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Want your church to grow? Then slow down!

Dec. 22, 2015 | by Bud Brown

Pastor, if you are leading a church that is plateaued or in serious decline, one of the most important things you can do is counter-intuitive.

Slow down.

Specifically, quit making snap decisions to get them off your desk. Instead, train yourself to take ample time to consider all your options, to weigh the pros and cons of each, to seek wise counsel (perhaps from a trusted coach or mentor outside the church), and to spend time in prayer and meditation.

This advice is based on one of the most important discoveries in our research.

A surprising discovery

Several years ago my colleagues and I began research into the distinctive qualities of pastors who seem to be naturally hardwired to lead plateaued and declining churches. We were encouraged by the immensely important contribution by Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold1, and thought that more could be done. The three purposes of our research were to confirm their work, to develop further insights into the distinctions between turnaround and nonturnaround pastors, and to develop coaching and training protocols that would prove useful to nonturnaround pastors.

Of all our findings, the most surprising discovery was the difference in how turnaround pastors make decisions.

We learned that turnaround pastors tend to be more thoughtful, reflective and cautious decision makers than their colleagues. They need ample time to evaluate options, weigh opinions and think about consequences. They need to seek the counsel of others and to take time to discuss things with others. Turnaround pastors spend time staring out the window, pondering the nuances and various shades of gray that factor into many important decisions.

Turnaround pastors are more reflective than decisive. They are slower at making up their minds.

That is quite a surprise.


Consider this from the perspective of the nonturnaround pastors who struggle to lead turnaround churches. They need to see things in black and white, they try to boil things down to the simplest possible terms, and they are generally uncomfortable with ambiguity. This predisposes them to grasp for solutions quickly and act with minimal reflection. (There are several other issues at play here; we'll reveal them in our upcoming book).

A theory

This issue needs further research because it is a major and statistically significant distinction between turnaround and nonturnaround pastors. In the meantime, we have a theory: nonturnaround pastors are prone to focus more on the what("What am I going to do?") than on the why("Why should I do this?"). Because ambiguity causes them discomfort, they tend to make decisions quickly to get them out of the way, thereby removing a source of discomfort.

This is counterproductive. Unless they take sufficient time to wrestle with the ambiguity, consider the options, consult and pray with advisors and colleagues, and evaluate outcomes, their focus on "What" at the expense of "Why" leaves them with no way of knowing if the decision will move the church toward greater ministry effectiveness. This, coupled with their predisposition to convention, tradition and friction-free relationships moves them to often favor the wrong decision.

Getting a grip

If you have a tendency to make snap decisions, or if you need everything boiled down to black and white terms, we'd like to offer two suggestions:

  1. Use a modified "rule of three." For each important decision, identify at least three options. Then, drill deeper and identify at least three consequences for each option. Then consult a trusted mentor  or coach to discuss the options before settling on a final decision.
  2. Spend time meditating on Jesus' example. When it was time to decide whom among the disciples he would appoint to be his apostles (a mission critical decision, wouldn't' you say?), he took time to pray and reflect (Luke 6:12-16).

Wise pastors make important decisions slowly. This behavior is correlated with turnaround church leadership. (For more about our research, check the Introduction to our upcoming book)

1. Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold, Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014).

Bud Brown

An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions. 

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