One Big Mistake Rural Churches Make

And How You Can Fix It

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before. We really need to fire _______, but we’re worried because his/her parents are one of our biggest givers. Or so and so is never prepared, but if we say anything, it’s going to cause a bunch of drama. So, we end up doing nothing, and everyone else suffers.

Larry Osborne said it this way, It is not loving to kill the flock while you’re trying to be nice to one lamb.

Yet, rural churches make this mistake over and over again.

And I get it, because when you lead a small rural church, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes. Because of this, we tend to lead out of fear.

Here’s what I mean.

When you have a budget of $100,000, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause a $10,000 a year giver to leave.

When you have 100 people attending your church, it’s really hard to make a decision that may cause 20 people to leave.

And it’s easy for people like me to tell you what to do, but it’s you who has to live with the aftermath of that decision.

So, let me just say I know it isn’t easy, and I know what it’s like to lead out of fear. I’m not sure that ever fully goes away, at least not for pastors in small towns.

But I also know the cost of not acting when you should, and the benefits of overcoming your fear and going through with those hard decisions.

So, if you have someone in a position right now, paid or volunteer, that may need to be removed, I want to give you a five step process to go through with them that gives them the best chance at success and gives you the opportunity to say I did everything I could to keep them.

  1. Reality Check

More often than not, people do not realize how they are doing. This is because most of us have never sat down and had a conversation with them about it. Many of us just hope and pray it gets better. You may have figured out that that strategy does not work. You have to let them know things aren’t going well, and they need to change.

  1. Ongoing Support

Let them know you are willing to do everything you can to help them succeed. If they have questions, ask you. If they need resources, you’ll get them. You are going to do everything you can to keep them in that position, and if that fails, they can’t say it was because they didn’t have your support.

  1. Timeline

It could be 30, 60, or 90 days. I wouldn’t suggest going past 90 because that’s a long time to let a ministry suffer. This is the window of time you’re giving them to change, and you’re providing your support during this entire time.

  1. Ongoing Evaluation

In order to make sure they are on the right path, you are going to meet with them throughout this timeline. It could be every week or every other week. I wouldn’t meet less often than that. During this time, you’re there to provide feedback on the progress that is or isn’t being made.

  1. Deadline

At the end of the timeline, there’s a deadline. Either they made the changes that needed to be made and you’re happy to go forward with them, or they didn’t and you’re going to have to make a change. Ultimately whatever happens here, it was up to them. They made their own decision.

Letting someone go is never easy, even if it’s a volunteer. You know his or her family, you run into them at restaurants, your kids go to school together. It’s hard in a small town.

But, sometimes it’s necessary to protect the vision of the church and the people they influence.

Have you ever had to fire someone? How did you go about it? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.

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4 thoughts on “One Big Mistake Rural Churches Make

    • Thanks for the comment Don. I totally get it. Relieving someone of their position is extremely difficult, but often necessary for the sake of the ministry.

  1. Two of the differences faced by rural churches are long memories and a limited replacement pool. Actions that hurt feelings will be remembered for at least one generation, possibly two. In my first rural pastorate, I had to deal with grudges that were older than I was. That’s tough! People in urban areas don’t have such long active memories. Second, if you “fire” someone and twenty people do leave, where will you find a better replacement for the fired person, and how long will it take you to enroll twenty new people? I ministered in a county of 7,000 residents that grew by 50 (fifty) during an entire decade. That may be one day’s growth in a fringe metropolitan area, making replacement workers and members much easier to find.

    • Ray, thanks so much for the great comment. You’re absolutely right. I just got back from a conference at a megachurch and a question was asked about replacing someone who wasn’t meeting expectations. The pastor said remove them from the position and God will fill it. I thought that’s easy for you to say when you’re a church of 20,000.