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When a church is doing well and growing, the people’s confidence in their pastor increases. This may be warranted, and maybe not. When a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader decreases. This may be warranted, and maybe not.

What do I mean by “may be warranted, and maybe not?” Very few people in our churches really know why their church is growing or why their church is shrinking. They think they know but usually their explanations are naive and simplistic. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is growing and they might attribute it to their dynamic worship, or the great preaching, or small groups, or the youth ministry. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is in decline and they might mention how they can’t offer the same ministries as the big church down the street, or our building isn’t attractive, or our pastor is a dear soul but the preaching is just ‘so-so.’ They might say, “We need to attract more young people.” Like that’s as simple as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Now it’s true, some pastors are better leaders than other pastors. Some pastors are better preachers, visionaries, better at leadership development, have better people-skills than others. There are really good pastors and really poor pastors (I’m referring to skills, not character) and all kinds of pastors in-between. But here’s the thing; it is seldom that I hear of a church growing or declining and it’s all because of the pastor. This is especially true when a church is shrinking. But, reality is, when a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader often decreases. How then might one regain their confidence?

  1. Occasionally teach on the dynamics of church growth and church decline, i.e. reasons why some churches grow and others don’t. Just make sure you mention that, for the most part, growth and decline can be a mystery.
  2. If your church is in decline, don’t ignore it, sweep it under the rug, or put a spin on it. You don’t want to give your people the impression that you’ve got your head buried in the sand.
  3. If your church is in decline gather a few of your best people and try to asses what is gong on. I often tell pastors, “Do you have a big P problem or a little p problem? Do you have a Problem or a problem. A capital P problem is when you know people are leaving because they are unhappy, disgruntled…and sharing this with others. A lowercase p is decline due to members moving out of the area or the normal attrition every church experiences…even that big church down the road.
  4. Every once in a while your people need to hear that our focus and fascination with numbers and church growth is mostly a western mindset and not necessarily a Biblical mindset. Big is not better than small. Small is not better than big.
  5. Evaluate if you have any ‘health-inhibitors.’ I help pastor with this all the time. ‘Health-Inhibitors’ are things we are doing or not doing that are sabotaging our attempts to grow a healthy church. Correcting said inhibitors is no guarantee that your church is going to start growing numerically, but it doesn’t hurt and you have more control over church health than you do church growth.

I can help. Drop me a line.




In the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the  conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to. Never underestimate the importance of regular, clear, and sometimes if needed, honest communication.


How do you communicate what is going on in your church? Announcements? Bulletin? Newsletter? Facebook? Emails? Texting? Or better yet, all of the above? You see…I don’t think we can over- communicate. In my last church, each year I gave a ‘state of the church’ address, much like the President’s state of the union address. I shared what we accomplished the previous year, what goals we didn’t achieve, and what we’d be aiming at in the coming year.


Just because you think you’re being clear does not mean you are being clear. Never underestimate your ability to be vague and all the while think you’re being clear. Sometimes when we’re passing on information we accidentally leave out details, it’s all clear in our heads but something can happen when we communicate that results in gaps. It’s those gaps that can make communication of information less effective than we would like.


As a rule (and there are always exceptions to the rule…and I’ll probably hear some of them) our policy should be full disclosure…or at least close to it. If the church is struggling financially, our people should know. If our numbers have been shrinking, our people should know. If someone gets mad and leaves the church (and this is especially true if they are a leader or a person of influence in the church) the people should know, and they should know why they left. If you know why attendance is down, the people should know. If you don’t know why attendance is down, the people should know. If the pastor is struggling financially, the people should know. If the pastor and leadership are considering the need for the pastor to take a part time job…or full time job outside of the church, the people should know.

The smaller the church the more people expect to be kept in-the-loop. And this ‘loop’ can be positive things as well as negative things. If the church is doing well financially, the people should know. If you have added some people to the church, the people should know. If some ministry is really successful, the people should know. Communicate and celebrate victories.

Remember, in the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to.


