The biggest problem facing mainline churches today is the lack of funding. Or is it?
According to a new survey conducted by the United Methodist Church (UMC), the lack of leadership and the “inadequate system of expectations and accountability” are the chief reasons for the failure of churches.
“We always talk about not having enough money,” said surveyor Anna Workman upon analysis of the results. “It was an awakening for all of us to see that every one of our fantastic failures had to do with leadership.”
Workman, director of congregational development for the United Methodist Church’s Virginia Annual (regional) Conference, said she “expected poor funding to be cited as the No. 1 cause of failed new churches.”
However, “money wasn’t even mentioned,” according to the United Methodist News Service. “Instead, she consistently heard grumbling, lamentations and outright horror stories about poor leadership - from inexperienced or poorly trained pastors to mismatched assignments to an inadequate system of expectations and accountability.”
The UMC, similar to most historic mainline denominations, dispatched inexperienced or untrained pastors straight out of seminary or divinity school to new churches; many pastors did not even receive any formal training.
Thus, to battle the problems associated with the untrained pastorate, the UMC began “loading up and equipping pastors” through retreats and leadership training.
“Annual conferences realize they must train their leaders and give them the necessary tools to succeed,” said the Rev. Craig Miller, director of new congregational development UMC. “The conferences that really focus on developing a leadership pool for new and existing churches are the ones effectively turning their conferences around.”
One such example is the North Alabama regional Conference. The NA conference, in 1995, opened an “academy for congregational development.” The academy, which functions as a seven-day retreat stretching over nine months, uses regional and national presenters, the latest technical resources and the most effective training materials for building leaders in congregational development. To date, the academy graduated 270 pastors, and has helped start 31 new churches through its students.
“Our academy targets worship resourcing, discipleship development and outreach ministry,” sadi Dick Freeman, director of congregational development for North Alabama. “We’re not developing middle management for a corporation. We work real hard on the spiritual depth part. (As a leader of a new church), you can’t give people something you don’t have.”
Heralding the success, the national denomination itself began a “School of Congregational Development” to train pastors and laity about church growth strategies. The gathering is held annually, and is co-sponsored by the Board of Discipleship and Board of Global Ministries.
According to Workman, who conducted the survey throughout 2003 and 2004, such investments are crucial for the health of the church.
“A pastor of a new church must understand on the front end what’s involved in church planting because it’s very hard work and very lonely work,” she said. “But if they have the assurance this is truly where God wants them to be, they’re more likely to succeed.”