Lessons from the pastorate: the first two years.

Easter will mark 2 years of being back in a local church--my first time as pastor. I'd like to share a few lessons I have leaned along the way.

This is harder than I remember

I knew I had been out of church work too long because it was starting to look easy. I knew it wasn't easy. Jesus said it wouldn't be easy. But, from the comfortable distance of a conference speaker, it was starting to look easy. It doesn't look easy any more.

The good news is, this experience has made me a better conference speaker. I speak with more of a tone of reality. We can grow a church, but it isn't easy.

Visitors are important

At my previous church, we enjoyed a generous stream of visitors. We were located on a busy street in the city, not too far from New Mexico State University. We had lots of visitors. Not so where I serve now. We are out in the middle of no where with very little drive-by traffic. We are about a mile outside of a town of 700. 90% of the folks in that town don't speak English. We have few visitors.

I did the math on this. In order to double every two years or less 3% of your Sunday morning worship attendance needs to be visitors. You need 1% to join each week.

That would mean for us that we would have 1 visitor per week and a little past once a month, someone would join. We don't have one visitor every six months.

The whole party plan that I teach assumes you have people visiting. If you don't have people visiting, the whole system suffers.

Good news is, most churches have lots of visitors. If you have some great ideas to help me with this, email me at [email protected]  

Put in on auto-pilot

The first six months I was at Salem, I talked a bit about the double your class/ party-driven plan. Everyone smiled and nodded. No one disagreed with the plan. But it wasn't happening.

After about six months I realized why. We needed to translate good intentions into events on the calendar. We started a planning meeting on Sunday night every two months. During this planning meeting we plan the next three months events. There is a one month overlap.

The first thing we put on the calendar is when the next planning meeting will be. This way, the whole planning process goes on autopilot. If we have done one thing right, it was implementing a planning meeting every  two months.

Adjust the plan

My first thought was to do what I had done before at my previous church--lots of game nights, party nights and movie nights. We had modest success.

Then, last May, we planned a trip. This one was to the Black Range--some mountains about an hour a way. We had 45 or so attend. This was over twice our Sunday School attendance. I learned something: people in the valley are not much into game nights and such. They do like to get out of town.

We did another trip, this time to Albuquerque. Another great crowd. Another trip with another good showing. Now more than half our parties are trips.

The lesson here is that you have to adjust the plan to the people. I have often talked about party nights and Diet Coke and table games and coffee cake. That worked in Las Cruces, it didn't work in Salem. The general idea of having events did work. The specific implementation had to be adjusted.

We now have pretty consistent participation at most events. We still need to work harder at getting visitors.

I don't preach near as well as I thought I did

I started recording myself some time back. It is pretty low tech. I just set an IPOD on the pulpit and start a voice memo. I learned something that everyone who has heard me already knew: I am not near as good as I thought I was. Listening to myself helps. I think every preacher ought to listen to themselves preach.

It is possible to grow a church where it is hard

We have seen about 50% growth in two years. We are actually just ahead of the plan I teach in You Can Double Your Church in Two Years or Less. It is hard to grow a church in middle of know where, but it can be done.

Future plans

Here are a few things I hope to accomplish this next year:

  • New chairs in the auditorium
  • Window coverings in the auditorium
  • New stage lights
  • Stage decoration
  • Hire a piano player
  • New lights in the foyer
  • Start a new median-adult couples class
  • Monthly men's leadership group