I think it was John Maxwell that said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” The tribe I was a part of (The Vineyard) drilled into us the need to ‘raise up leaders.’ Some experts have even told pastors that your church will only grow as large as your base of leaders. That sounds a little like those ‘golden-keys’ we read about (Grow leaders and your church will grow…I promise.) so I’m not sure I agree entirely with it, but the first two statements I do…most of the time, agree wth.

Often pastors want to talk about leadership development. And if they don’t bring up the subject, eventually I will ask them, “What are you doing to raise up new leaders?” But first I want to know how many active adults (adults, not adults and children) they have in their church, why? Because…

The smaller the church, the less the pastor needs leaders and the more the pastor needs helpers.

Now let there be no mistake about it, leaders will come from your team of helpers. Of those who are helping you, someone will stand out and catch your attention. Chances are, this could be a future leader.

The smaller your church the more likely it will be that you have more, sometimes way more, helpers than you have leaders. You see, if you are searching for leaders you are probably looking for a certain level of maturity and commitment to Jesus and the church. You may, or may not have such a person. But if you are looking for helpers the bar is a little lower and you will have more to choose from. Besides, it’s better to wait until you have the right kind of person you are going to call, or think of as a leader, than to put someone ‘in leadership’ prematurely and later regret it.

Once you call someone a ‘leader’ everything changes. Calling someone a leader changes their relationship with you and your relationship with them. Calling someone a leader changes your churches perception of the person. And…sorry to say this, sometimes people change, and not always for the better, once you are calling them a leader. For example, they might think this means more than you intended for it to mean. I suggest that you hold off on calling anyone a leader until you’ve had enough time to know if they are ‘leading’ in the way you want a ‘leader’ to lead.

Do you need ‘leaders’ or do you only need ‘helpers?’

Here are some steps you might find helpful:

  1. If you think you need a leader, what is it specifically that they need to lead?
  2. What concrete reasons do you have for thinking they would be a good leader of (fill in the blank)?
  3. Do you need to call them a leader or could you call them something else?
  4. Who are your helpers?
  5. Who among your helpers stands out the most?
  6. Who among your helpers comes in at second place?
  7. Pray over this/these people asking the Father to show you if he regards them as potential leaders.
  8. Begin to pour your time into them.
  9. At some point, but only if you think you have a future leader on your hands, let them know that you think they have potential. Don’t be thrown off if they immediately tell you that they think you are crazy. This can actually be a good sign.

Almost all leaders started out as helpers. Know who your helpers are and you will eventually know who your leaders are.


I had a friend who for years was plagued by poor health. She experienced fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness, muscle aches and pain, depressed mood…and could never find out why. She tried this and she tried that. One doctor told her one thing and a different doctor told her another, but still, no change. Finally she gave one more doctor a try. They ran a test to check her thyroid and (drum roll please) THAT WAS IT! The technical term is ‘low functioning thyroid’ or ‘hypothyroid.’

Does your church have a low functioning thyroid? And for the purpose of this article I’m thinking of a person or small group of people who are causing unhealthy symptoms?

If you are like so many other small church pastors there is a good chance you have someone in your church that is causing trouble for you. Examples:

a. A church bully

b. A church gossip/slanderer

c. A church member who purposely opposes change

d. A church critic

e. A church pastor critic

Never underestimate how one or two individuals can be holding your church back. The smaller the church, the fewer it takes to sabotage your mission and your joy.

Usually doctors treat hypothyroid holistically or with drugs. Occasionally they conclude that the best treatment is a thyroidectomy, the complete removal of the thyroid gland.

I talk to many pastors who have some low functioning thyroid person in their church. They avoid them. They try to talk to them. They pray for them to change. They hope that something will change. But often times…they tolerate them. Well…you get what you tolerate. If you want something different you’ll need to do something different. You might try to address it holistically, but chances are you’ll need to remove the gland.

These types must be told, “STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!”

It takes a brave pastor to tell someone this. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. You’re gonna make them mad. They might leave. They might take some people with them. You might get fired. They might cause a stink…but they’re already causing a stink.

Do you want a smelly church or a healthy church? Do you want a sick church or a healthy church. Do you need to treat a low functioning thyroid? If so, you probably need to say…

STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!


