Pastoral Longevity and Church Growth

By Charles Arn
Longevity and Growth

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Several years ago a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches, and the growth or decline of those churches.  Their finding?  Approximately 3/4 of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while 2/3 of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years.  Their conclusion (with which I agree):  Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow.  But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.

So, why do pastors leave their churches?  Here are the results of one study where pastors were asked that question …There is an undeniable relationship between pastoral tenure and church growth.  While most growing churches have long-term pastorates, and some non-growing churches have long-term pastorates, it is almost unheard of to find a growing church with many short-term pastorates.  Frequent change of pastors seems to negate all the other complicated ingredients that go into a church’s growth mix.

What To Do About It

If you are a pastor, personally and publicly commit to staying in your church for least seven years.  (The average pastoral tenure is less than four years.)  You may get an itch to leave sooner.  But if you stay into the sixth or seventh year, you will likely begin to experience unsurpassed effectiveness and fruitfulness.  Once you get past year seven there’s a good chance you’ll want to stay much longer.  I agree with Roger Parrot, who says: “Lead as if you’ll be there forever!  Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life” (Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders,  Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2009, p. 19).

Charles Arn

Charles Arn

Dr. Charles Arn has been a leading contributor to the conversation on church growth/health for the past 30 years. His newest book, What Every Pastor Should Know, is available from Baker Books.