Declining Churches Searching for the Silver Bullet Pastor

  The problem of declining churches in America was nothing new when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March 2020. I tend to ignore 2020 through 2022 when measuring whether a church has declined. But let’s be honest: if you look back to March 2020 and compare your attendance and financial giving back then to that of today, in March 2024, and both are lower, on average, by more than a few percent, your church has declined. If you had a children’s ministry before the pandemic, and you now struggle to wrangle up more than a few kids on a typical Sunday, you have declined. Your church needs revitalization. Sure, there are other, less tangible measures of health. How are you doing evangelistically? Are you reaching your neighborhood with the gospel? Are you making disciples? Maybe your church has already taken proactive steps in the direction of revitalization. Perhaps you’ve already decided to make some hard decisions rather than kicking the can down the road. If so, good on you! Sadl

Successful Revitalization of Small Evangelical Churches Hinges on Leadership Development

My doctoral dissertation, focused on how successful church revitalization pastors act to develop and empower next-generation leaders.

A Phenomenological Study of Pastoral Leadership Development Behaviors in the Revitalization of Small Evangelical Churches

Available at


Church revitalization has received renewed interest in the last several years. Rainer (2014) says that a congregation’s failure to develop and empower next-generation leaders is one of the leading contributors to church closure. Likewise, Clifton (2016) and Stetzer (2007) highlight the importance of developing next-generation leaders during church revitalization. 

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand the leadership development behaviors of senior or solo pastors who successfully led revitalization in a small evangelical church. This study defined a small church as one averaging 65 or fewer in attendance at the beginning of the pastor participant’s tenure (Rainer, 2022). Leadership development behaviors were defined as those intentional practices the pastor undertook to develop male leaders from within the congregation. The theories guiding this study were transformational leadership (Bass & Riggio, 2006), authentic leadership (George, 2003), and servant leadership (Greenleaf, 1977), which encourage empowering and developing leaders and comport well with a biblical view of leadership. Further, a view of leadership development as discipleship espoused by Geiger and Peck (2016) informed the study. 

This study involved semi-structured interviews with eleven small church revitalization pastors, developing overarching themes in revitalization leadership development for small evangelical churches. This study found that developing male next-generation leaders was critical to successfully revitalizing small, evangelical churches. In the early years of revitalization, pastors should be prepared to serve as the sole leader developer, undertaking development through deep and authentic personal relationships. Further, revitalization pastors must empower next-generation leaders to act in substantive roles.


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