Let me begin by saying, yes, I am aware of Matt. 28:19-20. Having reassured some of you…

I was talking to a Pastor who wanted to discuss “making disciples.” This is not an unusual topic, in fact, this is one of the most frequent areas of focus pastors bring to a our coaching call. It goes something like this:

Me: So, what do you want to focus on today?
Pastor: How can I make disciples? I mean real, dedicated, all-in-for-Jesus, committed, fully devoted followers of Jesus…you know, disciples.
Me: Never gonna happen.

No…I don’t say that. I might think that, but I don’t say it.

One of my favorite questions to ask pastors is, “What is your plan to make disciples?” Nothing of any importance is achieved without having a plan.

The first step in developing a discipleship strategy is to ask, or determine, what is our (the pastor, the leaders, the church) responsibility? Where does our job begin and where does it stop? How much of this is on us, and how much of this is on them? These are very important questions.

It seems to me that many pastors feel an unnecessary degree of obligation to make discipleship happen. Notice that I said, “unnecessary degree?” We do have a part to play in this but it is my conviction that more of the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Christian. In other words, if the day comes that I stand before God (I’m counting on that happening) and he chastises me for my lack of commitment (I’m counting on that not happening…time will tell. Yikes!) that I will not be able to blame my church or my pastor.

Our people need to hear us say, “You are responsible for your own spiritual growth. We will provide tracks for you to run on if you want. We will try to give you encouragement and good teaching on Sundays. But…you have a bigger part to play in this than the church does, or I do. You will be as close to God as you want to be.”

Do you know where your job begins and where it ends?
Do you have a discipleship plan?
Do you have in place tracks for people to run on that will help them become disciples?
Do you take on more of the responsibility for discipleship than you should?
Do you regularly remind your people that a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus is their responsibility?

These are things to think about. Oh…by the way, I can help you develop a discipleship strategy. 😉

IMG_4324I’ve been coaching pastors for almost ten years. In addition to being a coach, I also serve churches as a consultant.

A consultant functions much like a coach to the church. Whereas a coach relates to an individual, the consultant relates to the church board, governing body, or leadership team.

A consultant comes in when a church feels stuck or in need of a fresh set of eyes to help them walk through a challenging situation. The consultant is someone objective and experienced.

A consultant provides honest feedback, practical ideas, and resources that are tailor-made for the current size and specific challenges of the church.

20 Reasons why a church might benefit from a consultant:

When they feel stuck.

When considering a new direction.

When they need a fresh set of eyes.

When considering their first hire.

When considering their first church plant.

If momentum or morale is bad.

When they are in decline.

When they have plateaued.

When nothing seems to be working.

If there is a need for someone to mediate conflict.

When bringing in a new pastor.

When determining the pay-package for their pastor or
staff member.

If they are a new church plant.

When faced with a crisis.

When wanting to do a church diagnostic test.

When considering getting their first building.

When the leadership feels they’re running out of ideas.

When preparing to set new goals for the up-coming year.

When faced with the likelyhood of needing to fire or lay-off someone.

When they have a mutiny on their hands.


You might be thinking, “Oh, we could never afford a church consultant.” Yes you can! Because my consulting happens over the phone via conference calls, the cost is kept to a minimum. Even the smallest of churches can now afford a church consultant.

Want to set up a free, no obligation 45 min. phone call to see if this is the right time to team up with a church consultant or to answer any quesitons you might have about consulting? If so, contact me at: dave@smallchurchpastor.com



Do you remember the scene in that great military courtroom drama, A Few Good Men?

Lt. Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!



For a while there I was hearing a lot about the need for pastors to be more transparent with their people. They want to know that you are human, they said. They need to know that you struggle with the same things they struggle with, they said. It’s good for them to know the truth, they said. But the problem is…

THEY CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Or at least most can’t.

It’s true, Pastors need someone safe to talk to, but it is rare that a pastor finds such a person in their own church.

If you’re having a crisis of faith, you probably shouldn’t talk to a board member about it.

If your marriage is really struggling, you probably shouldn’t talk to a deacon about it.

If you’ve slipped into some type of harmful, addictive habit, you probably shouldn’t include this in one of your sermons.

