Understanding Your Church: Part 1 – Cats

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

Do you own a cat? Probably not, when you really understand the nature of cat ownership you realize that cats are independent creatures. They probably own you, but not the other way around.

There are many churches that have the characteristics of a Cat. These churches have less than 35 in average Sunday attendance. They typically have been in existence a long time and been small a long time.   Usually the pastor stays around 2 to 3 years and moves on, so the congregation does not get very attached to the pastor. The congregation may suffer a bit of an abandonment syndrome because they expect that the better their pastor is, the more likely they will move on quickly. So they expect to be disappointed. As a result they rarely take the pastor into their confidence. When someone goes to the hospital the pastor may be the last to know.

This size church tends to be a single cell organism, barely a small group; it is really a family and usually a very tight knit family. It is almost impossible to kill; it has at least nine lives. Pastors come and pastors go without any real change. In fact, when the pastor goes away to attend a seminar or for a vacation, the congregation may not even know he/she is gone. If the pastor isn’t feeding the congregation, it will mouse for itself and do just fine, you don’t have to feed it much or often for it to survive.

About 27% of all United Methodist Churches nationwide fall into this category. It is very hard to help this church grow, they really have no incentive to grow as they are too self-satisfied to make the effort. They love one another so much it is impossible for them to consider that other people would not love them also. Yet they offer little to entice an outsider to spend time with them. Very cat like, they ignore attempts of people who seek to win their affections.

Three kinds of pastors will most effectively serve a cat: 1) a very happy and independent pastor with lots of outside interests who can ignore the cat and not have his/her ego bruised by the cat, 2) someone who is willing to serve a very small church for a long time until the church breaks the habit of changing pastors regularly and begins to welcome new people, or 3) an extremely talented and charismatic pastor who can attract and keep new members faster and better than the cat can drive them away.

Linking two or even three cats together will have little to no effect on them, they will continue to think and be independent. But it can allow the denominational church to put together a financial package that allows one pastor to serve all of them and receive a full-time salary.

There are country cats and there are city cats. Both will act about the same. However, the denomination may see them differently. A small country church will be seen as a stable church with little chance to grow or even thrive because there isn’t enough population to support growth. The cat in the city will be seen as having higher potential. Pastors of city cats will be held to a higher expectation due to a larger surrounding population. Yet, both cats are going to treat new people with the same disdain they always have and it will be very difficult for either church to grow.

As cities continue to push out into the surrounding counties, we often have cats in towns and villages that were small and haven’t grown for years, then suddenly find themselves becoming suburbs of a growing suburban center that swallows the smaller city. The corporate church thinks they have a church in that new growing area and now the church will grow really well. This rarely happens without a pastor number 3 above. What does happen is the cat gets crowded and begins to lash out at all the new people who have changed the nature of the cat’s environment, ensuring that it will stay a cat.

Cats, simply put: rarely change, aren’t interested in being trained, and are really hard to kill.

Is your church a cat?