The Real Church Growth Barriers

When I was pastoring a church, I wanted it to grow. There were thousands of people in our community who did not know Jesus, and I wanted to make a dent in eternity. As the leader, I spent a ton of time working on facility stuff, messing around with service times and trying new special events.

There’s nothing wrong with those things, but after five or six years, I realized they weren’t the things holding us back. The growth barriers people talk about weren’t really the growth barriers we were facing.

Since those days, I’m focused on helping churches grow and be healthy – to break the real church growth barriers. I’m going to talk about them in detail on this Thursday’s free webinar, but here they are.

#1 – LEADERSHIP

Hands down, this is the #1 barrier to growth (and health) in your church.

It cuts across every ministry and the ripples of good leadership go far. But this does not happen by accident. It requires focus and some hard work. I know it’s trendy to talk about going multisite, but leadership is far more important.

When pastors lead themselves, lead their teams and lead their volunteers, amazing things happen.

#2 – LACK OF CLEAR VISION

Your church has a mission or a purpose and that should come straight from the Bible. You can make it sound great, but it’s probably some version of the Great Commission. This is a MUST HAVE but it’s not the same thing as a vision.

Knowing the difference between mission and vision isn’t just for etymologists. It’s crucial to know and communicate both if you want to lead a growing church. I’ve read hundreds of church vision statements, and they really aren’t vision statements at all.

h o l a  b e a c h  c l u bI’m going to talk about the difference and give lots of examples on this Thursday’s free webinar.

#3 – BUSYNESS

Will Mancini said it like this: “Most churches do too much. In the absence of clear discipleship outcomes, we feel successful only with more attendance at more church stuff.”

I am absolutely convinced most churches are way too busy – stuck on a ministry treadmill of doing things that don’t lead to results. It’s understandable because most of the things we are doing have a lot of good in them. But being too busy has dramatic consequences.

When is the last time you evaluated your programs and ministries, not based on if they do some good, but on how effective they are at accomplishing your mission?

#4 – MINDSET

When Tony Dungy took over the Bucs, he had to change the mindset. He had a good scheme and he had NFL caliber players, but they were too used to losing. He had to change the mindset.

Churches get stuck with an insider mindset. And this doesn’t have anything to do with being traditional or contemporary.

If you want your church to grow, you have to develop a growth mindset. This isn’t easy, but there are a lot of things you can do to start the process.

#5 – SYSTEMS

So many of the problems in your church are really systems problems. And You can’t solve systems problems with better preaching or more vision. Systems problems can only be solved with healthy systems.

For what it’s worth, if I was stepping into a new church as the leader, I would focus on these five systems first…

  • Worship Service Planning
  • Volunteer Development
  • Guest Follow Up
  • Small Group Involvement
  • Donor Discipleship

I’m sharing more about all of this on Thursday’s webinar. I have a ton of helpful content for you. Reserve your spot right here.

Five Consequences of a Busy Church

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Is your church too busy?

Does that “busy season” seem to be lasting a lot longer than you originally thought?

Is your church calendar full of programs, ministries and events that don’t really connect to the vision?

Activity feels like progress, but they aren’t the same thing.  It’s possible for a church to be doing many things yet accomplishing very little.  Here are five consequences of having a church calendar that’s too full.

Consequence #1:  Your volunteers are spread too thin.

I was working with a church who asked me to come in and help with a volunteer and leadership system.  “We don’t have enough volunteers and we’re having trouble engaging leaders,” they told me. After visiting their services and spending some time with staff and leaders, I came to a different conclusion.   “You don’t have a volunteer problem…you have a focus problem,” I  said.

The nursery workers you need on Sunday might be serving on Sunday night, Tuesday morning or some other time.  The high school students you have gathering for a second Bible study are your elementary volunteers.  The men meeting for breakfast at 6am on Tuesday are your parking team at 8am on Sunday.  And these other things are not BAD things.  They are good things, but not PRIMARY things.  When you decide to focus on what’s primary, you can put your best people on your biggest opportunities.

You can immediately improve the health and size of your volunteer force by stopping ineffective ministries and moving people to places where there are greater opportunities to fulfill your vision.

Consequence #2:  You put your health at risk.

Busyness is not next to godliness, despite what the axiom says.  Being too busy is actually a slow and dangerous fade.  I’ve met pastors and leaders who are literally shortening their life by being too busy.

  • Too many ministries means you have to think about too many things…that’s not good for the family.
  • Too many programs means you have to attend too many meetings…that’s not good for your family.
  • Too many events means you don’t have time to hang out with friends…that’s not good for your relationships.

How is your physical health, mental health, emotional health, relational health and spiritual health?  All five of these are important, and all five of these are beat down by being too busy.  It’s not glamorous to be at church all the time, in the office all the time, or making all of the decisions.

God designed you to need a rhythm of rest.  If you’re too busy, running around from one program to another, you’re functioning in a way that’s not healthy for your mind, body or soul.   And your staff….they are struggling with the same things.  You’re their leader and they need you to look out for them.

There will never be a better time so stop telling yourself “when things calm down you’ll make a change.”  As Bob Newhart said, “Stop it.”

Consequence #3:  You settle for mediocrity.

