Podcast Episode 12, 27 min
Small Church Pastor Personality Types with Jean Morgan (Ep 12)
Jean Morgan, a small church pastor who wrote a Masters thesis about the correlation between a pastor’s personality and the size of the church they serve.

Jean Morgan: More than two thirds of the pastors were actually in the right size church. They just knew that they were where they're supposed to be.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm KV and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to Can This Work In A Small Church? My podcast guest today is Jean Morgan and the subject is small church pastor personality types. Jean is a small church pastor who recently did his master's thesis on this subject: is there a correlation between the pastor's personality type and the size of their congregation?

So in this episode, Jean and I talk about the way he made this assessment, the initial results of the assessment and the possible impacts of those results for us as small church pastors.

Don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question: can this work in a small church?

Well welcome, Jean Morgan, to the podcast. It is great to have you on as a guest.

JM: And it's a pleasure to be here, Karl.

KV: Jean, you and I have known each other for several years. We actually passed her in connecting towns here in Southern California, me in Fountain Valley and you in Westminster. You then all of a sudden had this crazy idea that you wanted to get a master's degree and part way through that, actually fairly close to the end of that. you got a hold of me because you had to figure out how to do a master's thesis.

And we had a couple of conversations. And so in fact, a lot of the listeners to this podcast actually have participated in the study we're going to be talking about today. So, I want to start first of all, by thanking all of you listeners who were readers, who participated in the survey.

So let's get to: what did you do? What was your master's thesis about? And how did you come to the point of doing this research? That's what we're going to be drilling in on today.

JM: God really placed in my heart that we should do a second master's degree in industrial organizational psychology, but I knew that it had to relate to the church.

And so you and I, before we really got going into this, had a discussion. You came up with some really great ideas: does personality have an impact on the size of church that you grow

KV: Specifically, the personality of the pastor.

JM: Yeah.

And so doing a little bit of research, we found out that there's what is known as The Big Five or OCEAN Model: openness to experience, conscientiousness...

KV: Let’s pause on this, because people like me who don’t do these assessment tools . . .

JM: People who are smart.

KV: Yeah, or people who need to depend on the wisdom of folks like you who have done these studies.

There are a bunch of assessment tools out there. Some of us have heard of the DISC assessment tool, the Enneagram is really popular right now, and so on. But you used an assessment tool called OCEAN because. . .

JM: It actually focuses on research over the years that they call The Big Five.

KV: Okay. And each letter in the word “ocean” stands for one step in the process. So walk me through what they are.

JM: The O stands for—originally it was “open to experience,” but when they did a revision to BFI 2,they changed it to open-mindedness.

KV: Oh is open-mindedness. C is?

JM: Conscientiousness

KV: E is?

JM: Extroversion.

KV: A?

JM: Agreeableness.

KV: N?

JM: It was “neuroticism,” but now they call it “negative emotionality.”

But keep in mind with each one of these, you have a continuum, right? So, you know, open-mindedness / closed-mindedness

KV: So it measures each of these different characteristics on a scale, but you were using this tool to try to assess what?

JM: Trying to assess whether there are certain personality traits or combinations of traits that played into the size of a church that one may pastor.

We focused on attendance, not membership, because there's some churches that have a high membership, very low attendance. And so we focused on attendance numbers.

KV: Gotcha. Yeah. Which is a very important distinction to make. It's a question I get a lot when I talk about ministering to small churches, they'll say, “do you mean membership or do you mean regular attendance?”

And we always focus on attendance because you can have some churches out there, like you said, you got some churches that'll have 500 people on the books and don't have 50 people on a Sunday. And you'll get others that are congregationally led where, where the membership standard is much higher and they can have 200 people on a Sunday, but only have 100 official members.

And it depends on how they view membership. So we are always talking about regular attendance on the main weekend services. Because that is a better determiner of how you pastor and the number of people whose names you need to remember, how many people are going to show up for particular events. So people who are on a membership list that don't ever show up, except for Christmas and Easter, you're not really pastoring them. And so it doesn't really register in the kind of pastor you need to be when we're talking about a size of church, typically attendance average at a weekend service.

Okay. So the question that we were looking at that you were looking at was: is there a correlation between the typical size of a church and the typical personality type of the pastor?

Not as a way of, well, then obviously you need to change a personality type in order to get bigger, but suitability. Maybe in trying to discover why some churches are small, why some churches are big, why some pastors are happier in a smaller congregation and doing better ministry in a smaller congregation, maybe that's where they're supposed to be. And maybe personality is actually part of the reason why we're in a smaller congregation. And what I appreciated about your approach to it was that it wasn't about trying to fix small churches or fix small church pastors. It was about trying to understand suitability.

