What is an Average Pastor?

It was nearly three years ago that I started this blog on the average pastor.  Since that time this blog has been viewed over 7,000 times and has over hundred of followers.    The response to this information has been so humbling and encouraging.  The success of this concept of the Average Pastor has proved one thing:  Average Pastors are looking for resources for the average church experience. This is why we published The Average Pastor book which is being enjoyed by pastors around the US. Here are some of the testimonies from those who have read the book:

  • “I can not put it down. I hope all of my Facebook friends that Pastor a “Small Church” buy it immediately! You will not be sorry.”
  • “The book is phenomenal and I highly encourage every medium to small church pastor to read this book. You’ll laugh, perhaps occasionally tears will well up, but ultimately you will identify with Pastor Isgrigg’s words and experiences.”
  • “Some great stuff packed into a small book – if you pastor a small or midsize church grab a copy off of Amazon today and be encouraged.”

With more and more exposure to this concept of  being an “average pastor,” some people still misunderstand why we use that label.  So as a reminder, I want to share the first chapter in the book to remind people what we are talking about. You are average, not because you are mediocre, but because your experience as a pastor of a church of under 200 is the average experience of the average pastor of the average church in America.

You Are Average

No that is not an insult. It is the data. If you are a pastor of a church of under 100 you probably feel small. The recent trend of mega-churches and multi-site churches has made you feel this way. Not to mention that all the pastors conferences are focusing on these churches. But it is not true. You and I are not small church pastors. We are Average Pastors of Average Churches.

 

What is average? When it comes to describing quality, people often think of average as being the middle of the road: not exceptional but not terrible. But in statistics, average is a statement of what is typical. It is not a value statement for quality, it is a numerical statement of quantity. Average is the number that represents the most common result of a given range of data sampled. On a bell curve, the average is where most people are. This means that the most common human experience is the average experience, not the exceptional experience.

One of the first leadership books I remember hearing about was “The Enemy Called Average.”[1] Nobody wants to be labeled as “average”, especially not pastors. Everyone of us believes that we will be the exception to the rule. We want to be the one that starts a church that grows to 10,000 people or who takes over a struggling church and builds it into a mega church. Every pastor I have ever met has always started thinking they were that person. I have come to realize that my experience as a pastor of 100 people is the rule, not the exception.

Consider the data:[2]

  • 8% of churches are 100 people or less[3]
  • 2% of churches are under 250 people
  • Average church attendance is 76 people
  • Only 2.4% of churches are over 1000 people
  • 62% of pastors of less than 100 people are full time
  • Average salary is $31,000 for FT pastor[4]
  • 72% of churches under 100 have an annual income of less than $100,000[5]

The Barna group tells us, “Despite the enormous cultural impact of mega-churches and mega-church pastors like Joel Osteen and his 40,000+ Lakewood Church, the largest group of American churchgoers attends services in a more intimate context. Almost half (46%) attend a church of 100 or fewer members. More than one-third (37%) attend a midsize church of over 100, but not larger than 499. One in 11 (9%) attends a church with between 500 and 999 attenders, and slightly fewer (8%) attend a very large church of 1,000 or more attendees.”[6]

What these stats tell us is that the pastor of a church of 100 is normal. It is average. The truth is the mega-church and the large church are both very rare. They are the exception, not the norm! Yet, have you noticed everyone expects all churches to grow to a mega-church? Have you noticed that the conference speakers are always pastors of the exception, not the norm? Have you noticed all the books written by the 2% and not the 98%? Why are so few resources available for the pastor leading a volunteer staff or the church in the rural community?

Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal.

If you are reading this, chances are you are an Average Pastor. Average is not a sign of poor leadership, difficult people or lack of God’s blessing. Average is the normal experience for most pastors of most churches. It is not a problem to be fixed, its normal. It certainly has challenges, that when compared to the experience of larger churches seem to be huge disadvantages. But those challenges are simply normal challenges. If we continue to compare ourselves with the exception we will always feel like a failure. But if we can compare ourselves to the normal church experience, we will see we are not failures at all. We are normal churches with normal challenges to be faced with faith and courage. You are an Average Pastor with an average size church in America. And that is OK!

