Interim pastors sometimes find themselves called to a church without knowing that it is on the cusp of explosive growth. This happened to me once before and now it looks like I'm in for my second wild ride.
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If rapid growth overtakes an ill-prepared church you (the interim pastor) are either in for a wild ride or you're about to be tossed about like a toothpick in a tsunami. Here are a few key action steps that will help you stay upright at the helm:
Keep it simpleInterim pastors often find themselves scrambling to throw systems together to fill the breach long enough for a more orderly, disciplined approach to infrastructure development. We're called to put a wrench to assimilation processes, tweak the communications network, reboot leadership training, scrape rust from the budget, redesign the worship and apply fixes to leaking relationships.
stagnant church in equilibrium time is on your side. You can tackle these systems in a sequence that makes sense for the church. But if the church wakes up and starts to expand rapidly you, time is against you. Should this happen keep it simple! Tackle the two or three systems that will help the church capture and retain the growth and let the rest of them go until later.
Focus on visitor retention
A steady stream of visitors coming in the front door is the lifeblood of a transitioning church. The new folks that come in the front door will - if your assimilation process is working - settle in and contribute to the church's vitality in so many ways. Their presence in worship, their mingling during fellowship times before and after services, their ministry participation and their financial stewardship will do wonders to help the church stir from its malaise.
Focus on retaining these people at all costs. Shoot for a 50% retention rate right out of the gate and make sure that you've enveloped the right church members into this process.
Focus on bottom line ministry
Ministry requires money. Expanding ministry requires expanding income. But income is a lagging indicator of growth; growth always comes ahead of revenue. As people settle in and decide that this is "their church" their giving comes on line. But there's often a lag of six months or more between increased attendance and matching income needed to sustain the ministry.
Focus on ministries that directly affect the bottom line. Bill Easum has written on this; I agree with him that focusing resources to build Children's ministries and improving the worship services is vital. Top quality ministry in those areas attracts and retains people who will eventually support the work with their tithes and offerings.
I recognize that this probably sounds crass and commercial to some, but it's a reality. If the Lord is bringing in a flood tide of people for you to care for, he will also provide the means to do that. The way that those means have typically been provided is through the stewardship of people who are particularly interested in top quality children's ministry and top quality worship.
Give ministry away
An Interim pastor won't be able to hire staff rapidly enough to sustain the growth. Nor should she. The path forward in situations like this is to delegate the various ministry activities to volunteers whom you give just enough training to get the job done. Then, keep the ship upright until the settled pastor arrives.
The key here is to find good people and then hand the ministry to them with the following provisos:
- We are in a transition period and what I'm about to had you is on a temporary basis, so don't be surprised if we need to make changes in the future.
- Here is the task that needs to be accomplished. Then, give them a clear picture of what the finished product needs to look like (e.g., a hands-on assimilation process that engages visitors for their first four visits to our church, providing them a series of "next steps" until they have become members and engaged in a ministry)
- Tell them, "Go and research this, figure out what needs to be done, determine what resources need to be pulled in and report back to me in two weeks".
- Let them own it even if you think you can do a better job. Remember, you're a temp.
- Without disrespect to the training, experience and giftedness that God has give to each of us, there are times when circumstances in the life of a church are such that a circus bear on a bicycle could fill the breach and new people would still flood in. That's a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but my point is clear - this isn't about us as interim pastors.
- Recognize that you'll have to let all of this go, sooner rather than later.
- If you don't have a coach or a mentor, get one. Especially if the church heads into rapid growth. You'll need the perspective and beneficial distance they bring to your ministry.
QUESTION: If you're an intentional interim minister who has experienced explosive growth in a church, how did you manage to keep it going without losing your sanity?