How did you approach this? And again, even before I get to that question, one of the things I appreciate about this is I have been talking and writing for years about the lack of really good metrics about small churches. One of the reasons why it's harder is because in a small congregation, when you have 20 people in the room, metrics don't matter so much, relationships are all that matter.

When you've got a congregation of 2000, then percentages and metrics may mean a lot. But for small churches in general, that is, you know, why are small churches in general this way? How do small churches function as a group of like-minded ministry people? There hasn't been even enough metrics done on that, as in all the tens of thousands of small churches in the country, why are there no metrics about how they work or very few metrics about how they work, the way they work and so on.

And not from the standpoint of how can we fix them, they’re small, what's their problem? But what's going on here? So with that, as the framework you decided you wanted to look at, how did you land on the idea of let's take a look at, is there a correlation between personality and church size?

JM: Actually that came from our conversation. Because we were talking about the possible research directions and you'd mentioned this one as a third option and it just resonated with me and with the advisor: does personality trait factor into the size church that a particular individual may pastor?

KV: I’d forgotten that that's where that had come from. I remember when we had the conversations, but we’ve had so many I’d forgotten that's where that come from.

So there's a lot of personality tools out there. Why is the OCEAN Assessment tool the one you settled on?

JM: Even though we have a number of tools and they all approach it from a slightly different perspective, we chose The Big Five because it was the most accepted from years of research in businesses and in other venues.

KV: Plus when you, when you go through the list of each of those five, it's not just simply personality in general, but it's really about personality of leaders. It has more of a leadership focus than a simple general population.

So it is intended to assess the personality of people in leadership. And it's got this broad acceptability in academic circles as well. So it's got some meat on its bones academically, which of course for masters is helpful, but it's also helpful for us because I think a lot of what we try to do in small church pastoring is really subjective.

And it has to be a lot of times because we don't have the metrics to back it up. So I'm thrilled to see somebody doing the academically rigorous work to start figuring out some of these things. So that's the background to it. So now I'm just going to come right out and go, okay, what'd you figure out, what did you discover? You got a lot of it because you and I worked together, we put it out to a lot of our listeners and readers.

JM: We got 748 responses.

KV: Which is huge for a project like this...

JM: ...which was absolutely great. Yeah. And based upon those, we came up with a set of numbers. One of the things that I think would have been more helpful is: we only had 18 of those 748 responses that pastor churches have 500 or more.

So if we'd had more larger pastored churches would have been very helpful

KV: Yeah. Some of that is because it was a lot of it from my audience, which of course is primarily smaller midsize church pastors rather than larger ones. So, what you're saying is it would be even more accurate if we'd had a higher percentage of big church pastors represented that equals their percentage of the population of pastors.

JM: Right. I think that would have been definitely a big factor, but it was interesting because it was a study by Ackerman, I thought, that was really important is, you know, the one who's open to experience, open-minded, they're more willing to think outside of the box and, you know, that is a positive factor.

But none of these personality traits on their own really had a major impact upon the size of a church. I do want to say that up front: basically we found that for the most part, the personality traits were not a key factor. There's other factors, like sense of effectiveness, sense of being engaged in the work. In other words, is the work meaningful to you?

So there I go back to little bit about my story. I know that I know that I know that God called me to the ministry and I have told people, “if you don't know that you know, that you know, don't become a pastor, right? Because you cause more harm than good.”

But it was interesting that the higher that they were in being open-minded or open to experience, they were willing to try new things. And I think that is a very positive factor if a person has that leaning. Those who were low in openness to experience preferred routine.

So that's understanding. Conscientious individuals have a tendency to plan more, to organize more, to delay personal gratification. Whereas those who are low in conscientiousness have a tendency to procrastinate more. So I thought that was a fascinating insight.

And then those who are high in extroversion, they draw energy from interacting with people.

You know, I can see the difference between my wife's personality and my personality. I'm more of an extrovert. So I mean, I can be with a group of people and I am ready to go afterwards. And when she’s been with a group of people, she's ready to relax, you know, so you can see how that would play in.

Agreeableness. This was an interesting one. It focuses on getting along with others. The problem with getting along with others is we have a tendency to put aside things that we should be working on because it’s more about the connecting with people. Those who are low on agreeable tend to not be as trusted as much. I thought that was interesting.

Neuroticism or negative emotionality has to do with how comfortable, how confident you are. Those who are low in neuroticism were likely to be more confident and adventurous. So I was very happy when I took The Big Five. And I only scored an eight on neuroticism.

KV: You got to give me the scale to tell me if that's good or bad. Eight of a hundred or eight out of 10?

JM: There were only eight questions and I scored a one on each one of them. So I was fine. I found out I was not as neurotic as I could be.

KV: So there was no. flashing red lights of this is the personality type of a typical small church pastor.

JM: No, and that was encouraging because it goes back to: we know that God is the one who calls people.

