According to newly released data from the 2022 Annual Church Profile of the Southern Baptist Convention, the average church in the SBC has 80 people in their main worship gathering on any given Sunday. In 2021, half of the churches in the SBC average less than 50 people on a Sunday morning, and over 75% of our churches average less than 100.
Here’s why that is important: As we see the cost of goods continue to increase due to inflation and other factors, I believe it’s going to become increasingly difficult for churches of 100 or less to afford a competitive salary for a full-time pastor. This means that both pastors and churches need to consider the possibility of moving to a bivocational or covocational model over the next few years.
If this is done well, it can become a strategic move, rather than a “last-ditch effort” to keep the church doors open. However, there are some expectations that need to be made clear for both the pastor and the church to help make this transition as smooth as possible.
I’ll discuss three realities that shifting to a bivocational or covocational pastoral model presents, and then I’ll discuss a recommendation to help a church and a pastor to navigate the waters of moving from a full-time to a bivocational or covocational model.
Reality 1: A bivocational pastor may not be available for emergencies during the week
This is, perhaps, the biggest difference between having a full-time pastor and a bivocational or covocational pastor. Where a full-time pastor can often be available for a funeral at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon or could be at the hospital for a church member’s surgery at 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, this may be impossible for a bivocational pastor. In some cases, a bivo- or covocational pastor may have a great deal of flexibility if he has a work-from-home job or works as an entrepreneur in his own business. However, for a pastor who is working at the local hardware store or as a teacher at the local high school, this may be impossible. This will require a great deal of communication about expectations on the parts of both the church and the pastor.
Reality 2: A church should consider increasing time off for a bivocational pastor
Whereas many full-time pastors will take a day off during the week, this may not be an option for a bivocational or covocational pastor. If your pastor is working an outside job five days a week, in addition to preaching on Sunday, time off during the week may be very difficult to come by. A church could support her pastor by giving him additional time off for vacation. Most full-time pastors I’ve known typically have anywhere from two to four weeks of vacation time each year. For a church that is shifting from a full-time model to a bivocational or covocational model, I’d suggest increasing that to between six and eight weeks of time off from the church. This will allow your pastor ample time to rest and recover as he labors in the marketplace and in the work of the church as well.
Reality 3: A bivocational role does not mean failure for the church or the pastor
Too often, churches and pastors see a bivocational role as a short-term necessity until they grow and can afford a full-time position. While there’s nothing wrong with having that as a goal, I’m afraid the belief behind that goal is that the church (or the pastor) is somehow deficient because the pastor isn’t full-time. I think it’s important to note here that a bivocational pastor’s ministry is just as important as any full-time pastor. In some cases (particularly in small towns), a bivocational pastor can have an even greater impact on his community because he is involved in the marketplace and interacting with folks in the community on a daily basis. A bivocational pastor is not in the “minor leagues” of ministry. He shouldn’t treat himself that way, and the church shouldn’t treat him that way either.
The recommendation for bivocational ministries: Raise up shepherd-leaders
When the pastor has an outside job during the week, the possibility always exists that certain things will be overlooked. As I mentioned earlier, there are ministry needs during the week that the pastor may not be able to take care of personally. So, other elders, deacons, or even small-group leaders could be available to cover some of these ministry opportunities during the week when the pastor isn’t available. This will require some intentional discipling and development but, in the end, it can be a great blessing to the church to have a team of individuals who can work to meet needs and minister to the church and community. (For the record, this is a good idea even if the pastor serves in a full-time role.)
If your church is considering shifting from a full-time to a bivocational or covocational pastoral role, the Replant Team would love to help as you navigate these issues and others. Please reach out to us at [email protected] if we can help!
Published May 10, 2023