Lessons from a Not So Successful Pastor

What to do when your church is at a crossroads.

Dennis Sanders
7 min readJul 10, 2022

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It’s been a busy summer here in Minnesota. First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which is located in the suburbs of the Twin Cities is moving. We spent the winter and spring looking for a realtor and getting the property ready to be sold. It sold faster than expected and we’ve spent the last month and a half getting ready for the move. Ever since we reopened for worship in the late Spring of 2021, I’ve been dealing with a changed church. The time away meant we ended up losing some members and that changed the congregation in dramatic ways. We also gained a few people as well which also made a mark on our congregation.

As we spend our last days in the building, I am reflecting on what has been learned by our congregation. I wanted to take a moment to share what I’ve observed seeing how our congregation dealt with moving and also what happened to other congregations in our area facing similar decline. When churches lose members and lose focus, the temptation is strong to give up and close the church. I don’t share these as some kind of expert, but by experiencing them through the school of hard knocks.

Here is my advice to congregations in similar straights:

Pastoral leadership matters. Three Disciples of Christ congregations in the Twin Cities decided to sell their buildings. Of the three, only one remains in active ministry. There are a lot of reasons that this one congregation will remain active in ministry, but the one I want to lift up here is this was the only congregation that had a settled pastor. Yes, I am the pastor of that congregation. I don’t bring this up to show how great of a pastor I am’; I think my pastoral skills are pretty average. Instead, I share this because when a congregation is declining the pastor is the one that can make or break the church. They are the ones that people look to for vision, hope, and for support in rough times. My observation is that when a pastoral role is vacant, congregational leaders and the full congregation don’t have that person to look to for guidance, especially during challenging times. The result is that in those hard times people get frustrated. The desire to sell the church building and walk away is stronger than sticking through the hard…

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Dennis Sanders

Middle-aged Midwesterner. I write about religion, politics and culture. Podcast: churchandmain.org newsletter: https://churchandmain.substack.com/