Pastors of larger churches more likely to prioritize counseling and discipleship, new study says

Over 13,000 people gathered for a night of praise and worship led by Keith and Kristyn Getty at Bridgeston Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, on Aug. 20, 2019. |

While a majority of Protestant pastors prioritize counseling and discipleship among their ministry meetings, pastors of larger churches are more likely to invest in these meetings, according to the results of a new study by LifeWay Research.

The Nashville-based researchers asked 1,000 Protestant pastors if they regularly have six types of common ministry meetings to: counsel church members; encourage members to step into leadership roles; meet individuals one-on-one to personally disciple them; meet with visitors or new attendees; lead a small group Bible study; or meet with two or three individuals together to personally disciple them.

While it was found that a significant majority of the pastors had at least one of these meetings a week, pastors of churches with attendance of 100 to 249 and those with 250 or more were found to be more likely to say they have meetings for counseling and discipleship more regularly than pastors of churches with attendance of 50 to 99 and those with less than 50 in attendance.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, told The Christian Post in an interview Wednesday that this result came as a bit of a “surprise.”

“On one hand it comes as a surprise that they’re not delegating that, especially something like counseling but  at the same time I think they understand as the lead face for the church that people are gonna turn to them in times of difficulty and they’re not neglecting that pastoral responsibility,” McConnell said.

“They are embracing it. A church of 250, 350 people, they’re gonna be a lot more of those needs coming up than a small house church of 25 people and so just doing the math, there’s gonna be more people more often with a crisis with deep questions that they’re gonna need to run by a pastor and the larger pastors are putting that time in,” he explained. “They are being that first line of contact. Even though in previous research we saw that many pastors do try to hand people off in terms of counseling to a professional after a couple of meetings.”

He said the aim of the study was to get a better picture of how pastors were spending their time when it comes to ministry meetings, and noted that it was interesting to see that, despite the range of pastoral experiences, most still prioritize discipling and counseling.

 “… As we surveyed protestant pastors keep in mind that that ranges from bi-vocational pastors who have a lot of things vying for their time including a whole ‘nother job all the way up to pastors of very large churches and across the board, all six of them, a majority of pastors say they spend time regularly doing these things and large churches are not an exception to that. So it’s not like you graduate out of some of these ministry meetings as your church gets larger,” he said.

“Most of these things that we listed they are at least equal to other size churches and in the case of counselling and discipling groups of two or three people, the larger churches, their pastors were more likely to be spending time doing that regularly,” he said.

One of the things he didn’t get from the research, McConnell said, is “whether these meetings are effective.”

“It really is just indicating that the pastors are spending their time in that area,” he said. “Would it be more effective if they delegated? … We don’t know,” he said.

Earlier research from the Barna group reports that the average Protestant church size in America is 89 adults. Some 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. And only 2% have over 1,000 adults attending.

The research also showed that adults affiliated with small congregations were less likely to be born again, less likely to believe in salvation by grace alone, and less likely to have an orthodox view of God. The Barna study also indicated that such views undermine a solid theological foundation for congregational growth and may suggest that other spiritual perspectives that conflict with the Bible are common in smaller churches.

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