People don’t like change. Right?

In a shocking twist (I bet you didn’t see this coming) there could be nothing farther from the truth.

Most people actually like change. They just like change that benefits them.

You’re probably the same way. The majority of people will change anything when they see it as a necessity and direct benefit to them. They’ll change when they choose to change. What most people reject isn’t change, it’s change they don’t want.

When a church grows, it changes. You need to help people exchange what is now for the potential of what could be.

Below are 5 reasons why people in your church want it to stay small, and what to do about it.

  1. They are selfish. I am too, aren’t you? After all, if they didn’t like your church how it is they wouldn’t be there right now.
  2. They like convenience. If more people come they will have to park farther away, or have to sit farther back, or wait in line longer to pick up their kids.
  3. They want to know everyone. If the church gets much bigger, they will feel like they don’t know anyone. They like the size of the church just the way it is. There’s a very real growth barrier at about 200 people. 95% of churches in America never get past it.
  4. They don’t trust you. This might be hard to hear, but sometimes people aren’t buying what you’re selling because they simply don’t trust you. They don’t believe you or that you’ll actually follow through on what you’re saying.
  5. They are mourning the past. They are holding onto something. It might be the music, that pastor, those friends, the way the church used to feel when he or she was here.  

How do we respond? Here are four responses to these five reasons. 

1. Cast Vision.

People will trade their selfishness and convenience for a vision. This happens all the time. They trade their time for waiting in a crazy line for the best cup of soup or cupcake. They trade their money for the next Apple product.

Leaders move people from HERE (where they are) to THERE (where they should be). You’re not just changing something, you’re moving to a preferred future. You’re helping people trade their present reality for a future dream. Leaders cast vision of a preferred future and move people towards it.

A simple grid for Vision casting is this:

Leaders cast vision of a preferred future and move people towards it.

Leaders cast vision of a preferred future and move people towards it.

  1. Convince people why HERE isn’t optional. Answer the question: “Why can’t we stay here?”
  2. Because of that, explain why there’s no option but for us to get THERE! Answer the question: “Why do we have to go there?”

I’m going to make an assumption of most of you: Your vision is too small. Don’t let your zip code or your current reality determine the size of your vision. Most of the stuff you’re praying for you don’t even need God to do it!  If you’re not praying for something that can’t happen without God you don’t need Him, so why would He show up? Does your vision make God sweat? If not, it’s not big enough!

2. Get smaller before you get bigger.

People like to be known. This is one of the biggest barriers to breaking the 200 mark in attendance. Tension grows as people start to not know everybody. That’s why getting smaller before you get bigger is key.

Robin Dunbar is a professor at the University of Oxford and has extensively studied how people interact with each other. His findings are powerful. In his study, he found that a human can only maintain relationships with about 150 people. Facebook is lying to you, you don’t have that many friends. Here’s what he says about large friend groups:

Yet the problem with such a large number of “friends,” Dunbar says, is that “relationships involved across very big units then become very casual — and don't have that deep meaning and sense of obligation and reciprocity that you have with your close friends.”

One solution to that problem, he adds, can be seen in the modern military. Even as they create “supergroups” — battalions, regiments, divisions — most militaries are nonetheless able to maintain the sense of community felt at the 150-person company level through subgroups”.

“The answer has to come out of that,” Dunbar says, “trying to create a greater sense of community in smaller groups.”

It makes sense that so many churches get stuck here. People want to be known and to know other people. As Dunbar says it “… create a great sense of community.”  So your solution to this reality is to get smaller before you get bigger. The reality is, they don’t REALLY know 150 people. We want to help them trade a LOT of casual relationships for a few more intimate close relationships. Small Groups are a great way a large church stays small and people even have  better relationships than they did when they were a smaller church.

3. Clarify the Rules

“Nothing is as fast as the speed of trust. Nothing is as fulfilling as a relationship of trust. Nothing is as inspiring as an offering of trust. Nothing is as profitable as the economics of trust. Nothing has more influence than a reputation of trust.”

– Stephen Covey

People might simply not trust you so they aren’t buying what you’re selling. You don’t earn trust by being perfect, you earn trust by doing what you say you're going to do over time. It’s not about never making a mistake. It’s about never changing the rules. Don’t make promises about things that will happen, make promises about HOW decisions will be made.

“Promising perfect is actually not nearly as useful as promising what the rules are.”

– Seth Godin

Earn their trust by helping them see the “rules” by which you’re playing. Help them see how you make decisions and why you make decisions. Over time, as you follow through with what you say, as you make choices by the same rules, as you are consistent and transparent you’ll earn their trust. Don’t hide mistakes, embrace them. Mistakes are simply a sign of trying new things, if you’re not making any mistakes you’re not trying anything new!

4. Embrace and Celebrate the Past

Some people never move into the future because they are stuck in the past. They might want your church to stay small because they are holding on to something. This isn’t rational it’s emotional. It might not make sense to you, but it does to them. You can’t tell a person their emotions aren’t valid, emotions aren’t like that, they just are. Leaders often miss this in their drive to take a new hill, they don’t make time to validate the feelings of people. So even if someone intellectually agree with a decision, they get their feelings hurt and won’t go with you. Here’s what you could do:

  1. Figure out what they are holding onto and validate it. Validate the emotion and what they are feeling, don’t devalue it.
  2. Do some research and find what was good that came from it. There has to be something, find it.
  3. Celebrate it. Talk about it. Speak directly to it. Don’t sweep it under the rug, pull it out into the light.  Talk about how you’re standing on the shoulders of these faithful people. Talk about the sacrifice. Talk about what happened. Don’t hide it, embrace it. 
  4. Help people connect the dots. You’re not CHANGING the past, you’re not FORGETTING the past, you’re EMBRACING the past and continuing the tradition.

So What's Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not?

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. Are we being good stewards of what He's given us? Are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?

We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. So we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers.

Leaders cast vision of a preferred future and move people towards it.