I’ve been pretty lucky in ministry. Over the years I’ve only had to fire a handful of staff and volunteers. It’s the least enjoyable part of my job but also one of the most important. And if you’re a pastor, it’s one of your most important jobs. Allowing a person to continue in a role that they shouldn’t be in is incredibly harmful to a church. I see this happen over and over again, especially in small town churches. This needs to stop.
If you’re a pastor who has the power to fire someone and you’re allowing this to happen, then you need to put your “big boy britches on” (Southern Term) and have that conversation.
If you’re a pastor serving in a church that doesn’t allow you to have that power, I feel your pain. Still, you need to do everything you can to convince everyone who needs convincing to let that person go.
If that still doesn’t work, your best bet is to try to convince them to quit. Worst-case scenario: it backfires on you, and you get fired. But hey, now you can go to a church that actually trusts its pastor to make decisions that are best for the church.
If you’re having trouble deciding on who should be fired, let me give you some people I would strongly consider.
- The Troublemaker – This person always seems to be in the middle of drama. They create problems, instead of solutions. You constantly have to mediate between them and the latest person they ticked off. If it was one time, you can show them grace. If it’s ongoing, then you better fire them because I guarantee they’re running people off from the church.
- The Big Talker – These people can talk the talk but never seem to walk the walk. They make promises they never keep. They may talk super spiritual, but they never actually get anything done. And they always have an excuse.
- The Unqualified – I’m afraid the only qualification needed in many churches is popularity. When churches take it upon themselves to vote people into important positions within the church, we shouldn’t be surprised when they fail. It takes a lot more than being popular to lead a ministry. If they can’t or won’t do what’s required of the position, then they need to be fired.
- The Faker – In the history of the church I serve, we’ve only had to fire one person because of character issues. That’s one more than I would’ve liked to. They put on a good show and a good face, and we fell for it. I wish we’d fired them at the first sign of character fail. Unfortunately, we gave them a second chance, and they failed again. You better be really careful with this one because not dealing with it early can come back to bite you.
- The Unsocial – Ministry is relational at its core. Almost everything we do is for people, with people, and about people. If you don’t love people, you probably don’t need to be leading, because we’re in the people business.
- The Entitled – Be leery of those who think they deserve a position. It could be because of their last name or because of the money they give to the church. They will cause you problems, and if you’re not careful, you’ll be the one looking for another church.
- The Unteachable – Out of all of these, this one may bother me the most. Here’s why, I’ve had to let really good people go because they just refused to be teachable. People who had tons of potential but didn’t want to listen. I wish I could say that these people could change, but I don’t think they can. If you have someone on your team that doesn’t want to listen to anything you say, it’s best not to waste your breath and just let them go.
What type of people would you add to this list? Are you able to fire people in your church, why or why not? I’d love to hear your comments. Also, while you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to get my new Ebook “The Basics: 13 Steps to Turn Around Your Small Town Church.”
I recently had a friend reach out to me for some advice on growing their small town church. His situation is very similar to many others in small rural communities. He was asked to take over a denominational church that had been struggling for years and had dwindled down to less than 30 people attending. At one time the church had been successful, but because they haven’t been willing to change, they were on the verge of having to close their doors. What follows in this post is the advice I gave him and the advice I would give you if you were in a similar situation.
Before we jump in, let me just say, you have a very difficult task ahead of you. It is very hard to build momentum in an established church that has seen better days. Especially one that is apprehensive about change.
Less people attending also means less volunteers and generally less money coming in. I don’t think it’s impossible, but I do think you’re going to have some days you want to quit and some days you want to run your head through a wall.
If you think you’re up to the challenge, then here is where I would begin.
- Build Relationships. Lots of them, inside and outside of the church. When you have less than 50 people attending, you should know everyone’s name, the names of their kids, and the names of their pets. The benefit of a small church is you really can know everyone. When they miss church, check up on them. When they’re in the hospital, stop by and visit for a minute. You’re not going to be able to do this forever. Eventually, you’re going to need to recruit others to help, but in the beginning stages, this falls on you. Also, make a point to get to know others in the community. Know who works at the bank, who runs the local grocery store, the old guys who are always sitting at the same table at the local meat and three. You get the idea. Make it a point to go to local ball games, hang out at the library, and go to community events.