 

[1] John Mason, “The Enemy Called Average” (Insight Publishing, 1990).

[2] http://www.thearda.com

[3] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_295.asp

[4] “The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff” Christianity Today, 2011, p. 35.

[5] http://www.thearda.com/conqs/qs_314.asp

[6] https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016

 

Some Observations on Father’s Day

Fathers-Day

Father’s Day is always on a Sunday.  Like many churches, this year I had to wrestle with what we were going to do for fathers on Fathers Day.  I usually try to think of something simple (and cheap) to give to the fathers just like I do on Mother’s day.  Last year I gave out “Dad’s Rootbeer.” This year I chose a small ratchet strap.  It seemed like something Dads would need.  But a day or so later I was talking with a friend.  He said to me, “What does a ratchet strap have to do with being a father?”  It was a good question.  I admitted I didn’t really know.  He went on to say “What do fathers want?  Time with their kids.  Ratchet straps are for men, not dads.”  His words have been resonating with me.  I have been thinking about them for a week now.  I have also been thinking about the pressure I  feel when I see what other churches did for men on fathers day.  Some churches go all out.  And many times I am jealous of what they do for Fathers. But my friend’s comment has me thinking.

What I am about to say is just some observations.  So please forgive me if they come across as critical. Maybe they are, but they aren’t meant to be.  Please just hear my own struggle in these observations.  Pastoring is a tough enough job without having our fellow pastors criticizing each other.  But I think a few things need to be considered when it comes to Father’s Day. These are thoughts about how we celebrate Fathers Day I am struggling with.

First, I question how Mothers day and Fathers day became Christian holidays to begin with.  Its obvious, if they land on a Sunday, everyone expects the church to do something.  Many pastors, including myself, have shied away from the whole “mothers stand up and we will honor you” thing.  I think we all realize that family situations are so much more complicated.  That applies to Dads as well.  My Dad used to alway say that he hated Fathers Day at church because on Mothers Day the Pastor would say how wonderful mothers were. On Fathers Day, the pastors would beat up on the dads for not doing enough.  I don’t think he’s alone in that sentiment.  Being a parent is really hard. And no one thinks they do a good job at it.  Because of these things, I have had to stop making the service about Dads or Moms and just keep our focus on Jesus. I figure the families can celebrate their own parents well enough without me.

Second, it seems Fathers Day has turned into a sort of “man day” or an annual celebration of men.  In the same way that not all women are mothers, not all men are fathers.  It seems to me that car shows, barbecues, tool give aways and manly events are becoming the most popular way to celebrate fathers today.  But so many of those things are stereotypical ”manly” things. But are they ‘fatherly” things?  I wonder how the female children of that father enjoy the car show?  I wonder if that 50 inch TV will encourage a father to spend more time with their kids?  What if the father doesn’t like cars or bacon or doesn’t fix anything around the house?   What if they love to read? What church gives away books?  What exactly are we celebrating about fathers by giving away WD-40 and big screen tvs?  Those seem more like man things (if that is such a thing).  Like my friend asked, “what does that have to do with being a father?”  I even have a friend who has never had kids who won a pressure washer at a Fathers Day service a couple years back.  He wasn’t sure if he should take it.  You see?  Isn’t it confusing?  I think next year I will give away something that will give fathers time with their children.  To me that would honor fathers. I am not sure what yet. But I have to think of something.

Thirdly.   I fear that the modern church has turned every holiday into a marketing scheme.  Remember when we used to have big Christmas productions so that we could invite all our friends to church?  Now we do that for every holiday: Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Fathers Day, Grandparents Day, Memorial day…you get the point.  I know why churches do it up big on Father’s Day.  Its another opportunity to invite people to come to church.  Maybe it works.  But I am afraid its starting to feel like a gimmick to get men to go to church. We sure brand it that way with all the meat, cars and mustaches!  Plus, it really doesn’t work for the average church. Many times these are our lowest attended services.  We don’t get holiday bumps like larger churches. My father comes to my church on Father’s day, but I am the pastor!  Many of my members go to be with their fathers at their churches on Fathers Day. And most of them go to the big churches who have the big events.

