If you are the sole pastor of a typical (that is, noninstitutional), white, one-church parish, and your Sabbath attendance is near 200, don't be surprised if your church doesn't grow—no matter how hard you work or how much you pray. I recently read (and, reread) a very disquieting and enlightening book by one of the most respected researchers in the church-growth movement today. The book is Lyle Schaller's, Growing Pains, and here is what I learned:
A one-pastor church of 200 (even with a competent secretary), is staffed to plateau. If you do most of your own secretarial work, as I do, the problem is compounded.
A note of perspective is in order here. Dr. Schaller is not suggesting that in every congregation an instant growth spurt will result each time a staff member is added. There are many reasons why churches do not grow. But the research indicates that it is virtually impossible for a pastor to give growth leadership to a congregation of 200 while meeting all of the denominationally imposed, congregationally imposed, and self-imposed expectations.
Dr. Schaller's insights came at a most propitious time for me. I left teaching at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in the summer of 1979 and came to Stone Mountain, Georgia, a new church of eighty members. Our growth was most encouraging for three years during which time we attained, by baptism and transfer, our present 200 members. There we reached a plateau, and passing the 200 barrier has seemed to defy everything we have done. We have fasted, prayed, knocked on doors, done mailings, given Bible studies, broadcast, telecast, advertised, held public meetings—still, 200 members.
Meanwhile, I was catching discontent from some of the members. Why wasn't I visiting our members more? Why wasn't I spending more time administering the church? Why wasn't I—well, you know the story.
Enter Lyle Schaller.
As I reflected I realized that during the time of our optimum growth I had had an associate. Even working sixty hours a week after he left did not fill the hole caused by his departure. But the frustrating, guilt-ridden agony could have been dissipated if I had known.
So, what to do?
The dilemma is only partially solvable by a local congregation. Part of the solution, of course, is to turn more responsibility over to the members. And I agree. We are working at that. How ever, in a voluntary organization, such as the church, someone has to follow up on the delegating. Our members are extremely capable and highly motivated. Yet, pragmatically, someone must coordinate and oversee. If the programs within a church are to function as smoothly and effectively as we believe they should, there must be a place where the buck stops.
We have made some progress in helping the church assume responsibility for itself. The chairman of our board of elders and I went visiting together on Thursday nights for a couple of months. Then we split up, and each of us now takes another elder. We meet at the church at seven o'clock for our assignments and to pray together. Each team then makes two visits and returns to the church at nine-thirty to debrief. This will mean more than 200 calls a year and is proving to be productive for those visited and good training for the visitors. No doubt, other areas exist where we can delegate and train.
My other two suggestions go beyond the prerogatives of the local church, but if Dr. Schaller's research is dependable, it is imperative that we give them serious denominational consideration.
First, permit some portion of the tithe to be retained in the local church to provide an executive secretary for the pastor. Note that this is different from a church secretary who might do the reports, mailings, and perhaps the treasurer's and/or clerk's work. The pastor's secretary would be available to do typing, filing, phoning, scheduling, correspondence, et cetera. Her goal would be to free him to do that which he is primarily there to do.
If the departmental director at each denominational level has a personal secretary who is paid from tithe funds, how much more should that be true of our front-line troops—our local pastors.
It may be argued that in any major corporation, the executives in the home office have secretaries who are hired and paid from company funds, and not the individual salesperson out in the field.
The fallacy of that argument lies in the dissimilarity of the two organizations. In the commercial enterprise the troops are out in the field for the benefit of "the company." Their success is predicated on their making a profit for the home office and a living for themselves in the meantime.
A church is different. The success of what we're about is not in what we "send in to the office." The basic organizational unit in this denomination is the local church. All else is only support structure. And that support structure must stay as lean as possible in order to pour maximum resources back into the local church.
And that leads me to a final suggestion. A formula should be devised under which a church meets a set of criteria and is then eligible for an additional staff person. The research is available to indicate when staffing is the determinative factor in a church's growth pattern, and at that point it would not only be advantageous for the local church, it would also be an excellent investment for the Conference.
If we provide secretaries and additional staff members in our churches, will that mean that our pastors can take it easy? No committed pastor wants to. But it will mean that many of our churches will break through previously unattainable growth levels. And that is what we all want.