Years ago, the brilliant church analyst Lyle Schaller noted, “…dozens of surveys have demonstrated that rapidly growing congregations tend to be churches with long pastorates, and stable or declining congregations tend to have short pastorates.”
I absolutely believe that. The same argument could be made for other staff positions.
In other words, the longer you stay at the church you serve, the better chance it has to (1) grow numerically year after year and (2) deepen its impact in the community.
You and I both know it takes years to dig a deep evangelistic foundation:
- Years to get to know community influencers.
- Years to initiate and develop building project plans.
- Years to get good at the craft of preaching.
- Years to learn how to lead a staff well.
- And years to figure out who you are as a leader and put together a “system” to lead from your strengths.
What’s rarely noted, however, is that staying in one church for more than five to thirty years – while essential for long-term growth – also brings a unique set of challenges that can actually curtail growth if we’re not aware of two hidden dynamics.
Hidden Dynamics Affecting Attendance:
1. A mindset that assumes our “church” from 60 months ago still exists.
The first hidden dynamic is something that exists solely in our minds.
It’s how we view our churches.
We have a memory bank FULL of people/issues/battles/successes/lessons from years past. But NOBODY who has become a part of our church community recently has ANY of these memories.
I have a friend who got involved in our church four years ago and is completely sold out to our mission. When we have conversations about why we do what we do I find myself continually filling him in on what transpired the 14 years he wasn’t here.
He, on the other hand, continually reminds me that that church no longer exists and the dynamics that led to where we are today shouldn’t play such a large role in future decision making.
“You never step into the same river twice” is just as true for church world as it is for the natural one.
The problem is this is a difficult mental shift to continually make yourself aware of, and even harder to change.
2. The “20% Churn Rate” factor.
The second hidden dynamic has nothing to do with you whatsoever. It’s going to happen at your church whether you’re the pastor or not.
And that’s the “churn rate” that’s devastating your church’s growth right now.
“Churn rate” refers to the percentage of people who turnover at your church each year because they’ve died, moved, or flaked out over some issue.
Here’s a question I want you to ask yourself: what percentage of your people are leaving your church year after year?
Many Senior Pastors that I coach are surprised to discover that across the board nationally, the “churn rate” for outreach-focused churches like ours hovers right at 20% each year.
The practical implications of this are staggering.
If we do nothing for the next five years, our churches will all but disappear. We’ll be out of business. 20% of our people will leave year after year until we have virtually nothing left.
There’s good news and bad news about “churn rate.”
The good news is those of you who are staying “even” in attendance or experiencing a slight decline, you are ACTUALLY growing and reaching people. If you grew by 15% last year but had a 20% churn rate, you will have technically “grown” but still dropped 5% compared to last year.
That’s the good news. Sort of.
The bad news is obvious: to grow by 10% in 2019 you will actually need to grow by 30% (30% – 20% churn rate = 10% net growth).
I can personally tell you that that kind of growth simply will not happen by accident or with minimal effort and planning.
To experience 10% net attendance growth a year we must replant the churches we lead every single year.
I used to tell Senior Pastors that I coach that they had to completely replant their congregation every five years.
I no longer believe that.
The churn rate is too pervasive, rapid, and devastating.
To create impact, we must strike fast and often.