When you have a lot of ministries and programs, there’s the risk that all of them will be average and none of them will be excellent.  I heard Andy Stanley talk about this one time in a conference.  People ask their staff how their Sunday morning experience for children is so good.  He said something like “it’s all we do….we don’t have Sunday night, Vacation Bible School or a school….if you focused all of your people and resources toward one thing, I bet it would be excellent too.”

These are wise words from a great leader.

If you don’t have great music on Sunday, just cancel it while you build a team.  If you don’t have a great speaker for students, don’t try and pull off a student service.  If you can’t do a really nice website, just have a Facebook page.  Less is more, because less has a greater opportunity to be excellent. Decide what you really want to do well, and focus all of your resources there.

Someone once asked me, “If just one person came to Christ because of this Christian sports program, isn’t that worth doing?

“No, “ I answered plainly.  And a little shockingly.

Of course we want people to come to Christ, but there is much more at stake.  Diverting resources from something that’s central to your strategy or deploying people in an area where they are not gifted is not good leadership.  An opportunity is not an obligation.  You’ve got to be mature enough to value the idea but stand firm in your unique calling and vision.

Consequence #4:  Your communication is ineffective.

When you have so many programs or ministries, they will all fight for communication space.

If you have too much to talk about in this weekends announcements, that’s not a Sunday service problem.  That’s a church-wide, “we’re too busy” problem.    If your handout has ten ways to get connected and seven opportunities to learn more and three next steps, that’s not offering something for everything, that’s trying to be all things to all people.  Which rarely works.

Common sense tells us this principle is true, but the drive to “just mention this” is often too much.  We philosophically agree that less is more, but once you have all these ministries and programs, they all cry out for publicity.

Hey pastor, don’t forget to announce the women’s Bible study.

We need to tell people to drop off diapers for the diaper drive.

Remind people about the student camp deadline.

Before we know it, our handouts and our stage announcements are muddied with mixed messages.

There are five important things you need to know this week.

Which means the listener doesn’t hear five important things.  They don’t even hear one important thing.  They hear nothing.

If you have 3 minutes to make announcements, you’re better off focusing on just one thing and making it meaningful.  Make a video, tell a story, talk about the benefits, share the reason you’re doing it, give a testimony.  Don’t do less…do more!  But do more for less things.

Consequence #5:  You emphasize activity over identity.

This is subtle, but it’s huge. And dangerous  Like a killer whale that sneaks up on you while you’re swimming in the pool.

People can’t live missionally or express the gospel when they are at church all the time.  Without saying a word, you’ve told people they must do things for Jesus in order to be “in.”  You’ve created a church culture where busy is good.

The goal of the Christian life is not to fill every waking moment with church activities.  A jam-packed church calendar is dangerously close to building an idol to Christian activity, where the goal is meeting every spiritual need with a program and event.  Our message and our church calendar often say two different things.  Busy schedules don’t give people space to blend their relationship with Jesus, which is what we preach on Sundays.

The better Christian is not the one who listens to two sermons or joins another small group, or picks up a new volunteer position.  These might be good things (when connected to an intentional strategy), but they are not ultimate things.

A church building does not need to be filled every night of the week.

A church member doesn’t need to listen to three sermons each week to grow in their faith.  They just need to apply one.

I could go on, but you’ve got your own examples.

The Christian life is more about identity (“in Christ”) than activity.  Activity is bad, but it’s not enough.  In our quest to do more and offer more, we might be causing people to miss the very point of it all.  For some churches, canceling a program or two and creating space for their people to be in their families and communities would be the most spiritual thing they could do.

Three Reasons You Might Not Be Able to Involve High Capacity Leaders

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There’s a big difference between a volunteer and a leader.  Churches need both.  In my work with hundreds of churches, I believe we’re getting better at involving volunteers, but we’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to involving leaders.

Here are three reasons you might struggle to involve high capacity leaders.

1. You’re trying to recruit in bulk.

You can invite a bunch of volunteers to take their first steps to service with a volunteer fair or a volunteer message.  But if you want to engage leaders, you’ll need to take a more personal approach.

You can’t recruit leaders from the stage.  Leaders won’t sign up at tables along with everyone else.  They respond to personal invitations.  So If you want to engage leaders, you need to identify them and personally invite them into the process.  This is not efficient – it’s one on one.

2.  You do not have a leadership culture.

I like to grow things in my backyard, but I don’t get a lot of sunlight back there.  That makes it hard to grow flowers.   However, I can grow Hosta, some Azaleas and ferns.  The culture of my backyard is suited to shade-loving plants.

Your church has a culture, too.  And if you don’t have a culture of leadership, leaders won’t thrive .  You may have a culture where the pastors do everything, or where people aren’t trusted with decisions.  If that’s the case, you’ve got to work hard to create a new and better culture.  One where innovation and risk is valued.  That’s the kind of culture that’s attractive to a leader.

3.  You are not patient.

Leaders don’t want to be told how to do everything.  They want freedom.  That’s one of the things that makes them a leader.  A volunteer needs clear directions, clear timelines and clear expectations, but a leader needs a little more freedom and some time to figure it out.  Empowering leaders is messy and it will not go smooth.  But if you’re patient, the rewards are worth it.

Have you seen the difference between leaders and volunteers?  How is your church doing on each level?