KV: So we're not looking at it going well, you're all just a bunch of introverts. That's why you’ve got small churches. Or you're all just neurotic. That's why you got small churches. Or you're not open to new idea, that's why your church is stuck in small. It runs the gamut, all kinds of different personalities. Did anything stand out that particularly surprised you in your research?

JM No, actually I found it quite reaffirming. There's a couple of traits that I thought of—three of them that just seem to really stand out as having a positive impact on the feeling of effectiveness, being satisfied with where you and that had to be with agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness. Those three. But agreeableness had the highest impact on the churches.

Agreeableness in the business world, the lower it was the better they were in the business role, but in the church world, that was a very positive factor I thought.

KV: So there was a sense those who are in small church ministry are what?

JM: A little bit more agreeable than those in the business world. But as far as church size, nothing really, really stood out on that. Open-mindedness basically had the least impact on church size or the sense of a feeling effective in ministry.

Really, it had to do with extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and negative emotionality. In other words, you know, not being too negative. Those those four had more impact upon pastors feeling effective. Not the open mindedness.Now that one surprised me. Because I figured that maybe that had a factor on why someone would pastor a church, but as far as the research and testing, it had little impact.

KV: And now a 20-second break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us. First, forward this podcast to a friend. Secondly, consider becoming a Patreon partner. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of ministries that need it.

Our Patreon link is in the show notes.

When you and I had talked before, I'm trying to remember exactly what it was, but I think it was something like, one of the takeaways that you had was that pastors who are in small churches, you discovered it wasn't that it was a personality thing as much as it was a suitability.

JM: Not suitability. It had to do with more of a sense of a calling.

So when the pastor felt like the work was meaningful, they were making a difference, they were more engaged with what they were doing. And as they were more engaged in the research, the tools that we used, not only focused on the personality traits would seem to have the least impact upon the sense of satisfaction of the size of church that one pastors. But it had to do with a sense of meaningfulness. That the work that they were doing was meaningful. That they were making a difference. That they were effective.

So effectiveness and meaningfulness had the biggest impact upon a pastor being satisfied with the church that they’re pastoring. And what was interesting was that part of the research found when we did the discriminant analysis that more than two thirds of the pastors were actually in the right size church. They just knew that they were where they're supposed to be.

Now we do recognize there's this outside pressure that if your church is not growing, that you're not being effective. That is a sad deception as far as I'm concerned, because the research showed that most pastors were really satisfied with where they are.

KV: That’s fascinating to me. I'm going to rephrase it for my own understanding. What I'm hearing you say and correct me if I'm wrong, and I know you will because we're friends and we can do that.

When we understand that the work we’re doing is effective and has value for the kingdom of God, when our internal voice tells us that, then we can be content and satisfied with where we are. Not relaxed, not just sitting there and not having any goals, but we know we're in the place. God called us to be.

JM: yes.

But when we listen to the outside voices that tell us, you’ve got to get your numbers up, then everything gets confused. Then we start second guessing our call. But when we recognize, yes, I am where God called me to be. I am in the size of church God is calling me to be in for now anyway, and maybe for a long period of time, and our church and the ministry I have in it is being effective for the kingdom of God.

If we can listen to—let's just go straight to scripture—that still, small voice of God within us speaking and telling us we are in the place we need to be. Then we need to just simply turn a deaf ear to the outside voices that are telling us the opposite, because that's not going to drive us to better or bigger. It's going to drive us crazy.

JM: That is a great take away. Because it will drive you crazy. But here's the thing. It is the Lord who builds his church partners with us. I'm excited about what God is doing in Westminster Christian Assembly and through Westminster Christian Assembly, because I have an opportunity, even in my neighborhood. We have a mission—reach our world for Christ. And we all come from different parts of Orange County.

So we have people that we are connected with. So I'm having fun in my neighborhood, even through this study to have an influence on people. So the fact that I like to be, I'm a little bit extrovert, I'm an agreeable personality, and I'm very conscientious about the conversation I'm having. All of that comes into play.

So as far as Westminster Christian Assembly, I know I'm where I'm supposed to be. I know that I am making a difference because of the stories that people tell me, and that makes pastoring Westminster Christian Assembly a joy.

KV: Wonderful. That's such a nice little capper for that. I'm going to let that sit because I think a whole lot of us need to hear that, just that heart really there.

So from that, let's go to the lightning round questions for that.

What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted to it?

JM: The biggest change for me, because going from these different cultures, and I'm in a different culture in Westminster, but being able to adapt to it and work with the different people. It calls for being willing to adapt on my part. Flexibility on my part. And, I like the old phrase, “blessed are the flexible for they will not break.”

And that's good for us as pastors. It’s interesting because where before I was able to work full time with the church. God prepared me for Westminster by taking me between missions. And when the door opened up, a six-year journey, God told me to step out and I would be pastoring again. But it was six years later before he opened it up.

