10 signs a pastor’s lost direction

How does a pastor know if he’s lost his bearings or if he’s off to a slow start on the day? Is that sense of being overwhelmed with the ministry a healthy dose of humility or a voice warning that she’s off course?

This is one of the most important questions you’ll ever face as a vocational minister.

Wandering in the hot desert

[Note: This article has been cross-posted at The Turnaround Pastor]

It has been my sad lot in life to step in behind ministry colleagues who came up with the wrong answer to the question. From personal conversations with them, from looking at church records and from interviews with the congregants I’ve discovered seven consequences they all suffer in varying degrees.

  1. Doubt about the call
  2. Depression or (at least) despondency
  3. Going through the motions rather than grabbing the work with gusto
  4. Objectifying congregants in ways that break trust
  5. Loss of joy in Christ, the congregation and the family
  6. Resigning under duress
  7. Bitterness in the soul

My concern for my colleagues in settled positions is that they get this one right. So let me suggest 10 warning signs that you’ve lost your bearings. (I didn’t purposely strive for 10; it just worked out that way)


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Church visitors won’t hear your story from magnets and mugs!

One of the many mysteries of the church is the following lament I’ve heard from pastors all over the country:  “I don’t understand why our church visitors don’t come back. We greet them in the parking lot. We help them find the nursery. Some of our members go so far as to speak to them. We even give coffee mugs and brochures!”

What went wrong here? This pastor hit all the key tasks for hospitality ministry. If the worship is engaging, WHY DON’T VISITORS COME BACK?

Church visitors don’t return for a multitude of reasons. But for churches that do all the right things, what else can they do?

I think the answer (in the form of a quandary) is that they did everything right until the guests left the building and the hospitality efforts abruptly stopped when the door closed.

They don’t come back because they don’t know your story.

You didn’t connect them with your story and your church. Mugs, magnets and glossy brochures don’t tell the story. They don’t connect church visitors to the congregation.

The crucial task is connecting them with your story after they leave the parking lot.


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What does the research say about attracting church visitors?

Worship 1

[dc]H[/dc]Heal the sick, raise the dead and fill the pews – preferably with young families who’ll bring some vitality and energy to this place.

That’s the interim pastor’s call, isn’t it? But it’s a trap, a real Catch-22. The reality is that aging congregations trapped in a death spiral generally don’t want to make the changes needed. They’re just like the church in the old joke about praising the Lord in a liturgical church.

One Sunday a visitor showed up in a church being led by an interim minister. The church was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That made it all the more obvious when this visitor shouted out “Praise the Lord!” When something the pastor said excited him.

One of the regular attenders leaned forward and tapped the man on the shoulder and whispered, “We don’t praise the Lord around here.”

Someone seated nearby heard this exchange and they said, “Yes we do. It’s on page 15 of the Lectionary.”

Part of the interim pastor’s job is to give client churches a stiff dose of reality: steadfast refusal to allow changes that inject spiritual vitality traps the church in a death spiral. Unless the interim can break this deadlock the church’s future prospects are bleak indeed.

This is where the  Faith Communities Today Project comes in. They have produced a very helpful tool, Insights Into: Attracting and Keeping Members Every interim pastor should keep on file. The rich content – data, graphs, analysis and recommendations – make this a helpful teaching tool for churches in transition. In this article I want to hit some of the highlights of the report, but I urge you to download it and keep it handy. Chance are you’ll need it.


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Can megachurches be church visitor friendly?

A colleague of mine once visited a mega-church in southern California while on vacation. The 6,000 seat auditorium was filled to capacity that Sunday morning. He was quite surprised when, during the ritual exchange of the secret Churchman’s handshake, an elderly lady made her way down the aisle from several rows back to greet him with a, “Hi, this is your first time here, isn’t it?”

He was flabbergasted! “Yes, it is. How did you know?”

“Because you’re sitting in my seat.”

According to my friend this is a true story.

Church visitors: opportunity and challenge


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6 ways to show grace when feeling grumpy

One Sunday morning he slept through the alarm. He just didn’t feel up for church.

His wife elbowed him. “Get up. You’ll be late to church.”

“I don’t want to go today. I’m tired. The people at that church aren’t nice to me. They are unfriendly, they say things behind my back and I feel like they’re always waiting for me to make a mistake, so they can pounce.”

“Well that’s too bad. You have to go. You’re the interim pastor.”

Have you ever felt like that?

Of course you have. You are an interim pastor. You deal with cantankerous saints, engage in spiritual warfare, carry the burden of spiritual care and deal with all your own stuff.

But feeling grumpy is just that – a feeling. Although it is more difficult for some than others to learn, it is still a fact: you have control over your behavior regardless of how you feel. You have within your grasp the tools needed to be gracious when feeling grumpy.

Here are six.


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Church visitors’ gifts that surprise and delight

Church hospitality is a vital ministry. This is especially true for congregations with a very low church visitor retention rate. To offer anything less than superb church hospitality is sad. To neglect turning visitors into members puts the church in a death spiral.

One element of a rich experience that leaves church visitors going, “Wow. That was a great church!” is a gift that is culturally proper, distinct from  “run of the mill” items, and something so useful they will use it often. Every time they do they’ll think of your church!


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1 powerful technique to revolutionize church hospitality

Turnaround pastors have a unique opportunity to permanently change the trajectory of church hospitality.

Our “information gathering” in churches doesn’t even capture the majority of guests. Auxano research shows that five to eight percent of your worshipping community will self-identify as guests. Therefore the number of guests in one year is: [ (Ave. weekly worship attendance) x (.05) x (52)]

  • Will Mancini

Two factors work in your favor. First, you have more church visitors in a year than you think.

Second, you have a great deal of freedom because the church hired you to guide them thru change!

In this article I want to share with you one powerful technique that will rock your next church visitor’s world. By recognizing and using the power of narrative you can make it one of the most attractive and hospitable churches a church visitor will ever encounter.

Recognize the power of narrative


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3 easy ways to wow church visitors

[dc]A[/dc] previous post asserts that extraordinary hospitality for church visitors isn’t hard. Eliminate the things church visitors dislike, set the bar for church hospitality higher and it’s more likely they’ll return for a second visit.

Now that you’ve cleared the deck of things church visitor dislike let’s turn up the “wow” factor. Let’s re-think church hospitality so guests go away feeling great for having visited.

1: Give church visitors an online video tour


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