On the one hand I don’t think we do enough to honor both fathers and mothers for the role they play.  I believe parents have a tough job.   Fathers who stay engaged should be celebrated.  On the other hand, I hope the way we go about celebrating fathers doesn’t distract us from the true value of fathers.  I don’t want to celebrate men, I want honor Fathers.  Fathers matter to children.  Especially to the fathers of children who are still in the homes. These are the fathers I want to go out of my way to say thank you to.  Thank you for playing with your kids when you are tired. Thank you for putting down the remote and reading to your kids. Thank you for taking a trip to the park. Thank you for putting your wife’s needs ahead of your own. Thank you for showing up at the doctor appointment.  Thank you for playing barbies and princesses with your girls.  Thank you for teaching your child when they do something wrong instead of just punishing them.  What can I give a Father who does that?  Do you know?  What can I pass out on a Father’s Day that will encourage and honor Dad’s who do that?  Because that is worth celebrating.

The Economics of the Average Church

MoneyMatters_categoryGraphicOn this blog we try to focus on the average experience for the average pastor. So much of the church world is focused on the exceptional experience of the most successful churches. Many of the experiences written in leadership books usually reflect the 5-15% of pastors who pastor churches of over 200.

One place where the experience of the average pastor is most profound is in finances.  Nothing is perhaps more of a struggle for the average church than church finances.  My experience over the past 6 years has been a good one.  It has always been a struggle but we have managed our finances well and have had very few crisis moments. For that I thank God and my leadership team that has helped me navigate that.  My church pays me a full time salary and I have several part time staff members we are able to give a small weekly salary to.  But, I know even my experience is the exception.  For many average pastors, they would love to have even my experience.

The economics of the average church are difficult considering a couple of factors:

  • The average church is America is 80 people.
  • The average giving per attendee per month is between $80-$100.
  • The average church in America can only sustain one full time salary (if they can afford it at all) and only at the attendance level of 120 are they able to hire someone to help them. For example, 60% of churches in my state are pastored by bi-vocational pastors. These churches cannot afford to pay a full time salary.
  • Churches that are under 100, if they can pay a pastor full time, usually have to devote between 45%-55% of the income to the salaries, where as larger churches can be 35%-50%.
  • Many average churches are in smaller communities that do not have professional jobs available to people. Smaller communities are only getting smaller. And small churches are only getting poorer.

The economics of the average pastor and average church presents a unique set of challenges that small churches have to face:

  • You are expected to do more with less – People visiting your church expect you to have everything a larger church has, but with only a fraction of the resources.  We simply can’t keep up.
  • The pastor is expected to be just as committed to church life, despite the fact that 60% work jobs outside the church.  There isn’t enough time in the day to be working on developing vision, programs and people like  churches that can support a full time pastor.
  • The pastor usually is dealing with the burden of both the church and their own family money pressures.  Its a double edged sword for most pastors.
  • Many of the burdens of the menial tasks and issues cannot be solved by hiring people or buying a new one of something.  That means more energy is given to keeping something going by doing it yourself or going without.

Average Finances in the Average Church

As frustrating as the above challenges are, some economic realities also come into play for the average church verses the larger church.  If the average church is 80 people and the average per capita giving is $100 per month, then your average monthly income is $8,000.

  • If you pay a pastor, its $3,000 – $4,000 per month (45%-55%).  That is about the average salary for churches that can afford a full time pastor.
  • If you have a mortgage, a good range is 30% of your income; $2,500.
  • That leaves you $1,500-$2,500 for other expenses taxes, insurance, utilities and emergencies.  There is not much room for purchases, additional staff and luxuries like advertisement, hiring people to do lawn care, etc.

