In church planting, and in learning how to grow a church, we defied the rules of growth for several years. There are “rules,” which when they happen will naturally stall growth. We were convinced they didn’t apply to us. What we learned is it just takes more time—sometimes.
Recognizing these early and addressing them is key to sustaining growth and momentum.
Here are seven natural barriers to growth:
Facilities: There is something to the 80 percent rule of capacity. When your attendance in service reaches 80 percent full, you will eventually begin to stall. It’s not immediate, but it is eventual. In church planting, we defied this one for several years. We were convinced it did not apply to us. And it didn’t for a while. I am still convinced it can be addressed without the only solution being building bigger facilities, but leadership must be intentional. One way we addressed it was to use “fullness” as a part of our vision-casting. It works for a time but eventually one of these other barriers begins to occur.
Mindset: When the resistance to change is greater than the need for change, you can expect growth to stall. It doesn’t matter if it’s a church plant or an established church—eventually people get comfortable with the way things are and traditions begin to take shape. When you begin to alter those traditions, some people will naturally resist. To continue to grow, leaders must consistently challenge the norm and encourage healthy change.
Burn-out: It could be volunteer or staff burn-out. In a church plant, after people have spent so much time setting up and tearing down, eventually they grow tired. The key is to find ways to motivate them again or continually add to the volunteer base. And doing both is probably the best option.
Complacency: When people no longer seem to care if growth occurs or not. They may be satisfied or passive, but their attitude is always contagious. This is why leaders must continually cast and recast vision. It’s also why we must continually embrace change, because “new” stirs momentum.
Country Club small group Bible studies: I’ve noticed this one is often overlooked in the established church—especially when church growth has already plateaued. Whenever a group sits together with no new people entering long enough, they become closed to outsiders—even if they think they are not. Newcomers can’t compete with the inside jokes and confidential information the group has already developed together. One way to address this is by continually starting new groups. Some churches “force” or strongly encourage groups to break up and start over with new people.
Leadership void: Continued growth requires new leadership. There will need to be new initiatives, creative ways to do things, and simply replacement of the leaders who move or quit. One key to sustain growth is a successful leadership development program.
Leadership lid: This one is the capacity of the senior leadership. If a leader is controlling, for example, there will be a cap. The church will be defined to the leader’s personal abilities. When leaders realize they have reached their personal lid, they must be humble enough to admit it and seek help from others. Empowering and delegating become even more important. (Of course, they always are important.)
These are some I have observed—and experienced personally. I’m certain there are others. The biggest mistake I see leaders make, and I’ve done this as well, is to deny they are issues. They may be subtle for a time, but if you wait until they are obvious the damage will be much more difficult to address.