How to Avoid Being Fired When Leading a Growing Church


In my post last week, I looked at the reasons pastors were fired, even though their churches were growing. In this post, I offer ways some pastors have avoided this tragedy while leading a church to growth.

To be clear, these actions are not foolproof. Some churches will be preacher eaters regardless of the actions of the pastor. Still, I see these right actions as helpful toward minimizing the possibility of a forced termination.

  1. Communicate exponentially. If you think you are communicating redundantly, you probably have just begun to communicate sufficiently. Keep the congregation informed. Say it. Write it. Repeat it.
  2. Remind the members of the purpose of the growth. It’s about the Great Commission. It’s about caring for and reaching the community. It’s about touching lives. It’s not about the numbers.
  3. Move potential objectors to the welcome team. They will see and greet the guests. It will give them an outward focus.
  4. Ask a long-term member to be your mentor. You will get an invaluable perspective from “the old guard.”  You will likely gain an ally as well.
  5. Share healthy resources with members. At the risk of sounding self-serving, I’ve heard from countless church members that two of my books have been paradigm-altering: I Am a Church Member and Autopsy of a Deceased Church.
  6. Celebrate the past. Sometimes we leaders need to be reminded that our church’s past has much to celebrate. We often are so eager to move to the future that we forget or neglect the lessons of the past.
  7. Remind them of faith steps in the past. Though this point has similarities to the previous point, this one is a specific focus and reminder of major faith steps the church has made in the past. It a powerful lesson that the church made changes in the past and can do it again in the present.

For sure, there are no guarantees. But we have heard from many change leaders who have found these approaches to be highly effective.

Leading change is difficult. Leading change wisely is best.

Posted on October 29, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Dr. Jeffrey R. Greer says on

    #3 and #4 won’t work when those leading the opposition are lost, motivated by satan himself. I know of 2 churches where this is the case right now. I think church discipline is in order, but for some reason the people are living in fear of these gossips. The pastors and the spiritual men of the church need prayer, wisdom and boldness to follow 1 Corinthians 5.

  • This post is rich and resourceful. A few tips I am now well aware of as a leadership approach that previously I was unaware of.

  • Christopher says on

    This goes back to the earlier post that set up this one but at what point do older members have enough spiritual maturity to give attention rather than require attention?

  • Good article. I particularly like #4. In the zeal to reach younger members, I worry that we’re neglecting the wisdom of older members. In the words of Jesus, these things we ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.

    This issue (unfortunately) is not a new one. My preaching professor in seminary told about a student who was dealing with this very issue. He said if he were in that situation, he would tell his critics, “Well, you may be right. I get so excited about seeing people coming to Jesus that I get a little carried away. Thank you for sharing your concerns.” Then he said, “Then after I told them that, I’d go right back to winning people to Jesus!”

  • I am part of a Church that is about to die because there is no growth. Although Iam not the leader of the church I have stood by the pastor through thick and thin but having pressure from other members to quit and move on. What must I do.

  • Cotton Mathis says on

    Be like Jesus:

    The louder your opposition gets, the quieter you get.

    Finally, say nothing about nothing to them.

    The opposition will come out in the open faster and expose themselves.

    The “good” people in the congregation will see what/who they really are.. Because they are usually long-standing persons with power, they are good at keeping their “agenda’ hidden.

    Watch out for the lead guy who isn’t always out front. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and doesn’t want to be blamed, just in case things go wrong and the pastor isn’t fired.
    He will use the angry men and gossipy women to carry his cause.

    If the “good” people in the congregation are not in the majority, the pastor is done for anyway.

    • Christopher says on

      The “good” people may be a majority but that doesn’t mean they’ll speak up. A word of wisdom I received early that has turned out to be so true: In a small town church the pastor will always be an outsider and the “good” people in the church will always side with the long term power structure because they still have to live and work with those people when the pastor is gone.

      • Dana Brown says on

        I have experienced exactly that. It is easier to get rid of the pastor than it is to break friendships that are sometimes 2 to 3 generations deep. We have been told, “We were here long before you and will be here long after you’re gone.”

  • Steve Robinson says on

    Go back to basics. Work with Acts 2: 42 – 47 as a guide to vision and practice

    • Craig Giddens says on

      I’m not sure those verse exactly apply to us today.

      Verse 42. Now that we have the completed scriptures the emphasis should be on the preaching and teaching of God’s word.
      Verse 43. Now that we have the completed scriptures we no longer need signs and wonders. Signs are for the Jew (1 Corinthians 1:22)
      Verse 44-45. We don’t sell all of our possessions and give them to others. Each person, as he has purposed in his heart, gives to the local assembly.
      Verse 46. Of course we are the temple of God. We meet with other believers for ministry and fellowship.

      It is important to remember that in Acts 2 it is a strictly Jewish church and God is still dealing with the nation of Israel calling them to repentance for crucifying their Messiah.

  • Keep the unofficial power structure informed at every stage as to what is going on and do not fail to get their input and make sure they are on board. They have more influence with and a direct line to the official power structure that the pastor may not even have.

  • I was called to a church for the purpose to revitalize the church to reach the lost and unchurched and to impact our community with the gospel. I took over a church that had lost 450 members in 15 years and though we have slowed the decline I cannot say the results are overwhelming. But I have began to see that the church is so stuck in tradition and their own comfort that it will not move forward. In fact I see them digging in their heels against any change that needs to be done. I don’t believe they are going to move forward and this church will slowly die. And my heart breaks because I see the potential and truly believe in the vision that God has given me. I have tried to implement many things I have read and gleaned from your resources only to have minimal support. How can I revitalize a church without losing my job seems to be the concern. At this stage in my life I cannot start over and I do not want to go through the motions until I retire. I just don’t know what to do.

    • Bruce –

      I am praying now God will give you wisdom, courage, and discernment.

      • I found it helpful to take an appropriate and timely book, tear it up into chapters, let the board members choose the chapter that seems to connect with them, and then get their reviews during the next monthly meetings. Sometimes I just give them all the same book and ask them to choose the chapter they want to read. (And many read more than just their chosen chapter.) From that has come a group that started something like “Life Tree Cafe”, A Renewal Team that helped us get rid of age old “wooden opera seats” to movable chairs, bulletin information now all projected (small rural church) etc. We still get push back, but those leading the changes are the board members that got inspired by what they read.

      • I like it! Thanks, Tom.

    • Bruce,

      My heart goes out to you. Church revitalization is so difficult. (I’m three years into mine!) It is impossible unless God moves. Everything our Gracious Savior calls us to do is impossible unless the Holy Spirit moves. I don’t know what God will do at your church, but God is with you! He will never leave you or forsake you! He is meeting you in your disappointments and in your church’s stubbornness. He may be calling you to a ministry like Isaiah had, or like Jeremiah had, or like John the Baptist. Or he may grant a glorious turn around. I cannot say.

      One thing I can say is that millions (if not billions!) of people have benefited from the faithfulness of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. Even though their “congregations” did not turn, did not repent, and left them. God is writing your story and you will not find out until glory what he has done through you. And he is working in you and through you!

      In your ministry success=faithfulness. Keep at it! Keep your hand to the plow! God delights in you in Christ and he is so happy with you! Though it may hide now behind a frowning providence, I pray that you will soon see his smiling face.