How does an Interim Pastor quickly develop the congregation’s trust?

Is there a socially acceptable way to connect with people, win them over and do it sincerely – without being creepy or manipulative?

Business lunch

Dine with the right folks.

Paul Borden recommends meals, particularly breakfast and lunch, as times to conduct ministry (Make or Break Your Church in 365 Days, Appendix 2 [affiliate link]).

Breakfast and lunch are key times to meet with people in the community and to recruit and disciple leaders. If the person is not yet a disciple of Jesus Christ, the purpose of the time together is to develop a personal relationship with that individual in order to eventually introduce her or him to Jesus Christ. If the person is a leader or a potential leader in the congregation, the pastor wants not only to develop a relationship but also to disciple that individual.

Borden is spot on – shared meals build relationships that lead to influence. An Interim Pastor calendar should be filled by business meals with six kinds of people.

During your first meal with these people learn about their lives. Ask about family, career, recreational interests and plans for the future. Be sure to ask for their faith stories! Make mental notes so you’ll later be able to ask questions, showing pastoral care, thereby creating a deeper bond between you.

1. Influencers

A quick way to gain traction in a new client church is to borrow credibility. Borrowed credibility is sort of like guilt by association. If you develop close relationships with the influencers – the people others look to when it’s time to vote or make a decision – you’ll soon be seen as an influencer, too.

The social law of reciprocity will work in your favor. By cultivating relationships with the Influencers they are likely to respond to your interest and generosity, offering to create bonds of trust and solidarity.

An Interim Pastor will be looked upon as an Influencer by virtue of good relationships with other Influencers.

2. Officers

An Interim Pastor should meet regularly with the church’s elected officers over a meal. Some officers are likely to be Influencers, particularly if they are held in high regard by the congregation. These folks – officers held in high regard – should be high on the priority list.

It may be that most of the church officers in a client church will be held in poor regard by the congregation (in one client church several years back none of the church officers were respected by the congregation!), so these meals may be an opportunity to talk about what the officers can do to effect repairs.

One-on-one over a meal is a good time to do some discipleship work with officers who may be in a bit over their heads.

3. Charter members

If the client church has charter members it’s wise to spend time with them. Others in the congregation may still respect their opinions and wishes on certain matters so you’ll want these folks in your corner.

Allow them to reminisce about how the church was started, the challenges it’s overcome in past years and what their hopes for their church is going forward.

4. Ministry leaders

Ministry leaders are often neglected by Interim Pastors, particularly if they are lay people in positions of service. The Children’s Ministry Director, the Youth Coordinator, the Fellowship Committee – you’ll be spending time nurturing these folks when its time to lead the church into a fresh vision for the future. It takes time to build the kind of trust that will be required to implement changes the church needs.

Pay special attention to their staffing and budget needs. Often these folks are short staffed and, frankly, they’re not good recruiters. When you meet with one of the folks, find out what she needs to round out her volunteer staff. Then make that a high priority.

There are two reasons you need to do this. First, when you fill a ministry leader’s volunteer roster you get the reputation of being somebody who gets things done. That’s going to be important later on. Second, you create loyalty, which will also be important, especially when you ask the church to follow you into a future that looks foggy to them.

5. Early adopters

Early adopters are the folks who are going to give you early victories and small wins to celebrate. If you don’t know who they are ask the governing board members, “Who’s shown the most enthusiasm when the church tries new things? Who is quick to adopt new technology – the one others turn to when they need to learn the latest thing?”

These folks matter more than most with regard to setting opinion and changing direction. These are the people who show the rest of the church which direction to head.

Spend time finding out what each Early adopter is interested in. Technology? Music? Whatever it their interests are, find out. Then, when it’s time to roll out some changes in the church, figure out how to involve the Early adopters in this process and then give them the “sneak preview”.

They will run with it, infect the Influencers and draw the rest of the church toward the future. Having a meal with the Interim Pastor will help them feel empowered; this may be something new to a person who feels he often lives life in the margins (which he does, BTW as early adopters are only ~10% of the population).

6. The Hesitant

70% of the folks in your congregation fall in the “hesitant” category. These are the folks who are neither in favor of nor opposed to the prospective changes the Interim Pastor introduces. But they are a majority, so they need to be dealt with and gently shepherded into the right positions on things of concern to the congregation.

Spend a bit of time with that discerning member of the church who seems to have a bead on everyone else. Give him a list of the Hesitant and ask her, “Which of these people would you talk to first if you wanted to develop majority consensus in favor of ________________ (fill in the blank)?”

Then schedule several meals with those folks and just get to know them. Don’t roll out a lot of ideas to them. Instead, let them get comfortable with you. They’ll learn to trust you.

Action Steps

  • Make a list of the Influencers in the client church. Then schedule a regular breakfast or luncheon meeting with each one.
  • Determine which elected officers are held in positive regard by the rest of the congregation. Then schedule a regular breakfast or luncheon meeting with each one.
  • Find out who the Early adopters are. Schedule them!
  • Which of the ministry leaders seem to be carrying the heaviest burden? Become that person’s best friend in the church. Listen to her plans for ministry and find out how you can help carry the load.
  • If your schedule allows, find out who the most influential among the “Hesitant” are and then meet with them.

Question

In your ministry as an Interim Pastor what have you found to be an effective strategy that revolves around the fact that everyone eats breakfast (or should!) and lunch?

Additional Resources