Leaders Are Meant to Lead: A Tale of Two (Australian) Churches

Church Support Australia

I (Paul) planted Apollos watered but God gave the growth – 1Corinthians 3:6

This is a snapshot in time, each over a 5 year period, of two mainstream Australian parishes.  I know the key pastors of both churches and I interviewed them as part of my Doctor of Ministry program. For personal reasons both pastors have requested that I disguise their identities and that of their churches. Apart from those changes these are both true stories.

The setting for the first story was a 250 km parish in remote and rural Australia comprising three regions: the northern region had four small congregations served by one pastor; the southern two small congregations and the central one mid size church with an average attendance of 150 and two small village congregations. The time period covers a 5 year span in the early to mid 1980s.

My second church story is centred on a coastal regional city with a surrounding rural area as part of the same parish. The central church had two Sunday services; a morning service with an average attendance of 130 and an evening service with 20 attenders on average. The central church also was responsible for a small rural church and served a second rural congregation shared with another denomination. In addition there was a small northern area church and a rural church in the west which met monthly both served by the same pastor. Also another pastor was placed in the southern part of the parish serving one church there. Both these pastors were in placement before the minister I interviewed arrived.  Again these events span a 5 year period from the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Church 1

Two new full time pastors arrived in the same month into the parish – one to serve the southern region (let’s call him Sean) and the other the central (we’ll call him Paul). In the previous year the central church had two full time pastors who served the two southern, the two village churches and the central church. Owing to a conflict between them both pastors left during the year before Paul arrived. At the time of the arrival of the two newcomers the parish had a full time pastor serving the northern region’s churches and a half time youth pastor serving the main central church.

Year 1

In his first year as a result of Paul’s recommendation a full time administrator was employed to take care of the administrative load as it was difficult to attract another pastor into the parish. Also that year Paul initiated, with the support of Sean, a strategic planning process for the central and southern regions. As a result of that process the two southern churches decided to become a separate parish in the following year with Sean remaining as their pastor. Also the central church added a second morning worship service, resulting in two Sunday morning and 1 Sunday evening service.

Year 2

With increased giving the central church was able to appoint a full time youth pastor and Rick (we’ll give him that name) was excited to quit his part time teaching job and come on board. As a result of Rick’s energy and passion it wasn’t long before a strong young adult ministry began, growing to 50 active members. In that same year Paul launched a young families ministry which drew in several children and their parents.

Year 3

With increasing numbers now becoming part of the life of the central church there was a growing need for more pastoral leadership in the main church.  Paul challenged the four northern churches to take financial responsibility to fund ministry and mission in their region and cease financial dependency on the central church. It was agreed for the northern section to begin as a separate parish the following year. Also in Year 3 Paul launched the Bethel Bible program (40 people attending over 2 classes). In that same year the evening service became shared with a local aboriginal church.

Year 4

At the start of the year the northern region became a separate parish. As result of savings from no longer having to fund the north finances were available to call a second pastor to the centre (let’s name him Terry) to join the ministry team. That same year a marriage enrichment ministry was started at Paul’s initiative.

Year 5

The above ministry initiatives continued to grow and all the three parishes were financially viable. All of this had occurred in the midst of a rural economic recession.  Central church had grown from an average weekly worship attendance of 150 in Year 1 to 280 by the end of Year 5 – almost doubling in size. However, Paul and Terry were discovering that a co-pastor leadership system wasn’t working for them as both pastors had different visions for ministry. As a result, as well as for personal and family reasons, Paul felt it was time to move and applied for a role in another parish ministry that was more in tune with his vision. His application was successful and he took up that position the following year.

Church 2

Year 1

The new pastor (we’ll name him Tony) entered a parish that had two pastors already in place covering 5 churches (including 1 that was shared with another denomination).The central church had 2 Sunday services – 1 in the morning averaging  130 and an evening service averaging 20. The average age of worship attenders was around 70.