In the meantime, I became a Dale Carnegie trainer. And what a blessing that is. I have a little bit of a fun thing, just a little side note. We pastors are always teaching, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” but we never tell them how. Dale Carnegie tells you how. So it's a fun thing.

KV: Great.

So what free resource, like an app or a website or something like that has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

JM: You know, I was thinking about that and I'm not quite sure what is the most valuable resource. I enjoy the podcast. Podcasts are really a uplifting resource.

KV: It's really becoming a go-to even more so than blog posts because you can bring in guests like we do here and you can listen to it whenever you want to and go back to it later. So I'm noticing podcasts are becoming a real big resource for a lot of pastors lately.

What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

JM: Best piece of ministry advice I've ever received was when I was graduating from (then) Southern California College way back in 1979. The president at that time really focused in and said, “stay true to what you know that God wants you to do. And don't second guess everything that's happening. Just stay focused in on the call of God and then you will find that real peace.”

I think that that was one of the best pieces of advice that I have heard. But I do appreciate Dr. George Wood, because he was my pastor during this period of time. He just said, “focus on the people.”

A little side note, the first church I pastored, I had purposely gone after a double major—one in psychology, one in religion—at Southern California College. And I thought I would be doing a lot of counseling, but one of the best pieces of advice came across my desk as a pastor, “teach the word, and then you will have to do less counseling.”

KV: So what's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

JM: I thought about a lot of different stories and I didn't want to play too much with people's minds, but one of the things that happened was to me this year. It was in the beginning of the year. We were still not able to meet inside of our buildings. So we're outside. We have one of our guys built a phenomenal gazebo. I mean, this thing will last for years so we can do outside ministries and stuff like that.

But I had, as a result of living in Athens, Greece, I developed tinnitus. So I had those ringing in my ear because Athens was designed for 300,000 people, 6 million people living there, it’s going 24/7, I mean it’s noisy.

So I lost an upper level in my hearing. And I had just gotten hearing aids and I'm trying to figure out, okay, how do I take the mask off to speak? And I'm trying not to let people know that I'm having hearing aids. So I took the mask off and what happened to my left hearing aid? Down to the ground. I says, “okay, everyone knows. I have hearing aids now..”

KV: No secrets, especially in a small church.

JM: No, you gotta be real. It's fun. I love the small church. I don't know how I would do it in a large church.

KV: Well, and that's a big part of what you did this research for was to be able to help others feel the same way—that wherever God has called us is the place we're supposed to be.

So, thank you for that, Jean.

JM: And that’s the big thing, that wherever God calls you, be satisfied.

KV: Yeah, that's the takeaway and anybody who's listening is a student, or is interested in assessment tools, I'm constantly trying to encourage folks who are in academia—consider doing academic studies and assessments on small church issues because we don't have enough.

What Jean has done is a part of a very small pool. And that’s part of the reason we're talking with him today, because it's so important for us to do that. And I appreciate the work you've done on this, Jean. Thanks for being a guest today.

JM: It’s a pleasure, Karl.

Isn't it fascinating how so many of their presumptions we hold about small churches and small church leadership just fall to pieces when we really assess them properly? It turns out there is absolutely no correlation between your personality and the size of your church, no matter what you may have been told by somebody else or you may have thought about it yourself.

But there is a huge correlation between whether or not you're following the call God gave you and how effective you can be in that call.

So let’s answer the question in the title of the podcast: can this work in a small church? Can we say there are certain types of personalities more suited to a small church than the large one? And this time, the answer is no.

But I always want to give you some answers to that question, right?

Even if we're saying no, there's no correlation. No, this can't work in a small church. No, your personality type has nothing to do with the size of your church. Let's take a look at what we can take away from it.

First of all, our effectiveness in ministry is tied far more strongly to our understanding that we can be affected more so than any other factor, including the size of our church or our personality. We have to know we are where God placed us.

Which leads us to point number two, we can be effective in our ministry if we listen closely to our colleagues, to the still small voice of God within us, rather than to all of the outside voices that tell us we need to hit certain numbers or that the reason we're not getting bigger is because you've got to change something dramatically. We can be effective where we are.

Thirdly, God can use any personality type to accomplish his will for his church, including whatever combination of personality types you may have inside your own head, your heart. and your life.

Well, if you'd like to become a Patreon partner for as little as $3 a month and help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need it the most, check out our Patreon link in the show notes.

If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date christianitytoday.com/karlvaters. You can find the link for that in the show notes. This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver. Music by Jack Wilkins, original theme music written and performed by Jack Wilkins of Jack WilkinsMusic.com. Podcast logo by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And me? I’m Karl Vaters, and I'm a small church pastor.

Pivot is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

Join in the conversation about this post on Facebook.

Recent Posts

Read More from Karl

Follow Christianity Today

Free Newsletters