Every pastor eventually asks this question: what stops a church from growing?
Pastors ask this question regardless of the size of their church.
It doesn’t matter if the church is a brand-new plant, 15 years old or into its 5th generation of members.
Location makes no difference. Whether their church is in a remote town, bustling thriving city or a small village in a developing country.
Whether the church is staff led, elder led or congregationally governed, pastors ask this question.
Regardless of their ethnicity, age, culture or experience pastors will invariably compare their church and its growth with another church in town. They will ask, why doesn’t my church grow like that church?
My focus church leadership, consulting and coaching is never church growth. In fact, when considering what hinders church growth an unhealthy focus on growth can be a factor.
It’s church health.
So for me, what hinders church growth, is the wrong question.
However, given the fact that pastors ask this question let me try to answer it by considering what hinders church growth.
What Stops a Church From Growing?
If you are in a regional town experiencing an economic downturn or declining in numbers, then it will be hard to grow your church.
In contrast, if you are in an area that is experiencing a boom in population growth then you’re more likely to grow your church.
In my mind location is a key factor.
Churches close to the ocean are also at a location disadvantage.
People will drive 20-30 minutes to attend church. When you are near the ocean then up to 50% of your catchment area does not have any people.
This is a limiting factor for growth.
2. Culture Disconnect
When the culture of the church is vastly different from the culture of the region, then growth is not easy.
You will experience cultural disconnect if your car park is filled with Mercedes while your neighborhood garages are filled with 19-year-old Hyundai sedans.
If you’re in a young family’s suburb and your target audience are hipster young adults then your church’s growth will be limited.
Targeting young adults when you’re in a coastal town filled with retirees is a recipe for disappointment and frustration.
Demographic research is important because it will enable you to understand your community and focus your endeavours
When answering the question, what hinders church growth, location can be a forgotten factor.
3. Inward Focus
Country club churches that focus on the needs of members rarely enjoy growth.
The narcissistic nature of an inward church discourages healthy connection with outsiders and inhibits growth.
Churches focussed on themselves rarely display warm hospitality. They tend to ignore visitors and certainly don’t use visitor connect cards.
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Inwardly focussed churches forget the increasing numbers of unchurched people in our communities.
There has been a significant drift away from church attendance in the western world.
While Africa, South America and Asia have seen explosive church growth, the western world has experienced the opposite.
This alarming trend will only be turned around by church leaders who intentionally give time and resources to helping their members focus on their primary calling of taking the gospel into the world.
Inwards focused churches will never reverse this trend.
Barna group research shows this locked in trend.
4. Energy of the Pastor
If the pastor is weary and exhausted then achieving growth can be difficult.
Pastors can experience this because of ongoing relational conflicts, lack of personal boundaries, or poor management of days off and holidays. Ill health and a lack of positive addictions can drain a leader.
Every pastor feels tired almost every week, so I’m not talking about regulation tiredness but accumulated fatigue.
Pastors need to embrace a rhythm which includes nourishing downtime and exercise. These lifestyle habits are no longer an optional extra. They have become essential items in building sustainability and resilience into a pastors’ world.
Learning to place healthy boundaries around the use of technology will also equip a pastor for the long haul.
I recommend pastors turn their phone off for a minimum of 24 hours each week and unplug from the relentless demands of ministry.
5. Barriers to Involvement in Serving and Small Groups
When new people find it difficult to get into a small group or serve they tend to leave a church.
One pastor told me 93% of their new people leave within one year, unless they join a small group or start serving.
Churches must provide a clear pathway for members to join a small group.
People may come to your church for the location, style, preaching or worship, however they will stay because they have found community.
An annual volunteer recruitment drive can not only boost your serving numbers, it will connect people into the heart of your church.
People thrive when they are serving the Lord on teams and building the local church. The relationships formed on these teams are the glue which enables people to stick with your church.
I think there are occasions when He blows the lid off a church and exponentially grows it regardless of their strategies or programs.
There are times that in His mercy God limits the growth of an unhealthy church.
God places the right leaders in the right situation for the right amount of growth. Our responsibility is to maximize our calling in response to Christ.
My Bottom Line
You could be in the right location with massive energy, connecting with your culture and have strong pathways and still not grow.
I truly believe that churches are designed to grow to their optimum size.
Your church has an optimum size.
Working with these next steps will help you determine what that is your optimum size
What Are Your Next Steps?
1. Answer These Questions
Who am I?
What’s my assignment in Christ?
Where do I live? What’s my context?
What are the opportunities or limitations connected with my location?
Do I have the energy to increase my capacity?
Answering these questions requires you to think sanely and honestly about yourself and the call Christ has given specifically to you.
These questions will push into uncomfortable places and cause you to reflect deeply on your church and its future.
When leaders take the time to reflect they uncover the cultural barriers to growth and prepare themselves for the vital and necessary.
2. Get Outside Perspective
I have people in my world who give me perspective. Real live, in the flesh, people like my good friend Rod Waters who help me see life from different angles.
I’ve also engaged mentors and coaches over the years who have stretched and developed me.
Ask some of your good, trustworthy friends for their perspective.
3. What’s One Thing You Can Shift Today?
What one action could you take today to remove any potential hindrances to you obtaining your optimum size?
You could work on attracting more visitors.
You could employ a part-time visitor’s director.
What about removing barriers to involvement in small groups?
Also, consider more accurately measuring the important elements of your church?
I wish I could post a foolproof actionable list in answering the question, what hinders church growth, and guarantee growth for your church. I think that is an impossible dream.
However, if you take the necessary steps you will position your church for health and growth.