Resulting from complaints about contemporary music in the central am service, Tony decided to form two am services. One had a celebratory family centred and low key charismatic style and the second was a traditional worship experience. Also, supported by the pastor in the south (Craig) Tony launched small group initiative and both pastors trained a total of 10 leaders to establish new home based small groups in the centre and the south.

Year 2

During this year the pastor serving the northern and rural two churches retired and a new pastor was recruited to replace him to start later that year. The central downtown church was beginning to experience ‘sociological strangulation’. (Restricted to a quarter acre site it was unable to expand to accommodate increasing numbers, had very limited on-site parking as well as ageing facilities.)  Tony and Craig realised it was time to relocate and proposed the central and southern congregations come together on a neutral site. Tony identified a suitable and vacant 5 acre piece of land on a major road almost equidistant between the two centres at very competitive price. Initially the proposal was supported by leadership but later sabotaged and vetoed at a joint membership meeting. Craig resigned and a new pastor was called to commence the following year. Meanwhile in the midst of a major national financial crisis Tony convinced the parish to undertake a planned giving program to generate needed finances.  Notwithstanding a large pensioner membership the program resulted in a 20%+ uptake in giving. All this in a time of skyrocketing interest rates (around 16% pa).

Year 3

To support an op shop funding a community service mission, centre church made one of its old buildings available rent free. A soup kitchen ministry was launched to serve street people in the area (led by volunteers). This brought more customers into the soup kitchen which was supported by local businesses plus some volunteers outside the church. Tony introduced a  newcomer welcome & incorporation system resulting in 50% of resident visitors regularly joining the church each year.

Year 4

Small group ministry has grown with 70% of members in small groups. In addition, and to avoid volunteer burnout, Tony established 10 teams with 5-7 volunteers per team operating on fortnightly basis in the soup kitchen. As a result upwards of 80% of members were now part of a small group or ministry team.

Year 5

Church attendance has grown from a total of 150 to 193 by year end. All established ministries continued and the soup kitchen was still going more than 30 years later. Tony concluded his initial appointment to take up denominational leadership role at the end of the year.

Conclusion

“I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth.” In other words, when leaders take initiative and lead growth follows but it’s not the leaders who cause the growth. Their leadership creates an environment where organic growth, growth imitated by the Spirit of God, happens. A couple of key points from these two stories:

1.         It’s not only numerical growth that happened. It was also growth in faith, service to others, growth in community and generational growth. Church 2 grew in all those dimensions and especially grew younger, from an average age of 70+ to an average age of 45-50.

2.         Sadly within a few years in each case the growth that occurred under proactive spiritual leadership declined drastically. Church 1 is now a multicultural congregation with only a handful of active members. Church 2 has fewer than 40 active members and is unable to sustain full time ministry. Although interestingly the soup kitchen continues with considerably wider community support. The pastor who replaced the former pastor who followed straight after Tony did not support lay ministry and within 12 months worship attendance had halved and all the young families, except one, left.

Author

  • Graham Beattie

    Graham is a retired pastor with 50+ years’ ministry experience. While pastoring two growing churches Graham completed a Doctor of Ministry degree through Fuller Theological Seminary, majoring in church consulting and church growth. Following graduation he was appointed as a denominational church consultant in Victoria (7 years) and Queensland (9 years) before accepting a position as State Chaplain with UnitingCare Community. There Graham was a member of the executive team, pioneered a leadership coaching accreditation training program, coached several managers and professionals as well as providing traditional chaplaincy services. Since retirement, Graham developed his own coaching and consulting practice (https://Facebook.com/GBCoachingandConsulting). In addition to coaching managers in the business and not-for-profit sectors he has been consulting with churches and coaching pastors from Baptist, Churches of Christ, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Uniting and Anglican denominations. Living in Brisbane, he is married to Beth - they have 3 adult children and 4 grandchildren. Graham enjoys tennis, vintage detective stories and, of course, time with his grandkids.

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