By Dan Garland
A new pastor comes to a church with limited knowledge of the culture and people. Rushing to make changes before relationships are established nearly always results in conflict and misunderstanding.
It’s important for the new pastor to get to know the people in the church, especially those who regularly attend and participate. And it’s equally important for them to get to know the new pastor. One way a new pastor can get off to a good start is to conduct a series of listening sessions with the church membership including key leaders and influencers.
Benefits of a listening session
Jesus said, “Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!” (Mark 4:9). One option for a new pastor to consider is to conduct a series of listening sessions early in his ministry at the new church, hopefully in the first three months. Here are a few of the benefits:
- Listening sessions provide the pastor a venue to begin building relationships that will undergird their entire ministry at that church.
- Pastors have an opportunity to assess and discern the current reality in the church.
- Church members are affirmed and encouraged in their concerns, griefs and fears.
- Church members are validated as members of the body of Christ, and the sessions allow them to be heard as such.
- It communicates to the church that the pastor has not come with a preconceived agenda.
- The new pastor gains insights into the church culture that will likely emerge in the first two years at the new church.
Scheduling and size of group
A good size for a group is 15-20 people. If a session has more than 20 people, discussion might be hindered. A smaller membership church might only need one or two listening sessions while a larger one will need multiple sessions.
One method that could be used is to invite all members and attenders with last names that begin with A to G to the first session, H to Q, and so forth. Another method is to systematically meet with various Bible study classes on Sundays or during the week.
Agenda and contents
The agenda of each session should be simple and built around a series of open-ended questions that promote healthy and thoughtful discussion. Begin the session by briefly stating the purpose, which is to help the new pastor understand the church and get to know its members.
Affirm that the members and attenders will do the majority of the talking during the session, not the new pastor. Provide nametags for everyone present so the pastor can continue learning the names of new church members.
- What is your name and what first brought you here?
- Why did you decide to join?
- What distinguishes this church from other churches?
- What does this church do best? Brag to me about this church.
- What gives you the most satisfaction in the position in which you now serve? And the most frustration?
- For whom do you believe Sunday worship should be designed?
- What is the most significant change that has happened here since you became a member?
- Picture in your mind what you would like this congregation to look like five years from now. How does that picture differ from today?
- What is the biggest barrier to making your vision become the reality of tomorrow?
- What is the most pressing issue with which this church needs to deal?
- What is the question that I should have asked but didn’t know enough to ask?
Taking the time to listen and getting to know the church members/attenders in the first few months of the new pastor’s ministry will establish relationships, trust and confidence in his leadership.
It will jump start the new pastor’s understanding of the church culture and provide insight in how best to lead the church in her mission of making disciples. It is one of the keys to a smooth transition to a new pastor.
Dan Garland is eastern regional manager for Lifeway’s church partnerships team.