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5 common themes in churches with high pastor turnover

Thom Rainer headshot

This reality is becoming increasingly common. More churches are losing pastors after only a brief tenure. Even more troubling, many of these same churches are seeing these patterns repeat themselves with each consecutive pastor.

I recently worked with one church that had six pastors in nine years. Not one of the pastors made it to the third year. They wanted my help to determine what was wrong with all these pastors. My suggestion that they might be the problem was not received well.

Though no two churches are alike, we are seeing common patterns and themes in these high pastor turnover churches. Here are five of the most common themes:

1. They think it’s the pastors’ fault. It is difficult to help these churches. There is none so blind as he or she who will not see. The church I noted had not even considered that losing six pastors in nine years might point to the problems with the church. They were offended that I even suggested that possibility.

2. They see the pastor as a hired hand for the church members. Many of these church members tell the pastor what to do. They expect the pastor to respond quickly and obediently. I get nauseated when I hear a church member say, “We pay the salaries and the bills around here.” That attitude of selfishness and entitlement is deadly to a church.

3. They have a power group that desires to retain power. Woe to the pastor who challenges the power group, even if that challenge is based upon sound biblical principles. It won’t be long before that pastor leaves. Some will leave quietly. Some will challenge the group. Most will lose and still leave.

4. They see those in the community as outsiders. This mindset is congruent with the view that the church is like a country club, where the members get their preferences and desires met. The church rarely tries to reach those in the community lest the outsiders mess up their church. By the way, pastors are outsiders too. They come and go. And if they try to stay too long, they will soon have major challenges on their hands.

5. They have established traditions and methodologies they refuse to give up. One such church had run out of space for their community groups. There was a class, however, in the biggest room in the church other than the worship center. That class had been in that room prior to the Apostle Paul. They occupied less than 10% of the room. If they were willing to leave, the one room could have become five rooms. They refused. It was, after all, their room.

Many churches are struggling to find pastors. Many of those churches have experienced high pastor turnover. Word travels fast among pastors. At some point, the pool of those pastors willing to come to your church will dry up.

Any change will have to come from the hearts of the church members. They must understand it is not their church. Until that point comes, pastors will leave quickly.

If they are even willing to come at all.

Originally published at Church Answers 

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Rainer has written over 30 books, including three that reached number one bestseller: I Am a Church Member, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, and Simple Church. His new book, The Post-Quarantine Church: Six Urgent Challenges and Opportunities That Will Determine the Future of Your Congregation, is available now.

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