- Form a Core Team. This terminology is generally used for church planters, but in essence that is what you’re doing. Once you’ve started building relationships, I want you to choose three to six couples to be on your core team. These are people you can trust, people you enjoy doing life with, and people who can help you execute the vision you have for the church. Just call it your small group in the beginning so no one gets suspicious. These are the people who are going to help you turn around the church. Start holding meetings with them to share your ideas, hopes, and dreams, and make it a point to listen to theirs. They’re much more likely to buy into the vision if they’ve played a part in forming it. If you can’t recruit this team, you’re going to fail.
- Get the Right People in the Right Places. Ideally, the people on your core team should be the people leading the most important ministries in your church. The big three in my mind are kids, first impressions, and worship, in that order. In some churches, the entire congregation votes on these positions. That’s why it’s so important to build those relationships and have a solid core team. Unfortunately, in some churches, change is only possible when you overthrow the old regime. Just be careful that they don’t overthrow you first.
- Start Making Improvements. Not only in the way you do ministry, but in the way your facility looks. New flooring, new paint, and new fixtures can do wonders for an old building. If you don’t have the money, you can try to raise some, or just fix what you can. A lot of churches would look better if they just de-cluttered and had a really good cleaning. For instance, if you have fake plants in your auditorium, get rid of them. I’d also try my best to get rid of pews if you have them. You can adjust the numbers of chairs you have to help with critical mass, but you can’t adjust the number of pews. And even if you could, they still scream “traditional out of touch church.” Sorry, pew lovers.
- Rename or Rebrand. Ideally, I would never want the denomination in the church name. Because what happens is that someone who has a bad experience at a church that’s the same denomination as yours will never come to your church. Your church and that church may be completely different, but you’re labeled by that denominational name. Now, by all means hold on to the beliefs of the denomination, just don’t put it in the church name. I know that’s not always possible, so for the rest of you, just rebrand your church logo to make it look more modern. Try to avoid doves, and fire, and those other things that were popular in the 80’s.
- Celebrate the Small Wins and Learn Patience. Realize that this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. For every three steps forward, you’re going to take two steps back. Learn to celebrate the small wins, like a new family joining the church, a person getting baptized, a young couple dedicating their child. My friend has seen 25% growth at his church in the 6 months he’s been there. They’ve grown from 28 to 35. That’s something to celebrate. The church I serve only grew by 5% last year, and you know what, we were celebrating. Getting people involved in church is difficult right now. They have a lot of options, so celebrate the small wins.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s so much more I’d like to add, but I’d rather hear your thoughts. What would you add to this discussion? Leave a comment and let us know, and if you’re in a spot where you’d like some help with your church check out my coaching page and see if I could be of help to you.
Sometimes addition happens through subtraction. I can’t remember who was the first to say it, but this is a phrase that has stuck with me throughout the years. I think one of the reasons I remember it so well is because I love math and numbers. But the other more important reason is because it’s turned out to be true over and over again. The main point is sometimes it’s good when people leave your church.
I feel like the church I serve has been pretty lucky through the years. In the past twelve years, we’ve transitioned from contemporary to modern, we’ve totally revamped our constitution and bylaws, and we’ve had three different worship leaders.
Through it all, we’ve only had a handful of families leave. A couple of the families helped lead worship and didn’t survive the contemporary to modern transition. Another worship pastor parted ways to pursue a full time worship position. And I don’t think anyone left when we changed our bylaws, which has to be a miracle.
In each instance, our church got stronger. We always ended up replacing the people we lost with people who better fit our vision. Seeing people leave your church can be painful, but it also may be a blessing in disguise.
When is it good when people leave your church?
- When they don’t support the vision. The church I serve didn’t have a clear vision starting out. This meant people with strong personalities would project their own vision for the church. This created a mess that took several years to get out of. If you have people who are fighting against the vision you are fighting for, it’s best to ask them to find a new church that’s more in line with their vision.
- When they’re doing more harm than good. This could be people who gossip, people who are constantly stirring up drama, or people who just complain all the time about everything. These people are the equivalent of someone farting in a crowded elevator. As much as we’re called to love people, sometimes it’s better if you love them from a distance.
- When it creates an opportunity for someone else. Sometimes good people you love leave the church. These hurt the most, but it also creates the opportunity for someone else to step up and get involved. Don’t dwell too long on what you lost. Start looking for someone who can take his or her place.
- When God calls them somewhere new. This was the case for our former worship pastor. He had a desire to do full-time ministry, but we didn’t feel like he was the right fit long term. We ended up parting ways, and shortly thereafter he received a full-time position at a great church. Not everyone is going to stay at your church long term, especially when you’re in a small town, so be thankful for the time you have with them.
What are some other reasons it’s good when people leave the church? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences. Share them in the comments below. Also don’t forget to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.