Signs the Small Church Pastor Has Given Up Seeking Revitalization

By Tom Cheyney

Thinking about church revitalization and renewal in a smaller church the first thing I would say is to echo my friend Karl Vaters when he says that small does not mean unhealthy, insular, poorly managed, or settling for less. Generally speaking small churches are some of the most resilient of our churches anywhere. Abraham Lincoln said it well when he declared, God most really love the small church because He made so many of them. Within this article I want to discuss the small church in decline and its pastor in relation to the signs that he has given up seeking revitalization and renewal.  I serve this up as more of those you do not want to emulate in your effort to revitalize a local church. All of us have preachers and pastors we hold in esteem because they are examples to us of how to lead successfully. I have been around successful church revitalizers and unsuccessful pastors of revitalization. My working often places me squarely in front of a pastor who is unsuccessful and wants me to give him a magic pill to fix his inability to grow a church. One of the reasons we spent the significant monies necessary to design the Church Revitalizer Assessment is because we were tired of seeing church planters frustrated because their skill sets kept them from being a successful church revitalization pastor. Just like it takes specific skills to plant a church it likewise takes specific skills to revitalize a church. they are not the same set of skills and many a church in need of revitalization has chosen an individual with the wrong skill sets and core values to revitalize a church. What are the traits of a pastor in a declining small church you do not want to imitate. Here are some to consider:


Distraction is a Lifestyle with these Pastors


I have seen so many ministers who are always distracted. How many pastors do you know that live on their phone texting someone when they ought to be listening to someone who can help them grow as a minister? I go to lunch often trying to help these pastors and hardly ever do we get through a coaching luncheon without three or four text or calls keeping the pastor from being focused on the task at hand of saving his church. It is not easy staying on task and remain focused every hour of the day, but if you are distracted more than you are focused you have opted out as the leader of revitalization and renewal.


They are Aspirational Talkers


These pastors are always telling you what they are going to do but never get to doing it. They only know how to talk the talk but not walk the walk of revitalizing a local church. I tell church revitalizing pastors that there is one thing better than talking the talk about something and that is just getting at it and doing it. I see so many pastors in need of renewal who talk about their goals but they never get to it. Here is a sad realization. It is that so many churches in need of renewal will applaud that pastor for the speech about his vision yet they will not hold him to accountability in carrying out that vison and goal. Talk is often counterproductive in a small declining church but doing will lead to success. When you tell somebody or everybody your goals and they acknowledge it there something in us that says very good. We almost think it has already been accomplished. Then because the church membership experienced a tiny degree of satisfaction, the pastor becomes less motivated to do the real hard work necessary to achieve the goal. Pastors with good intentions make promises. But pastors with good character keep them. Stop being an aspirational talker and start being an achievement doer. Get it done.


They Gather with Losers Instead of Winners


It speaks volumes in who you as a minister hang with. If you spend most of your time with losers it is a pretty fair assessment that you are one and that you do not feel comfortable around pastors with a winning mentality. If you hang all the time with losers and do it consistently enough you will become just like them even if you are not one of them. Usually though, it is a case of successful pastors outgrowing former friends. What caused you to connect initially as friends no longer applies, or your lives are going in completely different directions. I felt this way about several people I used to spend time with: they were going nowhere fast, had no goals, no ambition, and their only focus was their next self-destructive adventure. They will hold you back from your fullest potential. Often they make you feel guilty because you are advancing towards growth and renewal. Individually and corporately in the church.


Small church pastors must find a group of winners, achievers, and succeeders to be around. If you want to be a good fisherman hang out with those who are. If you want to be a soul winner hang out with those who are and watch it rub off on you. Pastors feed off of one another’s energy or non-energy.


They Detest Everything and Everyone That is Bringing About Renewal


Pastors in small declining churches often speak poorly about pastors of other small churches which are becoming successful in revitalizing their churches. There is something within them that hates to see another pastor achieve. The dislike ministers that are doing well in church revitalization and renewal. These pastors have a difficult time being happy for another pastor’s success. Pastors of small congregation in decline ought to give that other pastor some love and watch as that other pastor pours blessings after blessings on the one needing revitalization. If you as the pastor continually dislike everything in your church you have developed a life that is despondent and unable to lead others to join in the effort of saving your church.


