Why It Takes Five to Seven Years to Become the Pastor of a Church

You are the new pastor of the church. Expectations are high on your part and on the members’ part. Perhaps you celebrate with some type of installation service.

You are ready to lead and move the church forward. After all, you are the pastor. Right?


In most established churches, there is a prolonged period before the church members as a whole will truly embrace you as pastor. When that time comes, most pastors enjoy their greatest and most joyous years of ministry.

But the majority of pastors never make it to year five, much less year seven. So why does it take five to seven years to be embraced as the pastor of most established churches? Here are seven common reasons.

  1. It takes a long time to break into established relationship patterns. Many of the members have been around for decades. They have their friends, family members, and relationship groups. Pastors will not meaningfully enter into many of those relationships for several years.
  2. You are creating new ways of doing things. You may not think you are a major change agent, but your presence as the pastor changes things significantly. You lead differently. You preach differently. Your family is different. The church has to adjust to all the changes you bring before they begin to embrace you fully as pastor.
  3. Most relationships do not establish fully until they go through one or two major conflicts. The first year or two are your honeymoon years. The church thinks you are absolutely great. Then you do something, lead something, or change something that goes counter to their expectations. Conflict ensues. You are no longer the best. So you have two years of honeymoon, one to two years of conflict, and one to two years to get on the other side of conflict. Then you become the pastor in five to seven years.
  4. The church is accustomed to short-term pastorates. Many churches rarely see a pastor make it to the fifth, sixth, or seventh year. They never fully accept the pastor, because they don’t believe the leader will make it past the first major conflict.
  5. Previous pastors wounded some church members. There are many reasons for this reality, some understandable and some not. In either case, a previous pastor hurt some church members, and the members take several years to accept a new pastor and learn to trust again.
  6. Trust is cumulative, not immediate. This reality is especially true in established churches. Regardless of how the ministry unfolds, it simply takes time before church members are willing to say with conviction, “That is my pastor.”

I know. I wish we could snap our fingers and enjoy immediate trust. But, in most churches, it just is not going to happen quickly. It will take five to seven years.

Are you willing to stick around to enjoy the fruit of a long-term pastorate?

Posted on August 21, 2017

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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  • Great post. We just lost a pastor a week ago. He was taking over from the pastor/founder of our church. I believe he resigned because of #3. The conflicts wore him down. Do you have any suggestions about handling conflicts when working to become the pastor of a church or succeeding the previous pastor?

  • Good article. If I might add a comment, don’t let it upset you when people speak well of your predecessor. I know it can be annoying at times, but it’s a healthy sign more often than not. Over time, that loyalty and respect can be transferred to you. It’s far more dangerous if the people are running down your predecessor, because that contempt might eventually be transferred to you as well.

  • Jeremy Myers says on

    This is the very reason church revitalization is so difficult. Most churches wait until desperation sets in to begin thinking of revitalization, usually with less than five years left in the life of the church. Since revitalizations are established churches pastors must go through this period and then begin the process of acting like a church planter with regard to new ministries and structure changes. Revitalization is as hard as planting and pastoring established churches, each has its own unique set of issues and rewards!

  • So true! Ours was a church plant in 2013. At that time, they couldn’t even label me as their pastor. I didn’t mind, I kept going. Then in the middle of 2014, there was a power struggle and our small church was split right in half! Those that remained are still with us and by now I could feel some has started to acknowledge me as their pastor. Yes, #6 was so true. I had to build trust upon trust. And by now some of the members really calls me Pastor!

    The Lord has kept me here for 4 years now and I have no intention of leaving — not until the God says so.

  • I do not agree with the conclusions in this post. I understand having an opinion on these issues, but I have yet to see research that backs up the claim of it taking so long for people to accept you as their pastor. My own research has seen more pastors have declining ministry after year 7 or 8 as opposed to increased impact as this post claims. Can you point me to some research that supports this post? Thank you for your ministry and especially for providing links to so many resources about ministry.

