Are YOU the Growth Barrier to Your Church?

Often when we bump into an issue or problem, we are tempted to look around and cast blame.

I believe there are 6 specific ingredients to create continuous growth in your church. In this post, we are going to look at the first, and most difficult to embrace:


By far, this is the most challenging of the ingredients to evaluate and embrace. Often when we bump into an issue or problem, we are tempted to look around and cast blame. At times blame should be cast elsewhere, but as a point leader of any team or organization, there is always an element of blame that should fall back on our shoulders. After all, we are the leader.

Looking in the mirror is more onerous than looking through a window, though. Discovering and owning our part in any problem is painful at best, but if we desire the build THE Kingdom more than our kingdom, a mirror moment is necessary.

It’s about to get all personal up in here, but it’s worth the introspection, because the church and the people in our community are worth it.

Let’s start by acknowledging a truth for every leader: “In some way, I am a potential growth barrier.” In fact, just pause for a moment and read that aloud. Do you believe that? I hope so, because every leader has something in them that can impede growth. I’ve yet to meet a leader who doesn’t have the potential to become a barrier. The best leaders both acknowledge this potential and embrace proactive solutions.

While I can’t diagnose all of the possible leadership deficiencies in this post, I can give you some specific things to consider that will overcome most every leadership-driven growth barrier. Or at least I can give you the one’s I’ve learned (and am learning) the hard way.

Quick Note: Each of the below ideas could be full post in and of themselves. I’ll give you more than one sentence on each, so feel free to skip what you do well and study what you don’t in more detail. Whatever you do, though, read number 1 so you know what to skip!

If you want to proactively remove yourself as a barrier to growth, make sure you:

1. Solicit feedback about your leadership — often.

The best and worst thing I have ever done as a leader was survey those around me about my leadership. The people around you are most likely talking amongst themselves already, so you might as well find out what they are saying about you.

Leaders are notorious for seeing deficiencies in others without knowing their own. Since you can’t work to improve what you don’t know needs improvement, a leadership evaluation could be the most important step you can take to ensure you are not an artificial barrier to your organization’s growth.

Any sort of survey via SurveyMonkey can provide fruitful so long as it’s anonymous, but if you want to go deeper, leverage a professional service, like RightPath 360. Just a word of warning: Set up a counseling appointment to coincide with your feedback review. Trust me on this one.

Question for Introspection: Do I really know what others think of my leadership?

2. Surround yourself with great leaders.

This is so important to create a path for continuous growth, but it takes a self-aware and secure leader to pull it off. If you are the smartest person in your organization, your organization is in trouble. If you struggle to attract or retain great people, you are the problem and your organization is in trouble. If you look around and your organization is full of doers, not leaders, you’re in trouble.

During the early years of Watermarke Church’s growth, I mistakenly hired too many doers. I hired doers because we had so much to do. They were great people who became my friends, but their ability to lead was weak, and we collectively suffered as a result. We need some doers, but doers without leaders stunts organizational growth.

What I learned the hard way is, while doers might get a job done, leaders will attract other leaders and doers, get the job done, and move the organization forward in the process.

Attracting and retaining leaders is our preference, but it can only happen if we become a leader worth following and are willing to bring leaders into the organization.

Question for Introspection: Am I afraid to work with people better than me?

3. Systematically replace yourself.

If you replace yourself, what will you do? If you are tempted to ask that question, you’re probably not actively replacing yourself. Great leaders replace themselves, because great leaders understand the health of any organization is ultimately only measured after a leadership transition has taken place.

As a leader, if you are not actively and systematically replacing yourself, you are not setting up your organization for continuous growth, because you are the lid for the growth. While every leader is unique, one thing we all have in common is none of us wants to lead an organization small enough to be managed alone. We also don’t want to leave the organization worse than we found it. Replacing ourselves is the most effective way to prevent either of these two growth barriers.

Question for Introspection: Who am I actively replacing myself with?

4. Discover your real strengths.

No leader is the best at everything necessary to lead an organization. God has given each one of us a unique set of strengths, and it is within these strengths where we find our greatest success and fulfillment. As a leader—especially a point leader—we owe it to our organization and ourselves to lead out of our strengths.

This concept is so problematic for church leaders, and it is equally damaging to long-term growth. If you are the point leader, you are called to lead in your strength. That means, if you are not the best communicator on your staff team, you should not preach every week even if you have the title of Lead Pastor. If you are not the best vision-caster in the church, you should stop casting vision alone. If you are not the most organized or detailed person on your team, you should not be responsible for the financials.

On the other hand, when you solicit feedback about your leadership and skills, pay attention to what you are great at doing. Leaders who don’t know their strengths operate from other’s expectation. On the other hand, leaders who know themselves and have embraced their strengths can lead more effectively toward continuous growth.

