My years of education have let me down over the years. The only thing I use on a daily basis from High School and nine years of college, seminary, and graduate work is typing. And I use all my fingers, not just my thumbs! Even spelling, which I dearly hated, is done by a spell checker. All in all I feel greatly let down by my education.

My superiors weren’t much help either. In fact most of their advice was totally wrong. Like – “don’t do anything new in your first year. Just get to know the people first.” Perhaps that’s some of the worst advice ever given to a new pastor because most church turnarounds come in the first year of a pastor’s tenure. That was one piece of advice I didn’t take. I knew it was dumb.

That gets me thinking – what do I wish I had known when I restarted the church I stayed at for 24 years? Here are a few of things that would have saved me lots of heartache.

I wish I had been taught how to hire and fire people. I tried to save my first pastoral hire. He was a good man but he was a chaplain type and I needed a self starter. But I was told to do whatever I could to help him succeed. I did – for three years. I wish someone had come along side of me and said “Ask the Bishop to move him, right now!” I finally did but waiting cost the church three years of growth.

I wish I had known that most churches need a program/pastoral type paid person for every one hundred people in worship including children and youth. We had solid growth for 24 years but it took me five years to become acquainted with this ratio. When I finally used the ratio the church grew much faster because we retained more people due to the relationships the staff formed with them.

I wish I had known that it was better to stay in crowded conditions and add more worship services than to build as soon as possible. We had three services on Sunday morning, two of which were full so I felt we should build. The problem was we had to build too small because we didn’t have enough money. Now as a consultant I have learned that some of the largest churches remained in cramped quarters, putting money away, so that when they did build they could build for a longer future.I wish I had known that it was easier to retain people than to attract people. If I had known this I would have instituted a small group system earlier than we did. People have to be involved in something more than just setting in worship or going to programs.

And that brings up another point – I wish someone had told me that programs weren’t the way to go. I wish I had known that the more I got people involved in the community the more people we would have in worship. Most of the growing churches today they have their people out in the community doing ministry almost every week.

I wish someone had told me that there are only four processes that grow a church. You have to bring people to Christ or the church. You have to retain them. You have to grow them. And you have to send them back out to be backyard missionaries. My partner and I write about these four core processes in our book, Effective Staffing for Vital Churches: The Essential Guide for Finding and Keeping the Right People. If I had known this, I would have eliminated any program that did not contribute to one of the four processes.

I wish I had known how and when to start a second service. I started a second service my first year but the way I started it was all wrong. I put it at 8:30 to avoid Sunday School and I didn’t treat it like starting a new church and advertised it to the community. It wasn’t long after that I began to realize that Sunday School for adults was on its way out and started a service at the same time and it quickly became the second largest service out of the three.

I wish someone had told me a church didn’t need an elaborate structure in order to thrive. This is the one thing that cost me years of growth in my church. In 1986 we had 360 people on Boards and committees all mandated by my denomination for a church our size. I lived with it for several years. It took months of lobbying to get anything done. When Bil Cornelius and I wrote Go Big we compared the time he spent getting new things done to the time I spent. Bil had a Board of three people, none of whom were church members, and no committees, and I had a Board of 150, plus over two dozen committees. His church grew to eight thousand in ten years and mine grew to 2000 in twenty four years. We concluded that I lost six to eight out of twenty four years just trying to get things through committee and past the Board. I spent more time lobbying the larger we became. Sort of reminds me of our Federal government today. In late 1986 we eliminated our Board and all committees and again the church exploded with growth.

Finally, I wish I’d had a coach who would have come alongside of me from the very beginning. I’d have made a lot fewer mistakes, and the ones I made would have been easier to correct if I’d had someone I trusted to help me process.

What is it you wish you had known sooner?

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