However, the example given above of $100 per month per person is the exception.  $80 per month for 50-70 people might be more normal for most of the average pastors I know.

  • Total income would be $4,000-$5,600 per month
  • Pastor’s salary could only be $2,000-$2,800 per month
  • Plus a mortgage, utilities, etc.
  • It is a real challenge to have a great church that offers lots of things and does lots of ministry when you barely can make your financial obligations!

Here is the reality of the average church and economics.

If you lose a family of 4 for whatever reason (move, go to another church, etc), you stand to lose $300-$400 per month for that one family leaving.  If you lose several families in a year, you could lose up to 15-20% of your income.

  • That could mean not buying a new computer for the pastor. So he buys it himself
  • That could mean the church not paying the pastor’s medical insurance (if they are able to at all).
  • That could mean not being able to pay a part time kids pastor or worship leader.
  • That could mean not doing an outreach that would cost $300 or not spending money on an event for the church.
  • That could mean not being able to buy ink cartridges to print bulletins.
  • All of these are realities that average pastors deal with simply by losing one family.

On the flip side, if it is a church of 300 people and the average income is $24,000 per month and they lose one family ($300 pm), you may not even notice it.  It doesn’t change whether or not you pay insurance, whether you can buy printer ink, whether you can by curriculum.  In many ways, a larger church may not even notice an average family giving an average amount in an average month.

The Blessings of Average Church Finances…

Yes, there are some! Its not all bad news and difficulty for us average pastors. There are some benefits I have found for average church economics:

  1. I am forced to be creative.  I used to just buy everything. Now I think of ways to do something without the option of buying it.  For example, most of my stage designs cost less that $25 because I buy things at the dollar store or borrow them from others.  Once you get used to not buying things, you appreciate the value of creativity.
  2. I am forced to use people.  Its easier to hire someone to mow or fix plumbing  or clean the church or build something.  But when you don’t have money, you look to the people in your church to chip in.  I have found that there usually people who enjoy those small tasks that make a big difference.
  3. I appreciate what giving means.  Every dollar has a face in a small church.  I see hard working people giving because they love God.  Therefore I respect each dollar. Its precious and is a gift of worship. The fewer dollars you have, the more you appreciate the people who give them.
  4. One family can change everything.  Because losing one family affects the average church so much, gaining one family can also help so much. For us, there is a huge difference between 70 people and 90 people.  Gaining three or four families can take the stress off and allow us to do so much more. There is a lot of hope that one of two families can bring.

My Easter Service Won’t Be “Special”

Easter-Sunday
One of the questions people love to ask me is “what is your church doing special for Easter?”  My response?  Nothing.  That’s right. Nothing.  Ok, that’s not totally true. We do an egg hunt like everyone else and we have some special songs picked out just for Easter. But our service on Easter will be 90% like every other Sunday.

If you keep up with the other churches around your town, you know that is a rare strategy.  Today it seems like everyone is going to have “the most amazing Easter ever!”  Churches drop eggs from helicopters, have kids “eggstraviganzas,” Easter dramas, and offer the most outrageous prizes to give away.  (One church is giving away a cruise this Easter!)   As I see what lengths people go to outdo each other or draw the biggest crowd in history on Easter, it only reinforces why I do not necessarily want our service to be “special.”

Here is why:

1.  The world sees that we are competing for guests.  Churches go out of their way to invite people on Easter. People they never interact with otherwise.  We do a big push because there is pressure for Easter to be our biggest crowd of the year. For the small church, this isn’t always true. (Read this great article about that here)  This past week I went door to door to pass out our Easter flier on a street we have adopted as place where we focus our ministry.  As I passed out fliers, I realized that more than one church had already been there.  I am sure after the 3rd or 4th knock on the door, they got sick of it. One neighbor sent me a nasty email to say so. I am afraid our Easter push for guest turns people we should be blessing into customers were attracting.  We’re all selling something. We are selling Easter. And were competing for the same people.

