busiest churches actually diminish discipleship fruitfulness. And ceasing certain activities in the church can be extremely hard. You can run into sacred cows and favored ministries. Still, most churches should pursue a busyness diet for at least seven reasons.

  1. Excessive activities can actually preclude members from growing spiritually. I actually interviewed one church member who said he didn’t have time to read his Bible. He was worn out almost every day from church activities.
  2. A church that is too busy rarely evaluates the effectiveness of its activities. Leaders often erroneously presume that the busyness is a sign of fruitfulness.
  3. Activity-focused churches are often inwardly focused. Those ministries are typically for the members and are rarely evangelistic or community focused.
  4. A busy church can hurt families. Many churches have different activities for children, students, and adults on multiple days of the week. Family members rarely have time together.
  5. Activity-focused…

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PillarsI love following church trends. I have been researching and consulting with churches for over thirty years. It’s just what I do.

Sometimes I am pretty good about projecting current trends toward a future reality. Of course, I’ve had my share of misses as well. Still, I thoroughly enjoy every facet about studying local churches.

This time, however, I can make a definitive statement. I can tell you seven things in the church that will not change. In the fast pace of change in local congregations, these seven constants are good reminders of what really matters.

  1. The Bible is still the Word of God. It always has been and always will be. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. It is powerful because it is the Word of God.
  2. The gospel still changes lives. The gospel is the power unto salvation. The gospel transforms lives. The gospel is the same regardless of other changes in our churches.
  3. Small groups are still vital. In the New Testament, groups sometimes met together in homes or other places. Throughout Church history, the role of groups has been vital. It is the place where community is established and where deep truths are taught….

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StatsI am a trend watcher, particularly among churches in America. I am not particularly insightful or smart; I simply listen and speak to many churches. In fact, through my travels, blog, and other social media, I hear from thousands of church leaders every week.

The three trends I’ve recently noticed are not new. What is new is that a relatively few churches embraced these concepts a few years ago. Today, they are becoming normative. These three approaches have moved from the category of “exception” to the category of “mainstream.”

Changing Trend #1: Entry Point or New Member Classes

When I wrote High Expectations in 1999, I talked about the very early trend of churches requiring a class before granting membership to someone. In other words, a membership class was an emerging facet of expectations for church members.

Today, membership classes are pervasive. In an informal survey I did this year of churches with over 250 in worship attendance, more than 80 percent had some type of entry point class as a requisite for membership. In 1999, that number would have been less than 10 percent.

Changing Trend #2: Churches with Multiple Venues

I have to admit that the growth…

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