Quick Note: A great way to discover your strengths and unique abilities is to pay attention to compliments. We tend to shrug off compliments, but in humility, pay attention to what others say about you. Complements can reveal a lot.

Question for Introspection: Do I know where I thrive and where I struggle?

5. Delegate more than you do.

This is related to discovering your strengths—like a best friend. Leaders who refuse to limit their organization’s growth delegate more than they do, because in their delegation, they free themselves to do what only they can do while empowering others to share the burden of leadership.

Delegation is an art, though. To be done well, a leader must possess a keen understanding of the leaders around them, provided great clarity, and pass along a level of authority and responsibility necessary to accomplish the task.

A leader who does not delegate is a leader who becomes the lid for their organization, and no leader wants an organization small enough to be managed alone.

Question for Introspection: What am I doing that someone else should be doing?

6. Never lead What, How, or Who without Why.

As my friend and boss Andy Stanley has taught me, “vision leaks.” As a leader myself, I’ve learned just how true that is. At Watermarke, it feels like I am constantly carrying our vision in a bucket that is full of holes. If I am not cognizant of the leak, the bucket will quickly run dry. If and when that happens, growth not only stops, but the entire organization can begin to turn inward and die.

The reason we neglect the vision is understandable. Organizations are complicated and require a lot of time and attention, especially in the areas of daily execution. Every leader is tempted to focus too much on the details of the organization—the what, how, and who. What are we doing today? What are we doing next? How should it be executed? How should we create the next service? Who is responsible for the what we just decided?

The natural bent is for a leader to become enamored with details to the neglect of why the details are there in the first place. Keeping the vision front and center keeps the organization tracking in the right direction.

Question for Introspection: Is vision the driving force in our organization, church, and team?

7. Be a learner.

Leaders are learners, and you can quote me or any of the 5,000 others who have said the same. It’s just common sense, I guess. If we expect our organization to keep growing, we need to keep growing in tandem.

Committing to a lifetime of learning is beneficial in many ways, but when it comes to organizational leadership, it is a requirement for success. A growing organization grows in complexity, requiring more difficult decisions and leadership choices. A leader who does not actually pursue personal growth will find themselves outpaced by the organization. When that happens, a barrier to growth is erected which cannot be moved until the leader catches up or a new leader moves in.

Learning opportunities abound, and in today’s world, options have never been more accessible. Books, podcasts, and conferences are always great options. But learning from others in your industry and outside your industry will prove useful. Learn to ask great questions and you’ll never have a shortage of learning opportunities.

I wrote another post about learning from outside industries if that is helpful.

Question for Introspection: How much time do I devote to learning?

8. Work on your junk.

What you don’t know will not only kill you, it will also kill your organizational growth. Every leader comes into organizational life with some junk to deal with, and there are few things better than point leadership to surface our baggage.

If I am encouraging you to work on it, I might as well do it, too. I recently realized through some self-introspection that I care way too much about recognition. When I preach, I care too much about what people thought of the message and too little about how God might have use the message to help others. When you care more about what others think than you care about others themselves, you have a problem.

So I’m dealing with it—with professional help.

What junk is in your heart that needs to be unearthed and handled? If you allow your personal issues to stay hidden, it will limit your effectiveness and will ultimately impact your organization. Bringing it to the surface is hard work, and acknowledging it is there feels terrible, but it’s not worth the barriers it will create in your organization to ignore the issue.

Question for Introspection: What junk do you need to unpack? Are you in counseling?

9. Swallow your pride.

We’ll save the best for last. Or the biggest for last: Pride. Pride destroys everything it touches in time. Pride destroys relationships, families, and organizations. A prideful leader thinks more of himself or herself than they should, and they refuses to listen to others. Pride sits at the core of destructive organizational leadership, because it prevents personal growth, which will always negatively impact organizational growth.

It doesn’t matter how successful a church is; when the leadership begins to lead from a place of pride, the end is near.

To combat pride, leaders simply need to become publicly honest and transparent, because honesty and transparency conceives humility. Nobody believes a leader who pretends to have it all together, because people are smart enough to know having it all together is not possible. People by nature are messed up and want to hide their mess. Humble leaders acknowledge and own what’s evident to everyone else.

Gavin Adams
Gavin Adams believes the local church is the most important organization on the planet, and he is helping to transform them into places unchurched people love to attend. As the Lead Pastor of Watermarke Church, (a campus of North Point Ministries), Watermarke has grown from 400 to 4000 attendees in five years. A student of leadership, communication, church and faith, Gavin shares his discoveries through speaking and consulting. Follow him on Twitter or at his blog.