2.  The other 51 weeks aren’t “special.”  I have heard it said, that what you attract them with you must keep them with.  There is wisdom there.  What happens when all your guests come the week after Easter and the lights, eggs, dramas and choirs are gone?  When our service is “special” it can create a false sense of who our church is.  I want people to see us.  Because who we really are is pretty amazing.  I don’t want to cover that up with a bunch of false impressions of who our church is.

3.  It reinforces our complaint about the Christmas & Easter Crowd.  For years the church has complained about families who only come on big Sundays.  Perhaps we are to blame.  Perhaps the church encourages people to come on Easter and Christmas because we show them by our special services that they are the only ones that matter?

4.   Every Sunday is Easter.  I am not being glib.  It is true. Every Sunday is a celebration of the death of Christ and power of resurrection.  Every Sunday we sing about those same themes. Every Sunday, people are introduced to the God who saves and forgives.  It sends a message that Easter is for getting people saved and the other 51 services are for the other stuff.

5.  Easter should also be for the already saved.  If we spend too much energy on Easter for the lost, we neglect the found who come on Easter to celebrate too. In my five years as a pastor, I have often wondered during my Easter sermon if I am leaving out the rest of the people.  Especially when to my knowledge there aren’t any unbelievers actually there! We can send a message that Easter is not for them when Easter becomes solely on inviting and preaching to lost people.  Easter should be a celebration for the saved and an invitation for the lost to join them.

I suppose I could be wrong about this.  Attractional churches seem to be successful with this strategy. But for the small church, its hard to keep up with the church across the street who is dropping 40,000 eggs on Sunday.  The average church like ours need only to be true to who we are. In the end, whoever comes will experience a real church and the real way we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus every week.

( This article discusses some of these reasons as well)

Were you a success in 2014?

2014_featured2

Were you a success in 2014?  It depends on the scorecard you are using.  2014 was a success for our church.  I am not bragging or being positive.  I have data to back it up.  Its called my annual church report.  That’s right! I love to do my annual report.  Let me tell you why.

My denomination makes us fill out stats for our church every year.  I must admit for the first few years this was a depressing process. We had to fill out this paperwork with our numbers from our year.  How many members? How many salvations? How many baptisms? How many did we average?  All of these help our denomination assess our health as a church.  As a church that has been in the process of revitalizing over the past few years, we are doing well, but we did not have much to report in these categories.  We grow by a couple people each year.  We rarely have a salvation and baptize a few people each year.  That report always made me feel like a failure.  It was only numbers. And numbers is not what our church is about.  According to it, I was a failure.

One year I decided to keep another report. I call it my church report.  Every year at the end of the year I go back and look at what we Did this year, not who was here or not here.  I started counting things like babies born, marriages, outreach events, missions offerings, positive memories, member milestones, major improvements, and new ministries we tried (even if they failed).  I started counting things that don’t fit on a statistical report.  The first one was two pages long of items we had to celebrate. The second year was even better. This year it is a four page report of everything we counted as win.  And it is amazing to see what we accomplished that is beyond how many are saved or baptized.

This has changed my whole evaluation process of what is success. 2013 was a perfect example.  In November of 2013, we had gone 11 months and not one person was saved as a result of our 52 services that year.  I was depressed.  Everyone else, especially the big churches were saving hundreds and we didn’t have one. NOT ONE.  I wanted to quit.  I questioned why we existed if no one came to Christ this year.  Then I started my church report.  I went back over the year.  Using the three parts of our vision, I made a list of things we accomplished in each of these areas.  I looked at the calendar, the posts on Facebook, the events we held and the people who came, I started to see a bigger picture.  I was overwhelmed at what God did through us! Suddenly I didn’t feel so much like a failure. No, we didn’t have a salvation, but we did 16 outreach events, gave generously to missions, had incredible experiences together.  None of that is negated just because we didn’t have a salvation.  There are churches reaching thousands who didn’t do what we did. And would never try.

