Before arriving as the senior pastor of my last church, there was a 25-month gap between my start date and the former minister's end date. I served there for almost five years. Following my time at the church, it took 25 more months to find the next lead pastor. The numbers speak for themselves: During those nine years in the life of the church, four of them were spent searching for a pastor.
Whenever there is a lengthy vacancy on church staff, particularly in the senior pastor role, there is usually a heavy price to pay—and the costs are not always financial.
Here are the five costly losses that can result from a lengthy vacancy on your church staff.
1. Loss of Morale
Whenever there is a new vacancy on your church team, the staff, with initial enthusiasm and drive, does their best to step up and fill in the gaps, taking on extra responsibilities they were never meant to have. But over the months, that initiative and enthusiasm begins to fade.
Likewise, the Pastor Search Committee
is made up of volunteers who probably dropped most of their other volunteer tasks to take on this search. They will most likely meet 50-75 times during the course of a senior pastor search, if unaided by a search firm
. Most Pastor Search Committee members have never conducted a staff search before, and volunteer-driven searches average 18-24 months. The hours spent in deliberation and time spent without a leader takes its toll on the church, and the congregation will begin to sense the shift in morale.
2. Loss of Momentum
With a transition in leadership, initiatives, new ministries and decisions tend to be put on hold. “Let’s wait on that until the new pastor arrives” becomes the motto. I’m sure the new pastor
will appreciate that consideration, but it causes a stall in the momentum of the church that is difficult to jump-start once the new leader is in place. Also, that “let’s wait” staff mentality through a long transition could stick and be difficult for the new pastor to overcome.
3. Loss of Money
This is perhaps the most obvious loss during a lengthy senior pastor search. Several studies have shown that giving decreases during a pastoral transition.
WITHOUT THE LEAD VOICE AND VISION OF A SENIOR PASTOR, GIVING WILL ALMOST ALWAYS TREND DOWN.
This adversely affects not only budget considerations
, but also ministry opportunities and mission endeavors.
4. Loss of Membership
Ultimately, a lengthy transition
can lead to decline in membership. The members may begin to feel the lack of direction and then contemplate moving down the street to a more “happening” church. A “next best thing” attitude can take over the congregation and cause an exodus of people. It’s sad to see, but sometimes during the interim-pastor period, pockets of church members can gain a following and create issues through power struggles.
5. Loss of Mission and Ministry
When you add up these areas of loss (morale, momentum, money and membership), it will most likely equal a loss of mission focus
and ministry impact. A lengthy transition can cause distraction from the main role of the church—reaching people for Christ and helping them grow in their faith.
There are ways for churches to combat the losses that occur during staff transitions. Being intentional about maintaining morale and momentum during the interim-pastor period can be a huge help. Hiring a consultant and/or a search firm to find your next leader can drastically minimize these losses and free up the church staff and those responsible for the search to continue leading and running the church. If you’re interested in what it would look like to partner with Vanderbloemen for your church staff search, don’t hesitate to reach out to us
What other losses can occur during a church staff transition?