Pastoring a Transient Church


“Pastor, I got a job in another city. We’ll be moving in a month.”

“As our family is growing, we just put a down payment on a house in the suburbs. Can you help us find a church out there?”

“This city is too expensive. We’re looking for a more affordable living situation.”

“Graduation is in May, and I’ll take a job anywhere I can find. It’s unlikely that it’s going to be here!”

I pastor a transient church. Seemingly every week, I hear that yet another member plans to move. Many members are here for one-to-three years. In extreme cases, we have members join us for a month or two, then a job opportunity arises, and they’re gone. More common is the couple who recently joined our church and told us during the membership process they’ll only be with us for two years because they already have a job lined up elsewhere.

Unique Challenges 

Transiency comes with challenges. Let me mention five.

1. It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

Goodbyes are always difficult, but especially church goodbyes because you will no longer be in covenant together. Texts and phone calls are no substitute for church life experience.

2. It’s Hard to Build Culture

Good pastors cultivate a culture of Word-reverberating evangelism, discipling, care, and counsel. But good pastors know how hard it is—and how long it takes—to do this. It’s even harder when the recipients of your teaching and modeling—your reminding and repeating—keep leaving.

3. It’s Hard on Ministry Leaders

I’ve had many conversations with my children’s ministry director about the difficulty and discouragement of losing volunteers. Just when she feels a little stability, four members inform her they’re leaving. Recruiting and training start over. Transiency can make ministries feel unstable.

4. It’s Hard on Relationships

One lady in our church who had struggled to connect for a few years finally formed meaningful friendships. Then, in one fell swoop, all three of her new friends moved to other cities. She felt depleted.

5. It’s Hard on the Pastor’s Family 

When my kids draw close to a family or to a single brother or sister whom they affectionately refer to as “aunt” or “uncle” and then they find out that person or family is moving on, they get sad. These regular losses can be taxing on long-termers’ family members.

The Risk of Doing Church Right

It’s important to note: these challenges do not exist in every transient church.

If church involvement is reduced to a weekly event on Sundays, these challenges won’t exist. But when members seek to be involved in the lives of one another, carrying burdens, speaking the truth in love, weeping and rejoicing, then these aches and pains are inevitable.

What then should we do? How can pastors shepherd their ever-changing flocks to devote themselves to fellowship?

Shepherding Transient Members

Caring for transient members might look different than caring for stationary members.

Encourage Them Not to be Half-Hearted

Members who intend to be in a church for just a season might not feel inclined to get involved. “Why should I, if I’m going to be gone soon?” I think of college students who are certain their time is short.

But some of the most fruitful ministry and development comes in short seasons. Pastors must encourage transient members to get involved and get equipped! The goal is to fill up their spiritual backpack with the tools they need to be a blessing in the next place they land.

Remind Them They Need to Invest in Others

Scripture’s one-another commands call us to be intentional with people wherever we are for however long we have. It is important for transient members not merely to have a “give me” mindset but a “giving” mindset.

Encourage Some of Them to Stay

Churches need stability. They need people who are in it for the long haul, people who are going to be around to disciple others and evangelize the neighborhood, people who not only have a heart for their church but the place. I’ve heard many people at my church say, “We love this church, but we hate this city! And the only reason we’re still here is because of the church.”

I get it! Our city is a difficult place to live. It’s hot. It’s crowded. It’s expensive. It takes forever to drive anywhere.

Though it’s encouraging to hear that people love our church enough to stick around a little longer in a city they can’t stand, churches still need people who have a heart to reach the lost there.

Shepherding Long-Term Members

What about members who plan to stick around? A few thoughts:

Remind Them What Kind of Church They’re a Part Of

“We’re a transient church.” Say it out loud. Remind them regularly. I recently found myself discouraged because of our church’s transience. Then it dawned on me: “We’re a transient church. That’s who we are, and that’s okay.”

Sometimes it helps to fight discouragement and misplaced expectations when a church recognizes the reality of who they are.

Acknowledge That It’s Hard to Be a Transient Church

When a church member tells you about another relational loss, remind them not only that you’re a transient church, but acknowledge how difficult it is to be a long-term member in a transient church. But then…

Remind Them Life Takes Place in Seasons

If long-term church members anticipate that some relationships will only last for a season, it will save them from devastation when people move on. They can rest in knowing they were faithful to that relationship for the season God provided.

Caution Them from Building Relational Walls

It’s easy for long-term members to build up walls for fear of losing friends yet again. “Why should I invest in someone who’s not going to be around?” Encourage them to love in a way that is faithful to Jesus, not what feels safest.

Help Them See the Value of Investing

We invest in others not for our sake, but for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. If spiritual investment means another church will get a well-equipped member, that’s no loss. That’s gain.

Transient local churches glory in their role with Christ’s universal church, which cannot lose a single member.

Josh Hayward

Josh Hayward serves as senior pastor of Kinney Avenue Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. He received his undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and his M.Div. in Biblical Counseling from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Christina, his high school sweetheart, and they have four sons and one daughter.

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