Pastor tenure and church stagnation

By Sam S. Rainer III

Of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States, many are dying. Religious rigor mortis has set in these congregations. They are stiff and useless. While God holds the individual responsible for his or her own sins of omission in not following the Great Commission, perhaps one of the more inconspicuous causes of religious rigor mortis in our churches is that of pastor tenure.

Many studies and books cite the significance of leadership in churches. Most pastors will tell you that it takes time for considerable change to occur in the church; even change at the speed of molasses can cause strife within established churches. But, pastors are not staying at churches long enough to affect change. The average pastor tenure is between three and seven years. The outcry from the church is that pastors don’t stay long enough – 87 percent of active churchgoers within my own denomination state that pastor tenure is too short on average.

Cultural change takes time. If pastors are leaving too soon, then the needed change is unlikely to occur. As a result, churches remain in a perpetual state of stagnation. Perhaps this condition is one reason too many churches appear as if nothing has changed since the 1950s.

Clearly all the blame cannot be placed upon the short duration of pastor tenure. Seasons of ministry are just that—they last for a specific time period. Some are shorter; others are longer. And, as believers, we shoulder the burden for our local congregations, regardless of who the pastor is and the duration of their leadership.

But a lack of long-term leadership is a major problem with the church’s obedience to the Great Commission. Without a shepherd encouraging the sheep to share their faith, the church can easily become lackadaisical in spreading the good news. Stiffness can result from a lack of exercising God’s call to share the Gospel, which can eventually lead to religious rigor mortis.

Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,


One Response to “Pastor tenure and church stagnation”

  1. great insight. I am nearing 22 years in the same church. Though we have not set any records numerically, we have grown and our kingdom impact has multiplied these past few years beyond anything we had dared dream or hoped. God is good and tenure is awesome- particularly in a small community such as Winston, OR.

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