They Postpone, Delay, and Procrastinate the Week Away


Deferral seems to be their primary tool in leading a declining church. They have made procrastination an art form.  They would rather put things off instead of doing it now. They always are playing catch up and appear to always be unprepared. Pastors who practice time inconsistency value the immediate reward of being in the moment but fail in the practice of preparing for future success and rewards. These leaders find it hard to prepare for tomorrow and lead a church into future successes. These ministers believe that if they delay things will be better when in reality they will not. Postponing and delay is designed for making something better not for an excuse that you are not good at following a schedule and disciplined enough to get the job done. What is the idea of delaying something if you get the same outcome? Do it now, or do it better later.


They are Lovers of their Own Voice


These pastors are unable to listen to anyone for very long. They would rather hear their voice own voice than listen to another. Many pastors struggling to renew a small church have a difficult time listening to views and opinions of others. Unsuccessful pastors only love themselves. To be honest, we all love ourselves, but if you’re unsuccessful, you only love yourself. Pastors who are successful in small churches listen to others because they care about others. Listening displays that they care. Asking how a member is doing is an example of an active listening pastor.


Their Laziness Has Breed Disconnectedness


I know that it is hard to connect with everyone but if you ae connecting with no one it is a good sign that you are lazy. Ouch. I am sorry that is stated so bluntly but maybe it will be a wakeup call. When a pastor is not able to show much accomplishment in a week it is a sign of their weakness of laziness. Pastors who avoid challenging tasks in the realm of revitalization often are simply not willing to invest the spiritual, mental, and emotional energy to reach a breakthrough. They are great at fake work but terrible at the things which will breed success for the renewing church. Business is not the same as achievement. When you’re lazy, you don’t even give yourself a chance to experience new things. It’s also not fair to the people in your life. Revitalization of a church often lies in the newly discovered experiences God brings into our paths.


Being a Life Learner is Foreign to Them


Pastors of small churches do not get an out in being a leaner because they pastor a small church. Learning is hard for all of us but it is a must if we are going to stay sharp. When was the last time you read a book? How long has it been since you wrote more than a few pages on a subject? How many of you have a degree held over your head uncompleted? Being a learner takes intentionality. To become a successful lifelong learner, you must be self-motivated. You must develop a hunger and interest in your chosen field of revitalization. Learners find the adventure while the slothful find an excuse. We live in the most exciting time in history for learners. The access to information has never been this easy. In the past, if your dad was a farmer, you became a farmer. Things were like that. Now, you can be anything you wish — you just need to learn how to do it.


Being a Jerk is Not Attractive to Outsiders


Pastors who know they need to revitalize their church but are not willing to make the sacrifices to see it come to fruition, often act meanly towards outsiders when confronted about renewal. It is as if they think it is cooler to act that way than to act sincerely. Being nice is a gift to others and should not be overlooked. New friends to the church will come as they feel welcomed and not criticized. If you cannot do this the chances are that you are likely a bit jerky.


They are Quitters and Deserters of the Flock


Quitters never win and winners never quit. Pastors abandoning the small church needing renewal are deserters of the flock and perhaps even their ministry. This is the hardest one and why I saved it for last. We show our greatest weaknesses when we give up as a pastor. We hurt those who need us the most when we desert the flock of followers still connected to the tiny church. Desertion as a leader is thievery to congregation and the office of pastor. The most successful way to succeed is to try it one more time and then another until you have led your church through revitalization. Keep going and never give up. Quitters abandon the flock and do irreparable damage.


Wrapping it up!

As we have discussed the small church in decline and its pastor as they relate to the signs that they have given up seeking the revitalization of their church, this list is a warning for church leaders and laity if they find that the pastor of their church emulates these practices more than those who are actively seeking renewal. Run from anyone who practices these traits regularly as they lead the church.