With the majority of churches in North America in decline, many are looking for renewal leadership when they no longer can afford a full-time ordained pastor. That threshold is often crossed when a congregation drops below seventy-five active and contributing members (if a congregation has an abundance of reserve funds or a couple generous patrons this number can be adjusted downward for a time). So, what options are available to congregations if they want to continue renewal ministry but lack the resources for traditional full-time pastoral leadership?
Here are some possibilities for finding leaders to serve smaller renewal congregations:
Possibility 1: Calling And Equipping A Gifted Congregational Member
Most congregations have gifted members who are already leading. They are often involved in teaching, member care, community service and strategic leadership. A congregation is often well served by inviting them into expanded ministry and encouraging them to pursue training as commissioned pastors.
Possibility 2: Hiring a Dually Employed Pastor
Many congregations are choosing to call bi-vocational pastors who spend a portion of their week in ministry and another portion in marketplace employment. Many dually employed pastors discover that their marketplace connections are important for missional outreach and preparation for teaching ministry.
Possibility 3: Combining Guest Preaching and Team Leading
Some congregations cover the Sunday morning teaching ministry by employing one or more guest preachers. Guest preachers can be found among the recently retired, pastors employed in non-parish ministry or gifted non-clergy. The remainder of ministry is led by a team of volunteers and/or part-time staff.
Possibility 4: Sharing Pastoral Leadership With More Than One Congregation
In the American frontier this was the circuit-riding pastors who provided pastoral leadership for more than one congregation. Today multi-congregational pastors have the gift of horse power rather than a horse. Multi-congregational pastors seem especially effective among widely separated rural congregations.
Possibility 5: Partnering With Or Becoming A Satellite Of A Thriving Congregation
Several smaller churches are approaching thriving congregations with a request to partner in ministry. The resulting changes in ministry structure are diverse beginning with the simple sharing of resources to the return to emerging status to closing and being reborn under the name and direction of another congregation.
Possibility 6: Merging With One Or More Smaller Congregations
Another option for smaller congregations is merging with one or more smaller congregations. The expanded membership provides resources for continued ministry. The rule of thumb, however, is that in 5-10 years the new congregation will whittle down to the size of the largest of the pre-merger churches.
Possibility 7: Restarting Through Death and Rebirth
A few clearly focused smaller congregations have chosen to die in order to be reborn as a mission. This typically demands closing for several months, finding new revenue streams, inviting new skilled church planting leadership and creating fresh strategy to reach the community. It’s hard, but has been accomplished.
Possibility 8: Completing and Blessing
Many smaller congregations recognize that the life-cycle of their congregation is complete. They understand God’s universal design that living things die in order to bring new life. The Center for Church Renewal offers a Legacy Project to help churches discern if this is their best path forward. Visit here for information.