Q: I am pastor of a growing 200-member congregation—more than a full-time job! Our governing board is pressing for even more emphasis on “church growth.” As we outgrow our present “cozy” size, what changes should we anticipate? Will I have to retool my leadership approach?

A: If you are sole pastor and your congregation’s average attendance is 150 or more, you probably already feel pretty stretched by competing expectations.

Although you may be excited by the prospect of continued growth, ministry may become more stressful and less satisfying. How should you respond? First, explore your own gifts and sense of call. Not every pastor will be effective or find satisfaction in a program-size church. But if you discern a call to shift your approach to ministry in response to growth, here are some changes to make.

1. Change your priorities. In a pastoral-size church (51 to 150 people at worship), building one-to-one pastoral relationships usually comes first. At program size (151 to 400 people), your priorities will be high-quality Sunday worship, lay leadership development, and reliable systems of member care and involvement (including strong lay teams for pastoral care and new-member ministry).

2. Negotiate expectations. Not all members will accept this shift. Some will feel abandoned, or accuse you of being uncaring, ambitious, and unspiritual. You will have to gain skills for negotiating expectations with your board (and with the denominational officials to whom dissatisfied members may appeal).

3. Clarify your vision. The advantage of a program-size church (significant programs targeted to different kinds of people) also creates its challenge (managing multiple styles, expectations, and projects). You must take more initiative to ensure that:

  • Your board can articulate what the church is primarily here for (purpose/mission) and where it is called to go (vision). Typically, boards become nervous during a transition, realizing they can’t keep everybody happy. Your board probably needs help to develop for itself better processes of recruitment, orientation, and meeting design.
  • Key subgroups stay in face-to-face communication with each other. Liaisons tend not to work well. In worship planning, for example, key music leaders, ushers, church school teachers, and clergy may need to meet quarterly to work out seasonal worship plans. You might organize a semiannual “leadership forum” where leaders of groups and programs share goals, negotiate calendars, and solve problems. By sharing aspirations, program leaders can support each other’s efforts and minimize unhealthy competition for time, space, and money.

This description may sound daunting. But consider the satisfactions of effective clergy in program-size churches:

1. Creating durable structures of ministry. Like an architect, you may encounter the imaginative challenge of design and the practical adventure of installing new systems to sustain effective ministry.

2. Developing a leadership cadre. Like a coach, you can take pride in the growth of the leaders you mentor and the teams you guide.

3. Building consensus. Like a politician, you come to know people’s aspirations, interests, and “hot spots,” and help forge coalitions to accomplish important work.

If these prospective satisfactions leave you cold, you may want to search for another setting that better fits your gifts and aspirations. If you feel energized by the possibilities, then make a plan for your professional development and find a mentor who can help you fulfill your call to a new style of ministry.

Rev. Alice Mann is an Alban Institute senior consultant who specializes in helping congregations with growth strategies, leadership skills, strategic planning, and spirituality. She is the author of several books, including The In-Between Church: Navigating Size Transitions in Congregations (Alban Institute, 1998), Can Our Church Live? Redeveloping Congregations in Decline (Alban Institute, 1999), and Raising the Roof: The Pastoral-to Program Size Transition (Alban Institute, 2001).