I was recently asked what advice I’d give to a pastor getting ready to start a new transformation effort in a small church that’s been in decline for years. Here are the top 10 things I recommended.

  1. Hand off everything you possibly can. Hand off regular hospital visitation, shut-in visitation, member care, etc. Instead, build teams to handle virtually all the “pastoral care” responsibilities. And under no circumstances take up bulletin preparation or newsletter writing. Keep admin to a minimum, as in, virtually none at all.
  2. Don’t spend more than 1 hour writing your sermon and no more than 1 hour preparing for worship. If you are doing screen technology, add 1 more hour if you need to, but no more. Great preaching doesn’t grow small, declining churches (though bad preaching will kill a church, so if you’re not a good speaker, get thee to Toastmasters post-haste).
  3. No office hours. Period.
  4. Cancel as many church meetings as possible. Attend only the ones that are actually doing something constructive. Limit meetings to one hour. If your board is doing management, get them to quit. If your board meetings are filled with reports, stop reviewing them during the meeting. If your board meetings are pointless, either move them to quarterly or else don’t attend. Don’t waste your time. Likewise, cancel as many ministries as you possibly can. Choose one good ministry and make it great. But choose well. The one ministry should become the cornerstone of your church’s growth efforts.
  5. Spend 80 percent of your time in the community networking with the unchurched … but be sure the unchurched you choose to hang out with are representative of the target you’re trying to reach.
  6. Follow-up with all visitors and returning guests. Spend time getting them assimilated into the church.
  7. Choose carefully which of your church leaders you spend your time with. Invest in the leaders who “get it” and sideline those who don’t.
  8. Don’t look for consensus and don’t bother trying to get ideas from the congregation on what they “think” needs to happen or what they like or don’t like. If they could have fixed the problem, they would have before you got there. Remember Einstein’s axiom: “The minds who created the problem are not the minds who can solve the problem.” Be the church growth expert … and if you’re not, become one.
  9. Strive to meet at least 5 new people a week if you’re part time. And by “meet,” I mean meet someone new, have a conversation, and get their contact information for follow-up.
  10. Get a coach. Transformations are difficult, arduous, tricky, and will challenge your self-confidence. A good coach will encourage you, listen to your leanings and ideas and help you sort through the great ones and discard the dross, and will be there for you when the days seem dark.