The Lived Experiences of Pastors and Lay-Leaders in Rural Missouri Assembly of God Turnaround Churches: A Hermeneutic Phenomenological Study

Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctorate of Education, Ed.D.


College of Education



First Advisor

William Boozang, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Brianna Parsons, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Yvette Ghormley, Ph.D.


Scholars estimate 65% to 80% of all churches in the United States are either plateauing or declining in membership. Thousands of churches close in the United States each year, many are rural communities. However, some leaders of plateauing and declining churches do turn around their diminishing assemblies. The researcher used a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to explore the lived experiences of pastors and lay-leaders in rural Missouri Assembly of God turnaround churches. Rural Missouri Assembly of God turnaround pastors and lay-leaders experienced a common pattern of turnaround and used common language to describe their experiences. The research confirmed that rural Missouri turnaround pastors are transformational leaders. Revitalizing pastors in this study led by example, showed transparency about church problems, established new expectations of attendees through vision, appealed to a higher cause when casting a vision for change, used crises to build trust with followers, and prioritized relationship building. Lay-leaders were positively affected by the leadership of the turnaround pastor and felt empowered to minister, trusted their pastor to coach them to success, sacrificed time and energy because they believed in the pastor’s vision, and developed a deep trust in their pastors. The qualities of a turnaround pastor provided a rubric through which denominational and church network leaders can assess potential pastoral candidates. The qualities provide an evaluative tool for self-assessment by pastors considering leading a dying church to health. The four follower effects discussed in this study demonstrate how turnaround pastors positively influence lay-leaders to engage fully in the revitalization journey.

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