If you’re struggling with anger or hate, directed towards individuals or the church as a whole, you probably should find someone outside of the church to reveal this to.

I’ve had pastors share with me all of these things, and more. The thing is…I’m safe. I’m removed from the situation, so I can offer some objectivity. They are not running the risk of getting fired with me. I’m not going to turn their transparency around and bite them on the….well you get the picture. Someone once said, “Don’t bleed around sharks.”

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’ve got some wonderful people or good friends in your church that you could tell anything to and you would not regret it. But if this is you, and I really hope it is, you are in the great minority.

In order to be spiritually and emotionally healthy, pastors need someone they can be transparent with, but chances are they will not find that kind of person in their church. This is sad, but true.

So is it hopeless? Are pastors destined to live a life alone, with secrets or hurts no one knows about except, maybe their spouse? I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. But let me suggest some ways you might find that ‘safe’ person.

  1. You might find someone in your local ministerial association.
  2. You might find someone outside of your church but inside of your denomination.
  3. You might find someone from your old college days, someone who might even live outside of the state but who you could connect with over the phone. I’ve personally seen this work.
  4. You could get a coach or a spiritual director.
  5. You could connect with a counselor.

Can you think of any other possibilities?

Don’t give up. Don’t assume that this is the way it is and nothing can be done about it. Come to Jesus, unburden your heart to him. Jesus is not a shark. Ask Jesus to lead you to someone safe whom you could be transparent with.

You can find someone who can “…handle the truth!”


Last week I read an interesting article on the subject of “dissonance.” Not dissonance in music (which I didn’t even know there was such a thing), but dissonance in relationships. I wrote down some of the main points and then deleted the article so please don’t ask me for it. Sorry.

Dissonance occurs when you think you’re coming across in one way but people see you in a totally different way. Dissonance works the other way around, too: it occurs when you think you perceive someone else accurately, but the other person doesn’t agree.

The author suggested that dissonance is a common culprit in marital disputes. And that made me wonder how often dissonance is a common culprit in church disputes.

Again, the author said, “The greatest single cause of dissonance is the fact that people behave their worst when they feel most powerless.” Think about that. Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever found that to be true with someone in your church? Have you ever found that to be true about you?

Dissonance keeps you from reaching people, and it keeps other people from reaching you. You are not immune to dissonance. You might not be the one to blame…but you could be.

I’m always on the side of pastors. This is my bias. I know it. I think there’s a need for it. This is part of who I want to be, i.e. the champion of pastors. But sometimes we’ve created out own problems…not the church member(s). Pastors can do dump things, say dumb things, and think dumb things of others. Often times this results in dissonance.

Never underestimate your ability to come across in a way you didn’t intend. Never underestimate your ability to choose the wrong word to use at the wrong time. Never underestimate your ability for body language and facial expressions to sabotage your relationships with others. Never underestimate your ability to contribute to dissonance.

But here’s the challenge: how can you know how other people perceive you? The answer is two-fold, simple, but uncomfortable:

  1. Ask God to show you how you come across to others. Yikes! I’d rather have God hold a mirror up to my face than someone else who might just smash it over my head. And speaking of someone else…
  2. Be brave enough to ask someone how you come across. This very well might hurt, but it will be worth it. You see…we don’t see what we don’t see and often times what we don’t see hurts and frustrates those around us.

Do you have someone like that in your life, someone who is for you, but at the same time will be honest with you? What if you asked someone on your broad, or someone on your leadership team, or the whole team, or your spouse, “What do you see in me that I might not see? If I had a blind spot, what might it be?”

Did I already use the word “yikes?”


As we wrap up this series, let me begin by restating that I like pastors of small churches and pastors of large churches. I coach pastors of small churches and larger churches (mostly small churches). I like small churches and I like large churches. We’re all on the same team. We’re in this together. God loves our churches all the same regardless of their size. This series was not intended to bash certain large church pastors and the advice they give to smaller churches or be a put down of big churches. In fact, if they had changed a few words of their advice-giving posts from ‘Ways to grow your church” to “Ways to have a healthy church”, I probably would be fine. I often find these articles to be helpful in the sense that the advice they give are, in my opinion, signs you would hope to find in a healthy church but not necessarily something guaranteed to make your church grow.

