God has called all Christians to go into the world and make disciples. His primary method for that is the local church. Ultimately, it’s God that causes His church to grow, but He chooses to use people.

That’s why pastors and church leaders want the church to grow. Numbers represent people and people become disciples.

So what keeps churches from growing? Here are five things.

#1 – The leaders are not communicating mission and vision.

The senior pastor is the chief clarity officer of the local church, and clarifying the vision is one of the most important things you can do.

When we talk to pastors, most think they are doing a good job communicating vision, but often, a passion for the importance of the church doesn’t translate into a clear picture of the future.

As a leader, you need to communicate mission (generic) and vision (specific) in a way that helps people understand the why behind the what. Mission and vision are two different things and you must communicate both, but both of them are rooted in the answer to one very important question.

golden-circleSimon Sinek, in his fantastic book, says you must start with why. He calls it the Golden Circle.

When you have a clear why (mission), you can answer the how question (strategy) and then talk about the what (programs). Most churches get this backwards, creating and leading programs and then looking for ways to justify their purpose.

If your church isn’t growing, don’t start with your programs or even your strategy. Pray and ask God for a fresh vision for His church. Get people together and talk about why you do what you do.

Craft that into a compelling mission statement and then cast a clear vision of what it looks like.

#2 – They are trying to do too much.

Most churches are too busy. And that’s really dangerous.

If your church is stuck, there’s a good chance you’re dispersing your time, energy and resources across too many things. The result is a myriad of mediocre ministries.

Adding isn’t going to work. More ministries, more programming, and more anything is not the secret to growth.

What you need is less stuff, but better stuff.

A fewer selection of ministries, but ones that really get your time and focus. Less programs, but ones that are really top-notch. Less annual events so that you can focus on what happens every week in your church.

Don’t look at the church down the street and copy what they do. That’s just adding more to your plate. You may not need to start something. You may need to STOP something.

If you think you’re too busy, start with an honest evaluation of all your programs, ministries, and special events. Take a look at how effective they are at accomplishing your mission. Don’t talk about whether they are good or how many people like them…be honest about their effectiveness.

#3 – Their structure is keeping them small.

If you’re a gardener, you know that some plants grow to the size of their container.

Plant a tomato in a 4” plastic pot, and it’s only going to grow so tall. Transplant that same tomato into a large terra-cotta planter, and it will grow much bigger.

Church structure is a lot like that. Your structure can limit or facilitate growth.

Ironically, both ends of the leadership spectrum can hinder growth.

  • If the senior pastor has to do everything and doesn’t develop leaders, the pastor is like the small container. That’s why creating a leadership team and raising up leaders is so important.
  • If there are too many leaders, committees and levels of leadership, decision-making is slowed down and bureaucracy takes over.

Changing your structure isn’t a quick fix, but it might be something you should look at. Here are five more thoughts about staff structure.

#4 – Pastors aren’t developing leaders.

John Maxwell said leadership will determine a person’s effectiveness. He writes:

“The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the individual’s ability to lead, the higher the lid on his potential. To give you an example, if your leadership rates an 8, then your effectiveness can never be greater than a 7. If your leadership is only a 4, then your effectiveness will be no higher than a 3. Your leadership ability—for better or for worse—always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization.”

I wonder if this same principle is true of local churches, too.

Leadership is one of the toughest growth barriers in any church. It’s far more trendy to talk about launching multi-sites, renovating facilities, or adding staff members. Those things are great, but they are likely not the main thing holding you back.

Churches that aren’t growing often have plateaued in their leadership. Leadership development (another way to think of discipleship) just doesn’t happen. It requires intentionality, focus, and the ability to say no.

It’s harder to develop leaders than it is to do it yourself. That’s why pastors hoard decisions, wrongfully thinking they are the only person qualified to make a ministry decision. That’s why pastors rush in to save the day rather than let others lead. It’s always less efficient in the short term to develop someone.

Leadership development is also hard because it requires patience. It requires more patience to wait until God brings the leader than it does force a program off the ground. Too many ministries are started in hopes someone will see effectiveness and want to take the reigns. Instead, the leaderless ministry usually flounders, taking precious resources and yielding limited results.

#5 – The ministries of the church don’t match the needs of the community.

In Church Unique, Will Mancini says every church needs to develop their own Kingdom Concept – a unique mix of the churches strengths and the needs of the community.

If your church isn’t growing, maybe you’re offering too many ministries and programs simply because they are accepted ministry norms. If sixteen churches in your community are doing a Vacation Bible School this summer, will one more really meet a need? If the local food pantry has the infrastructure to meet the need, do you really need to enter the arena?

Your church should think like a missionary entering a new area. After learning the language and understanding the real needs, you go to work.

Each community is different. Every church is unique. Match your ministries to the needs of the community and you'll make more of a difference.

Those are five possible reasons your church might not be growing. There are likely many more possibilities and some we may never fully understand.

It's helpful to consider the reasons churches don't grow. But it's also helpful to learn from churches that are growing. This free eBook profiles seven growing churches. Take a look at what they are doing well and get practical ideas you can use to lead your church to healthy growth.

So What's Next?

Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But 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. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

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