Now I love putting together our annual report because we have so much more to report than what our income was or how many members we added.  In every category of our three part vision, we had between 8-15 “wins” that we can celebrate for 2014.  Had I not put that report together, I am sure I would have felt bad for this year too.  We had no salvations again this year. But that doesn’t matter. We did what God wanted us to do in 2014. We were successful 2014. My feelings match my reality because I took the time to go back and see all God did through us. When you do a recap like this, you see the truth of what you accomplished. And you get to share that sense of satisfaction with your church.  You can celebrate together what God did through your church.  You also become more aware of how faithful God was. Without that recap, I tend to forget what he did for us.

If you have to fill out one of those reports for your church, do yourself a favor and make your own report.  Mine is very simple.  Attached is a copy for you to see as an example.  You can do it too.  Build yourself a new scorecard to evaluate your ministry by. In a future post, I will share our churches annual business report and how I changed that to reflect this new score card.

2014 Church Report (2)

I also put together a video recap.  It is another way to see what you God did through your church.

They Always Come…And They Always Leave

Hello-Goodbye-Doormat1I love it when a new family visits our church.  It is exciting, isn’t it?   I am not totally sure what our retention rate is, but we seem to have one or two people or families visit every month. Sometimes they stay.  In 2014 we had 8 families/individuals come but we also had 7 families/individuals leave.   It is wonderful when people come.  It is not so wonderful when they leave.  We all have experienced that. It stinks!   Sometimes its for good reasons. Sometimes it’s not.  Pastor Josh Mauney has a great post  about how we feel when people leave.  You should read it here: The Most Honest Post I Know How to Write

For an average church, having one family join could represent a 5% increase in your church’s membership.  If you add two or three families your church has the potential for 10-15% growth in one year.  That is the power and impact of each and every family. Our church lost 3 families in October.  That was 16 total people, nearly 15% of our church gone in one month. That is hard to deal with. These were highly involved and faithful people. Two moved for jobs and one was just ready to move on.  We loved all three.  I hate that they are gone. But my experience tells me that others will come.  They always come…and they always leave. That is just how it works.

Our Average Church has been slowly growing over the past 4 years. In October of 2010, we had 39 families or individuals that called our church home for a total of 94 people.  Four years later we have 51 families/individuals that call our church home for a total of 110 people.  We have slowly added families and individuals. But we have also lost families and individuals.  In fact, from 2010-2014, we have only 17 families (43%) who have made it with us these past 4 years.  The ones we started with account for only 33% of our current congregation right now.  Were I to study it more closely, my guess is we probably turn over a third of our congregation every year or so. That is tough on us Average Pastors.  Just when we gain momentum, one family leaves and it takes it all away.

As I have tried to deal with this reality I have learned a few thoughts that make it easier:

  • Every family matters–  I had to realize that at some point that family chose to come here and contributed at some level. They are part of our story. They are important and I need to be thankful for them.
  • They came from somewhere – We have had some wonderful people come. We have had wonderful people go.  Every time I have to remind myself and our leadership team, they came from somewhere. They left another church and pastor who probably grieved when they left.   We cannot praise God when a family comes and be mad when they leave.  We need to rejoice in both.
  • They are His people, not ours –  We don’t own people.  I realized that most people these days only come to us for a season.  We are stewards while they are here.  Cherish and appreciate them. And when they leave, graciously turn them loose.
  • They all will leave – Gone are the days when church members are born in a church and die there.  They all will leave.  You will too one day!  Every pastor, staff member and church member will leave the church they are at.  Be gracious with those who leave.  Love them and celebrate them.

We have had many wonderful families come and go in the past 4 years.  Some were only here for a season. Some moved away. Some just didn’t want to be at a small church anymore.  I have learned to roll with the ebb and flow of families coming and going.   I learned to rejoice when they came.  And now I am able to rejoice when they leave.  I still grieve, but I can do it with thankfulness. Because in the end, they always come…and they will always leave.