“If you do what I did, your church will grow.”
If you’re the pastor of a healthy, growing church, please stop saying that to struggling pastors.
Even if you’ve never said those exact words, stop implying it or assuming it. Even if you believe it. For one simple reason.
It’s not true.
It’s not that struggling pastors of struggling churches don’t want to learn from you. It sure isn’t that we don’t want our churches to grow. Of course we want our churches to grow. If we didn’t, there’d be no struggle.
The problem comes when pastors of growing, healthy churches assume that what worked for them will work in the same way everywhere else. The truth is, it won’t.
Sure, there are universal principals for church leadership and health. But there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for church growth. What worked for you won’t work for someone else – at least not on a one-for-one basis.
Why It Won’t Work
This is one of the biggest reasons for discouragement and burnout in ministry.
Struggling pastors of struggling churches show up at a conference on your gleaming, beautiful campus and are told “If you do what I did, your church will grow like mine grew.” And we believe it. The first time. Maybe even the second, third and fourth time. I know I did.
But at some point, when the DNA from other churches fails to transfer into our church, we start asking a different set of questions than “why won’t my church grow?”
Soon we start asking, “what’s wrong with me?”, “what’s wrong with the people in my church?” or “am I really called to do this?”
After all, if so many leaders of fast-growing churches agree on these principles, but they don’t work for me, the problem has to be me, right?
OK, maybe. But maybe not. Sure there are some bad pastors out there. But they tend not to be the ones spending their hard-earned money and time going to conferences and/or reading all the material they can get their hands on.
The ones who are showing up at the conferences and reading the books and blogs are not the problem-pastors. They’re good people trying to do good work.
But no two of us – and no two churches – are alike.
Many principles are universal and transferable. Results are not. We have to stop acting like they are.
To My Fellow Struggling Pastors
If you and your church are struggling, here’s the first thing you need to know. You’re not alone. Tens of thousands of good pastors and churches are experiencing the same frustrations.
Second, you’re like not any other pastor and your church isn’t like any other church. Not in enough ways for their DNA to be fully transferable to your situation.
Every pastor and church has its own DNA. That DNA has to be factored in to everything we do – and every principle we learn from others.
What Will Help Struggling Churches
Leaders of struggling churches want to hear how strong, healthy, growing churches got that way. First, to celebrate with you. Second, to learn what we can can from your experience.
But church growth isn’t like a McDonald’s franchise. You can’t plug the ideas from one place into a different place and expect it to work. Church life, health and growth are far more complicated than selling hamburgers.
You help us when you acknowledge those differences. Out loud. And frequently.
No two churches are alike. So no two churches need the same advice and counsel.
Simply put, what worked for your church may not work for mine.
For the Struggling Pastor
If you’re a pastor who’s struggling to see the kind of growth you’ve expected, stop assuming that if you do what other growing churches have done you’ll see the same results.
You might see better results. You might see lesser results. But I can assure you of one thing – you will see different results.
Because your church is different than theirs. Your town is different. You are different.
Never stop learning everything you can from every possible source. Apply what works and toss the rest. Then see how God uses all of it to take your church where he wants to take it.
Your destination will be different than the churches and pastors you’re learning from. If it wasn’t, there would be no reason for your church to exist.
But your church does exist – and for a reason.
Stop trying to be like the great churches and pastors you admire and become the great church and pastor God wants you to be.
So what do you think? How can we learn from each other, while celebrating our differences?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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