Question #3

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)

Typically, as soon as a pastor announces that he or she has accepted a call, the leaders of the congregation, with no questions asked, form a pastor search (replacement) team. They seemingly assume that the church should enter the future by repeating the past, rather than viewing their pastor’s departure as a time to explore options. In short, they assume their thoughts are God’s thoughts and their ways are God’s ways. 

One way to affirm that God’s thoughts are not necessarily our thoughts is to view the pastor’s departure as a time to explore every option with respect to the future of the congregation. What are these options?

The most drastic, from a human perspective, is closing the doors. Since I have already offered some thoughts on that option, let’s explore some of the more popular ones in our day and age.

The first option is to keep going the way you have been going. It may be the best option for your congregation as long as the leaders recognize that with this decision the future will look pretty much like the past.

Another option, more popular in the last century, is to yoke your congregation with another so one full-time pastor can serve two congregations simultaneously. This can be done by two congregations on two different locations or by becoming a “federated” or “union” church which basically means you have two congregations doing life together side-by-side on one campus.

A third option is to merge with another like-minded congregation. This sounds so simple and makes a lot of sense but seldom works because congregations refuse to vacate their properties or change their names.  

One of the more popular options in suburban America is that of becoming a location for a thriving and growing church with multiple campuses. Here you invite a neighboring congregation to extend its ministry into your neighborhood by taking over your church. In the end, your church becomes a campus for the neighboring church.

A fifth option is to simply join another congregation with no strings attached. One Sunday a congregation concludes ministry in one location; the next Sunday the congregation is found worshiping with another congregation in the neighborhood.  

The final option is to leave a legacy by helping another congregation take root in your community. With this option, the congregation chooses to keep doing ministry they way it has been doing ministry, realizing that the church will die soon. Still, the dying congregation would like a pastor, a “hospice pastor,” if you will. So, the congregation offers its facility to a church plant with one condition: that the pastor of the plant, pastor their congregation.  When the dying congregation concludes its ministry, its assets go to the church plant.

Prayer Prompt: Lord, may your will, not ours, be done. 


ChapterNext is a pastor search and church consulting firm led by Rev. Sam Hamstra. They assist congregations through a handful of services, including staff development, weekend worship workshops, leadership retreats, congregational mergers, and ministry reviews (vision and mission statements, budgets, building renovation, and marketing plans). These services grew out of ChapterNexts’ founding purpose which is to help congregations turn the page so that they can begin writing new chapters of dynamic and life-transforming ministry.

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