Three Types of Newcomers the Pastor has to Watch Out For

We all want new people to come to our church. While we would prefer they be unbelievers with whom we can share the Gospel, truth is, we often have people from other churches who are looking for something different (for whatever reason). This list is by no means exhaustive but these three types of people I have encouraged (and have had to deal with) more than once.

1. The person who is gung-ho about only one tiny aspect of church life or theology.

The guy who shows up at your church because it is “Reformed” and he has now become “Reformed” will cause you trouble. He will only be concerned about predestination or some other aspect of Reformed theology and will get upset if your preaching doesn’t fit neatly into the paradigm he has created from the handful of books he has read on the subject.

Ditto the guy who is only concerned about youth ministry, or planning church dinners, or evangelism. They are hardwired to think that their area of ministry interest is the only thing that matters to the Kingdom of Christ and any perceived lack of emphasis on your part will only convince him that you are a charlatan who cares nothing about the future of the church, fellowship, or the souls of unbelievers because you don’t emphasize their area of interest as much as they would like.

There is often little one can do about these types of people. Sometimes they will move on and you can breathe a sigh of relief. Other times they will stay in the congregation but be removed from people and circumstances that are unconnected to their pet areas.

Sometimes, however, you can channel the enthusiasm into the service of the church. This doesn’t always yield positive results (sometimes they take a little validation to mean that they are right and they seek ever more ardently to transform the church into their model).

Either way, you must seek to “broaden their horizons” (for lack of a better term) while they are under your care.

2. The person who is trying to re-create their previous church.

This one is tricky because you won’t always recognize a problem up front. Some people move into a new area and are looking for a church that reminds them of the church they loved in their previous city. Sometimes they can settle into new church and not only cope with the differences but bring fresh perspectives and reinvigorate what is already going on. In those situations everyone benefits.

Some people, however, are looking too much for a clone or cookie-cutter version of their previous church.

Others have left a church because of changes that they didn’t like and they are looking for a church that resembles the way their other church used to be.

Sometimes one or the other will show up and they’ll either begin actively trying to initiate change. They will do their either through grass-roots efforts (that is, stirring up people in the congregation to their way of thinking) or through seeking to hold some leadership position so they can influence change.

As with the previous type of person, sometimes one can sue them in the service of the church and implement the better of their ideas into the existing structure and practice.

It is often best, however, to graciously remind these people, whenever the opportunity arises, that the church was functioning adequately before they arrived and would have continued to do so had they not shown up.

I often tell people that I am slow to make decisions because it is often easier to get into something than it is to get out of it. This way, when they present ideas to you, you can mull them over without seeming like you are simply stalling.

It is also important to have on paper a process for developing and implementing new ideas. This must be in place before such a situation happens so that you are prepared for any type of “hostile takeover.”

(Lest you think I’m kidding, I can name churches that have been truly “taken over” by groups that have departed from their previous church.)

3. The person whose tie is to the church’s past or to the previous pastor.

I shouldn’t even have to tell you about this one. Some people in this group will be people who grew up in the church and haven’t attended in years (either because they moved away or because they went to another church during the interim.

Others will be people who grew up in the church but just didn’t go to church for years. This group is the worst and the most dangerous because they are often spiritually immature.

Many times people in this group will try to undermine the new pastor for no other reason than that he is not the old pastor. They will often try to preserve things the way they were in years past. They will do both these things while contributing little beyond talking about the “good old days” and will be a perpetual thorn in your side.

There is little you can do with these types of people except try to minimize the fallout. If you have established yourself as a pastor of integrity and have been building up the leaders around you, you will have an easier time. Here is another time when it is helpful to have spelled out clearly what your practices and procedures are so that there are not opportunities for them to use parliamentary procedure to manipulate circumstances.

Concluding thoughts:

I don’t intend for this post to sound cynical but these are facts of life for the pastor and it is best to prepare for them ahead of time and have thought out how best to deal with such situations before they arrive.

And be encouraged in two things:

(1) Sometimes people from these groups will arrive at your church and they truly will be a God-send. In such situations be thankful and let them be used of God to minister to you and to Christ’s church.

Because of this, it’s best to adopt a wait and see attitude toward newcomers rather than simply assuming that they will be a certain way.

(2) When people do come and cause trouble (whether they are from one of these groups or not) you must remember that it is often the case that the vast majority of congregants who were there prior to the arrival of these people will be on your side (and they often resent newcomers trying to come in and take over).

Often you can simply let them fight your battles (so to speak) and not have to do anything. Try not to be defensive and remember that the people in these groups and the loyal church members have one thing in common: they need the Gospel and must be pointed to and fed on Christ and His Word.

Keep this the main thing and let the Lord handle the rest.

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About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Stoicism and Christianity. My theologian is Athanasius. My philosopher is Kierkegaard. My composer is Bach, my music is jazz, my hobby is fly fishing, and my reading is scifi and mysteries. Oh, and I’m a Sherlock Holmes nerd. I’m even part of a Sherlock Holmes society.
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2 Responses to Three Types of Newcomers the Pastor has to Watch Out For

  1. David D'Arcy says:

    As I read this post (and I know this pastor, whom is hard working and diligent) I can see how a lone pastor can have a hard time. To Pr Jones credit, when I was a member, he took over for a pastor whom was short on teaching the nuts and bolts of the Christian faith. So, he started with many immature believers. To dig himself out of this predicament he started catichism classes for new believers. Secondly, he was developing a couple of men whom he could trust, mold and develop. Just as Moses took the counsel of his father-Inlaw regarding sharing the work, Pastor Mike started putting learned and mature servants of God, loyal to the church and the pastor, to keep problem parishiners away from his office door. Deacons function wonderfully screening the pastor (unless the pastor is new, and his deacons are less than helpful).

    Leadership and patience will when the day in the long run. God’s way is to develop through adversity.

    God Bless our faithful pastors, who work hard and have to deal with adversity that would make most men run and cry!

    • Thanks, Dave, for reading and commenting. I appreciate your kind words. Since you moved we have also appointed elders who provide even more help and accountability so we can function as the healthy church God intended.

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