One big church pastor advised:

  1. Plan big days. I actually like this. Regardless of the size of your church you can plan a special service for your church members to invite their friends to. But…before you can expect your members to be inviters, you might have to train them to be inviters. I wrote on this here.
  2. Multiply small groups. And you’re saying, multiply small groups? We are a small group. And to show how out of touch the author is with the reality of the majority of pastors in our country he says, “People will often complain about not being cared for when the real issue is that they’re losing control. “There are so many people here, I don’t feel like anybody cares for me anymore” is a common complaint.” Maybe in a big church, but seldom in a small church. Now your church might only have 50 people in it and there still be some who feel neglected. But this is a topic for another time. And let me go on the record by saying that I really, really do believe in small groups…even if you have a small church, but this is a topic for another time.
  3. Expand your facility. Most of you reading this find it difficult enough to fill the facility you have, let alone expand your facility. The writer points out,”…we had over 10,000 members before we ever built our first building.” This is pretty good advice if your church is a larger one that is experiencing consistent growth, but most of us pastor small churches that have either plateaued or are in decline. Which is not to suggest that there is anything necessarily wrong with you as a pastor or with your church…it can…but not guaranteed.

In regards to the points above I would say: plan big days, incorporate small groups into your overall strategy for church health, and wait to expand your facility until your busting out at the seams.

Let me wrap things up by saying that you don’t need to skip over articles on “How to grow your church”
but instead, change the points given to be advice on how to have a ‘healthy church’ and then see if you find the writer more helpful and an encouragement. And let’s remember, church health is not just a new way to grow your church. Church health stands on it’s own as the goal we all should have while leaving the numerical growth up to the Lord.


This is the fourth part in a series on my thoughts about big church pastors giving advice to small church pastors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that big church pastors have nothing to say to small church pastors. They often do. And often, unbeknownst to them, the things they have to say either don’t fit in a small church setting, or results in discouragement and frustration for small church pastors.

Actually, if an article entitled “Eight ways to grow your church” was changed to “Eight ways to have a healthy church”, much of the article would be far more beneficial to the pastor of a smaller church.

I’m not a ‘church-growth’ guy. I believe in the Great Commission. I believe that churches need to be reaching new people. But I am a ‘church-health’ guy. We have far more control over having a healthy church than we do a growing church. Often the points pastors of large churches make for how to grow your church are actually signs of a healthy church. And…hold on to your hats here…I believe you can have a healthy church that isn’t growing. Anyway…

In a recent article by a very popular megachurch pastor ‘Eight ways to grow your church’, he said, “Begin having multiple services – If you’re not already doing so, I encourage you to seriously start planning for it. By offering people a choice of services, you’re effectively putting another hook in the water. And, multiply your staff – In order to grow past that 200 barrier, you must begin moving to multiple staff. You must begin to specialize the staff under your leadership.”

Three things, first, the vast majority of pastors have enough trouble filling up one service let alone think about a second one. In fact, I’ve known pastors move to a second service prematurely because of advice like this and it nearly killed them. I was one of them.

Second…staff? Multiply your staff? What staff? Your ‘staff’ is probably you and your spouse. Multiply leaders…yes. And if you want to call some of your leaders your staff, that’s okay.

And third, we’ve run into this before, “In order to grow past that 200 barrier…” I’ve already mentioned this in part one. Here’s something I wrote on ‘breaking growth barriers’. In a nutshell, who says there is a ‘200 barrier’ that we need to break through?

See what I mean. It’s not that the advice is bad. It’s just that the advice doesn’t fit for the majority of pastors. And it doesn’t help the pastors, and there are a lot of them, I know, because I work with them, that have done and are doing what these articles are telling them they need to do but still their church isn’t growing. That’s discouraging isn’t it. That’s frustrating isn’t it? I know, I’ve been there.

Fight the temptation to skip the articles on church growth from the megapastors. They have some helpful things to say. But when you do read them, look for principles for health rather than principles for growth. If you do this you will glean some great stuff that will prove to be helpful.


Here’s my latest

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