I was ready. My semi nary training was almost complete, and now it was time for my first pastoral assignment. My education had prepared me for sermonic years, church evangelistic programs, sequence evangelism, meaningful midweek series, organized planning, in short just about anything I needed to do for my church.
My seminary friends were receiving their church assignments when I learned that I was assigned to pastor in a district of not one, not two, but three churches! One friend laughed when he heard about my three churches. But this was no laughing matter! At the seminary all my training, goals, and idealism had been focused toward a single-church assignment. What was I to do now? How could I run three churches? I made a brave start, determined to do my best to use my seminary training in ministry to my churches. For a year I tried to follow the single church idealism I had learned in school, but at the end of that year I was worn out, discouraged, and frustrated. There was no way that I could run my district like a single church.
I realized that I couldn't do things the way that I thought I was supposed to. I couldn't run three midweek services. I couldn't have a sermonic year with series sermons when I only came to each church every third week. I couldn't have three churches in sequence evangelism at the same time. I couldn't have three evangelistic series going at one time. I couldn't keep up with all the committees and still have nights available for visitation. I couldn't do all the great things I wanted to in one church, since I wasn't around enough to see all of them carried through.
When I finally realized what I couldn't do, I decided to approach my multichurch district in a new way. When I did, my ministry to three churches became more enjoyable and productive.
I went first to my conference president and let him in on my plans. He was very supportive and agreed to come and meet with all my church people at a district meeting. The topic was the best use of the pastor and his time.
Together we decided that I would focus my efforts on one church at a time for six to nine months. During the assigned period I would attend midweek services, run programs, and concentrate my visitation in that church. At the end of the period I would hold an evangelistic series in that church. The other two churches were responsible for their own mid-week service and other programs during that time.
My churches gladly accepted this idea, and we worked out a schedule starting with the most active church. The other two churches didn't mind, since they knew that their turn was coming.
I realized that in six to nine months I wouldn't be able to do all that I would like to, so I picked one or two programs that would best fit the situation. I centered my visitation on the one church, but of course did not ignore needs in other areas. My results under the new system were at least as good as I had had under the old system. And my stress level was much lower! I enjoyed my ministry much more.
Some things that I learned in my multi-church setting may be helpful to other thinly spread pastors.
1. I developed a church night for each church. On that night we had all the meetings that church needed. If there was a church board meeting, we held it after the midweek service. The elders met once a month on the same night, and other committees also met on that night. Sometimes we had two or three meetings back-to-back, but we handled all our business on one night.
2. I used the same sermon for all three churches. Since I went to only one church each week, my sermon would last three weeks. The time I saved on preparation I used for the extra work of administering the three churches.
3. Since I wasn't in my churches as much as I wanted to be, I tried to compensate with "good" speakers from my conference and union conference offices. I discovered that all the "good" speakers were willing to come to my churches when I scheduled them far enough in advance. I soon had my churches booked up for the next nine months so we could have the best speakers available. When the conference and union presidents came to speak, my members began to believe in the importance of their church.
4. I found that a district newsletter was essential to pulling my churches together. Good communication helped build morale. The churches began to show interest in one another's progress. Instead of fighting over the pastor and his time, we even had district socials, which people had told me would never work.
5. Because the district was spread out over many miles, I used certain days to visit in different towns. I tried to coordinate these visitation days with my church nights, visiting during the day in the area where I would have to be for the church night meetings.
6. It was hard to run a complete sequence-evangelism program in one church. I encouraged the churches to work together and complement one another instead of duplicating effort. If one church was having a Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking, then the neighboring church would have a stress-control clinic. If one church was having evangelistic meetings, the other churches did not compete with it, but tried to support it with members and interests. Each series resulted in baptisms in more than one church.
7. The whole program worked well when the local churches planned their programs a year in advance. Organization and planning are the keys to survival in a multichurch district. Better organization yields happier local leaders. When they don't know what is going on, they have a hard time being supportive.
Do you have one church? Two? Three? Four? In the United States, pastors are taught how to run one church. This is the ideal, and most programs are built around it, but few pastors have the ideal situation.
If you have more than one church you may easily become frustrated, perhaps believing yourself to be a failure in the ministry because you can't keep up with single church goals and ideals. Take stock of your situation and adjust your strategies. Through careful planning and organization, you can enjoy an effective ministry as a multichurch pastor!