Seven Questions We Did Not Hear from Pastors Five Years Ago


It is cliché to say the landscape of church ministry has changed in the past five years, but it is most definitely true. While COVID is often the explanation for these changes, the reality is that they would have taken place anyway. COVID simply accelerated and exacerbated the changes.

We at Church Answers see those changes taking place regularly. We have 1,800 pastors and other church leaders interacting every day, asking questions, and providing insights. I looked over our community known as Church Answers Central and picked seven recent questions we likely did not hear five years ago. They are true indicators that the times are truly changing.

1. What do you do when a church member asks for financial assistance with the funeral of a family member? To be clear, this question is not likely new, but its frequency is. Obviously, deaths due to COVID explain it at least partially. Our community wants to be generous and ministry-minded, but they wonder if doing it once sets a precedence that can’t be met in the future.

2. How long should you foster another church? Church Answers introduced “fostering” to the revitalization vocabulary about two years ago. It is a simple but profound concept. One church helps another church move toward health. At the end of the fostering period, the fostered church is either healthy, still unhealthy, or adopted by the fostering church. There was a consensus that the fostering period should not exceed one year lest the fostered church becomes dependent on the fostering church.

3. How do I get my older congregation to be willing to update the facilities for safety and cleanliness? Younger families are demanding safety and cleanliness, especially in this COVID era. We do not see that changing. But churches with predominantly older congregants often don’t see the need. It’s frustrating for church leaders.

4. Does your church have a volunteer ministry coordinator? I am surprised to see the increasing frequency of this question. Frankly, I don’t have a simple answer. Some have suggested the difficulty in recruiting volunteers is the issue behind the question.

5. How do you confront conspiracy theorists who are disrupting the church? I have clear memory of a group of church members in a church I pastored in 1988 who had a disrupting conspiracy theory. They were convinced that a certain living leader was the antichrist, and that Jesus was returning on a specific date. I was able to ride out this issue until the date arrived and Jesus didn’t. Most conspiracy theorists do not have an expiration date.

6. Is there a pastor shortage? There is definitely a pastor imbalance issue. Churches are taking longer and longer to find a pastor. They report that they have plenty of resumes, but not enough qualified candidates. Denominational churches in the past could depend on the formal and informal structures of a denomination to help them find a pastor. That is not the case today, at least as much as it was several years ago.

7. What is the role of a denominational leader today? We are actually getting this question from denominational leaders. The denominational leaders who seem to be struggling are trying to work and secure resources within their own denomination. Denominational leaders who are excited about their work tend to have formed alliances and partnerships outside their own denomination.

These are seven common questions we’ve heard in recent months that we did not hear with frequency five years ago. What would you add to this list? We would love to hear from you.

Posted on September 13, 2021

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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  • Here’s a fun one we are encountering that wasn’t a thing a few years back…
    “What do we do with people who show up to church with their dogs?” I never imagined having to draft a dog policy to help navigate this.

  • I can’t speak for other denominations, but I can offer an answer to #7 from the perspective of a Southern Baptist. I fear that many of our denominational leaders have forgotten that the Southern Baptist Convention is accountable to local churches, not the other way around. Frankly, many of us smaller churches feel we’re being snubbed by the SBC. When we try to voice our concerns, we are essentially told to shut up and mind our own business (none of them have said those exact words to me, but that’s what their actions seem to say). They forget that the Cooperative Program is funded by local churches, so that means the SBC’s business is our business.

    A lot of churches – and I mean a LOT of churches – are talking about pulling their support from the SBC. I hope it doesn’t happen, but that’s the talk I’m hearing. If the SBC leadership doesn’t get a big wake-up call, the Cooperative Program might be dead before it’s even a century old.

    P.S. to Dr. Rainer: Please know that none of these comments are directed at you personally. I’m talking about our current SBC leadership, not the ones who are retired.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I didn’t take it personally, Ken, but thanks for letting me know.

      • I’m glad, because I genuinely wasn’t aiming any of these comments at you. I’m sure you’re as aware of current “issues” in the SBC as I am, so I don’t see any need to elaborate on them here, but I am really concerned for the future of our denomination. Thanks for letting me vent! 🙂

  • Our church is purchased land to build a new church campus. We are five years old. At present we rent a facility. Thinking of the challenges of online church and live church, how should this impact the size of the sanctuary that we build?

    Preston Smith
    Lead Pastor
    The Bridge Church
    Fort Smith, Arkansas

  • Cotton Mathis says on

    Is an associational missionary really a relic of the past?

    In one association, the committee took 1 1/2 years to select an associational missionary. One of the local pastors in a church of about 80 in attendance served as the interim. He did a great job, more actually was accomplished than what appeared of the missionary paid approximately 5 x what he was.

    As far as actual productive hours, the pastor likely put in as much as it appeared the missionary did.

    Even rural churches in our area have technical equipment, Facebook, Websites, and Twitter.

    Is there anything in the denominational state offices that rural pastors can’t access for themselves?

    Why can’t that money be spend on ministries directed by a committee of pastors?

  • Evening church answers and your team, it is pastor Fana Skosana from gauteng South Africa, I was reading your “Lord, teach us Pastors to pray” notes you sent me recently and I got interested in “Pray and Go” tool kit, I would like to know more about the program
    Pst Fana Skosana “Acts Of The Apostles House Of Fellowship”

  • Part of the reason behind #6 (“is there a pastor shortage?”) is people like me… who served SBC churches in staff and lead pastor roles for nearly 30 years before finally stepping away from vocational ministry to protect myself and my family from the toxic behavior of church members. I’m thankful to be part of a wonderful church and metaphorically lift up the arms of the pastor and church leaders… but I do not miss the threat and the actuality of forced termination.

  • I am not a pastor, but I would think that a few more would be.
    Just how do I minister to people virtually whose names and faith background I don’t know and who I may never meet?
    How do we solicit prayer requests online?
    How do I produce and what is the content for a podcast?
    How much % of time do I spend on the online congregation (even regular online attendees who donate) vs the members in the pews?