Understanding Your Church: Part 2 – The Collie, The Pastor’s Best Friend!

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

Churches with an average attendance of 35 to 100 tend to act a lot like Collies. These creatures are warm and affectionate and respond well to love and attention.

Whereas the Cat has little interest in making their pastor happy, the Collie lives to make the pastor happy. When the pastor goes away on seminars or vacation, the collie is beside itself waiting for the pastor to return, and it wants to know everything the pastor did while away, and OH, YES, please tell me you missed me.

The Collie represents about 37% of all UMC’s. Whereas the cat is small and independent, the collie is larger and very dependent. But it still tends to be a single cell, one large group, it thinks like one and it shifts opinions as one.

The most effective pastor for this church is one who likes to build close relationships over long periods of time, a real people person. Pastors who accept a church this size with the expectation to move quickly to a bigger better church will have trouble doing well. The pastor who expects to stay a few more years will benefit from the mutual affection that grows between a pastor and the Collie, such a relationship can feed both for years. This size of a church can often afford to pay one pastor and doesn’t need to share.

An ideal pastor will be very patient as he/she teaches the Collie how to do new things. The Collie will respond best to sincere affection, constant praise, rare criticism, and dinner on time; feeding the Collie means giving it a weekly sermon that is filled with affection, praise, reassurance and love. If the Collie is fed with sermons that are critical, scolding, and finger wagging, then the Collie will become depressed and stop eating – or stop attending worship. Feeding also involves instantaneous hospital calling on members, and this is easier to do because the Collie will tell the pastor ahead of time when it is going to the Hospital, or in emergencies the network will inform the pastor first, not last.

It will still take a few years for the Collie to learn to love the new pastor, once that bond is established and the Collie is well fed, the pastor can ask it to learn new tricks and it will do everything it can to please the pastor. New Bible Studies, new fellowship groups, new greeters, all will be easily accomplished after the Collie is fully aware of the pastor’s love.

Since most pastors move every three years or less, the Collie will expect to be abandoned and have its heart broken every time it gets a new pastor. If the pastor doesn’t leave at the end of the third year, then the Collie begins to hope that the pastor will stay thru the fourth year, and beyond. The pastor has to be prepared to feed the Collie for four years before seeing exceptional changes and new growth.

The small Collie can grow from 35 to 100, but if it is already 100, it will have difficulty growing beyond 100 because it will change the nature of the animal. Often as attendance creeps beyond 75, you will find there are now two groups instead of one, and two groups can become adversaries competing for the pastor’s love and affection. When average attendance goes over 100 it is almost certain to have two groups, of sufficient size to challenge each other. The two dogs will fight until one leaves and the congregation shrinks back within it’s comfort level for members at 35 to 50.

One excellent strategy when this begins to happen is to start a third group. It is better to have three groups than to just have two; two will fight, three or more can learn to run as a pack and even share resources.

Collies, once bonded to their pastors, can learn new tricks and can be taught to welcome new visitors and grow modestly. But if it grows too much, it begins to take on the characteristics of a Garden, requiring the pastor to learn new ways of leading the church to live into that paradigm. If the pastor fails to recognize the shifting reality of the growing Collie, the church will likely shrink back into the size that is most comfortable for both the pastor and the Collie.

Collies like to keep their owners and many pastors find that serving a Collie is just about as good as it gets. The Collie will reward a loving pastor with years of love and affection.

Is your church a Collie?

Steve Petty