    • Dennis,
      I will neither agree or disagree with your statement. I would suspect that the post is formulated on the basis of extensive first hand experience rather than statistical analysis. That said, I find that this post has been true for me, but not universally true. Right at the outset I had to deal with some very contentious issues in my current pastorate. Through God’s leadership I guess I would say that I navigated it well. There are many who jumped on the bandwagon early, some Of those people admitted that they didn’t want to like me because they liked the previous pastor so much and there was bad blood surrounding his departure. But the vast majority of those in leadership were quick to join with me. The prime reason, I think, is that I worked hard and have labored to remain transparent. that said, I think they trust me to lead, but my folks are often described as clannish. Because this is so, my family isn’t included in a lot of things. I am not sure that will ever change. You would have to see my town to understand it.

    • Les Ferguson says on

      I think Dan brings in a good point Dennis. While I am in my first pastorate I would truthfully say when you become pastor depends on context somewhat. In my context, rural historic church, with a history of 2-4 year tenures it did take a while to be trusted as pastor. Not quite 5 years but I had to “do pastoring” early on with countless funerals and other life transitions. Couple with the pace of life at my church, we’ve been around for 375 years and nothing happens overnight. But I have friends in a different context – more urban with a different history and demographic, and it doesn’t take 5-7 years because there isn’t a history of longevity.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        All of you are on target. My information is not based on objective data, but three decades of working with thousands of church and their leaders. Also, you are correct that my analysis does not have universal application, but it does hit home for a lot of people.

  • Just started a new pastorate at age 62 with a church that needs significant revitalization in the Midwest. Your post is a good reminder for me. I have made a commitment to be here until I’m 70. Right about the time I’ll be ready to “shift gears” I’ll be their pastor. I get that. I’m following a long pastorate. And I’m OK with that. Depending on the circumstances, the honeymoon can be relatively short. I’ve already got a good deal of tension that I figure was bequeathed to me by the search team and the previous pastor because it was too difficult to deal with. I know that if I negotiate it properly, I’ll gain a good deal of trust. Deal with it poorly and I’ll already have my “first crisis.” Reinforces the imperative to be a man of prayer. I’m grateful for that.

    I’ve also served on the West Coast where I think the rules can be a bit different, especially in larger cities where the population is much more transient and constant change is a way of life. But you were spot on for the Midwest in your post. Thanks for the reminder and your wisdom.

    • Charlotte Bell says on

      Alan, I too am 62 and embarking on my first church as Pastor. I don’t sense conflict, but weariness and hope. Like you, I’m hopeful to be with them for 10 years. Yet recognizing there is always,more to discover and uncover culturally and Ingraim patterns that,can go decades back to cope/learn about. I’m on the east coast in New England, a on the west coast, southeast, midwest.

      • Bless you, Charlotte. More than anything, cultivate a deep prayer life. Second, love your people deeply and cultivate an affection for them. God will give you that grace and your ministry will be fruitful.

  • Your point on going through conflicts rings loud and true. After 5 1/2 years pastoring here, I’ve learned that leading through some conflicts result in galvanizing my leadership toward our mission.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    Great post. Thank you.

  • 5 years into a church revitalization. First time s a senior pastor. All of these are true. But with patience and perseverance you can see things turn around and the church begin to thrive again!

  • You have to earn people’s trust. They want to see how you react to events like terrorism, Charlottesville, elections, etc. They want to see if you understand the real world and human nature.

  • Charlie Lyons says on

    Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I would say this is especially so for younger pastors. I’ll turn 35 this week and I’m 4 1/2 years into my first pastorate; there’s another year or two, I figure, before every last person here (I would even say, whether they realize it or not) really believes I have no plans on being anywhere else than right here, enjoying the fruit of a long-term pastorate.

  • Jason Butte says on

    Great post. I love your site and visit it regularly because of the great content.

    I am approaching the one year mark in my current pastorate. I believe the five to seven year time frame to “really” become the pastor is probably dead on. I am hopeful that through faithful shepherding, diligent pastoral visitation, good leadership, handling conflict well, etc. that the number can be reduced somewhat.

    Thanks again for you post!

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