Chris Backert

From Pew-Sitter to Pioneer Minister: How to Find Those Leaders You Didn’t Know You Had

We all know the ugly truth – there are lots of people that attend our churches who simply come and “sit”.

They are there several Sundays each year and usually find a similar location in the sanctuary each time they come. They are polite and delightful people and give a good word on the way out the door. They might even put some money in the plate. Yet, in spite of all our efforts and the wonderful programs that our churches offer, year after year, they never move (and sometimes, it’s literal).

An Interview with a Pew-Sitter

I remember one of these people very well in a congregation I served.  It was obvious that he was a very gifted person.  He seemed genuinely interested in his faith.  He was attentive when he came to church.  He even sat near the front and was usually dressed to the nines.  We always talked for a few minutes on the weeks he came.  Yet, in spite of my overtures and soft asks, that was the pattern for several years.

Finally, I decided to interview him (and several other “pew-sitters” to find out exactly why they never moved.  I learned one of the great lessons of my pastoral ministry during those interviews

  • there are people who pew-sit  who have no intention of doing otherwise.
  • there are others who pew sit  because  church activities aren’t compelling and getting involved isn’t worth their time because there is no perceived impact on the community.

The list could go on.

I was sitting with the Senior Pastor of a  large Methodist church several months ago.  He was interested in the “mixed-economy of church” but didn’t know where he would find the leaders.

A minute later someone walked by and said “Hi Pastor”.  They talked for several minutes about the conditions in Liberia.  The church had a mission in Liberia and the passerby (who turned out to be a doctor with the gift of entrepreneurship) had been to Liberia with the church several months before.  After he left, the Pastor said to me “funny thing about that guy, he has been coming off and on to our church for years, but this was the first thing he has ever done with us”.

The trip to Liberia was a compelling use of this Doctor’s time. It was enough to get him to move.

Pastor’s Secret Concern

Pastors are always concerned that developing fresh expressions of church alongside and inter-related to their existing congregations will take away their “workers”. Indeed, it could.

However, our experience with countless fresh expressions is that most are started by people who are in the 80 percent of your church membership that aren’t involved in something already. (You know – the 80/20 rule). More than likely, those ready to pioneer a new mission community in your area are right under your nose.

Here are a few tips on how to find these leaders:

  • Look for your pew-sitters – find out about them.
  • Try to meet them to coffee or lunch – find out if they’ve ever started anything before. Then find out why.
  • Give them an example of a fresh expression or two – a video or a story
  • Ask them if your church did anything even remotely close to this – would they be interested in being involved
  • Find 3 of these potential pioneers and ask them to join you in imagining what sorts of fresh expressions might develop through your church in your community

Find three of these potential pioneers and ask them to join you in imagining what sorts of fresh expressions might develop through your church in your community.

Join a Pioneer Learning Community and learn how to start a fresh expression of Church

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Chris Backert

Chris Backert

Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase.


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