According to Thom Rainer
“Over one-half of pastors leave a church before their fourth anniversary. And our research shows that the time of greatest fruit in a pastor’s ministry does not begin until somewhere around years five to seven.”
In a study quoted by Charles Arn, he gives the following reasons for pastors leaving churches. These are not all of the reasons in the study but they are interesting ones in relation to church size.
- Promoted to a higher position 20%
- Wanting to pastor a larger church 16%
- Better pay and benefits 11%
- Wanted to pastor a smaller church 4%
I question the promotion category because I’m not sure that there is a higher position than that of pastor but I am assuming that those doing the study were thinking in terms of moving to a larger church or to a denominational office. It is interesting that almost half of those who responded left their church to move to something larger while less than 5% left to move to something smaller.
The benefits of long-term pastorates
There may be a higher level of agreement on the fact that churches benefit from long-term pastorates than on any other point of discussion. The fact that a pastor has served for an extended period in a church may not ensure church health but a steady progression of pastors who only serve for a couple of years will almost certainly ensure poor health.
There are many reasons for this. I want to share three
1. Churches need the stability that a long-term pastorate can bring. New pastors tend to bring new ideas that they would like to implement. New ideas in manageable amounts can be beneficial but when they involved completely restructuring the church every couple of years, all they bring is instability, uncertainty and in some cases resistance.
2. Trust takes time to build and trust just might be the most ingredient in the relationship between pastor and church. People need to know that the pastor is going to make wise decisions. In the quote at the top of the page, Rainer suggests that a pastor can expect to experience his greatest success after being in a church for five to seven years. This is because it takes that long for deep seated trust to evolve.
3. Short pastorates breed discontent in the pastor. She starts looking for something better instead of giving all she has to the place to which God has called her. That is a sure fire recipe for dissatisfaction.
Unpacking your suitcase
I had a pastor friend who it seemed like every time that I talked with him, he was telling me about some other opportunity for ministry. He was more focused on what might come his way tomorrow than he was with the ministry opportunities that would come to him that day.
As I thought about his situation I realized that he had moved into his present place of ministry but he had never unpacked his suitcases. He was always thinking of moving and wanted to be able to grab his luggage and move at a moments notice if something better came up.
There is nothing that gives a greater sense of stability to a small-church than when the pastor unpacks his suitcase and puts all of his clothes on the shelves.
There is nothing that contributes more to a pastor’s contentment than when she really settles into her place of service.
I want to leave you with this challenge. Totally unpack your suitcase. Give the place where you are all of your attention. Stop looking for something better. Immerse yourself in the opportunities that God has given you right now where you are.
If you do, both you and your church will benefit.
I have one friend, also a small church consultant(!), who puts maximum effectiveness at between 10 and 15 years. That’s the highest I’ve ever heard. (He also adds that after 15 years, most do not leave of their own free will–but that’s another subject!)
That’s a high number but speaks to the same truth. It takes time for a pastor to build up trust with a congregation. In churches where pastors regularly move on after a couple of years, it never happens.