Churches are notorious for getting stuck and plateauing. We tend to answer questions that people were asking 15 years ago. We are drawn to tradition and have a hard time letting go. We operate by doing what we did last year – and we’re really grasping for something from the past after coming through the pandemic. But it is possible to move forward when you realize you are stuck.
In an interview on The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, Tony Morgan articulated the five main reasons churches get stuck:
1. No Clear Vision
Church leaders must work toward a compelling vision that follows God’s heart for the church to continually reach people. I’ve heard it said that vision is not invented but discovered. After seeking God, we must do the hard work of clearly articulating the vision for our church. To rally the congregation, the vision must:
- Have a central and focused purpose.
- Be specific.
- Contain a built-in measurement or contain an initiative.
- We want to be a church of 500 within five years.
- We want to build a building to help with the unmet needs of our community, including food, finances, and family care
Without a clear, concise vision, it’s difficult for the church to move forward.
2. No Clear Discipleship Path
People need a clear path to follow as they become connected to a church. Too often, a church will have programs, opportunities, and invitations without a clear next step for newcomers. This leads to newcomers needing to figure out how to get involved and with whom to connect with the risk of being pulled in too many directions. Clarifying the steps you want a newcomer to take, and packaging and publishing them, is crucial for helping new folks and everyone involved in helping people get connected. You want to get people from the streets to the seats, move them into meaningful ministry, and ultimately into leadership. What action steps are you inviting people to take to get there?
Our church’s first step is for newcomers to attend a Connect Event with the pastors and staff over lunch. From there, the next step is to attend a Membership Lunch. Around that same time, we invite them to join a Journey Group, assess their gifts for ministry, and begin to serve in the mission of the church – inviting people on a journey with Jesus.
3. Inward Focus
Inward focus can quickly cause a church to get stuck. By nature, we tend to focus on the people who are already there – people in our church or on our rolls. What about others in our community? Student ministries often focus on those who show up. What about the potential for including students from all schools around your community? The more inward-focused we think, the smaller we will grow.
One remedy for thinking about who else may come is to act twice your size. Keep your eye on the community and region. Remind people to invite others. Make sure they know the church is an organization that exists for those outside of it. Membership isn’t a privilege; it’s a responsibility to serve like Jesus does – reaching out to the world. Pray for your church to have an outward focus. The pastor needs to lead this charge.
4. Too Complex
The more complex your church, the more difficult it will be to thrive. If you have too many people making simple decisions, you will get bogged down. A large and cumbersome committee structure can hold your church back. Figure out ways to streamline and make your church more nimble. If your bulletin is full of these ministries that pull people in many directions, you have a complex ministry and probably are having trouble getting focused. Sunday bulletins should be focused on the process of discipleship – one or two things to take the next step.
Thom Rainer’s book, Simple Church has ideas for taking away the complexity in the mission of the church.
5. Weak Leadership
Weak leadership plays out in two primary ways: People without the gift of leadership are in positions of major leadership; and/or gifted leaders are not empowered to lead. Church leaders must help pastors determine where they fall in this spectrum. Do the pastor, staff and leaders have the authority to lead diligently? Have they identified people who may not be gifted in leadership and offered to help them lead, give them support, and/or move them to a more suited position?
Leadership is one of the gifts mentioned in the Bible (Romans 12:8). People with this gift are called to lead diligently. Many gifted leaders may be sitting in pews without realizing the need or without being asked to use their gifts to help influence the church.
How To Get Un-Stuck
Hoping to get un-stuck isn’t enough. As Tony Morgan said in the interview, hope is not a strategy. If we realize we are stuck, we must do the hard work of backing up and getting down to the foundations:
- Why do we exist as a church? This gets us to the heart of the mission.
- Where do we believe God is calling us as a church? This gets us closer to a clear vision.
- What actions will move us toward the vision and help us accomplish the goal? Begin to work on those actions.
Finally, your church needs to be praying and praying a lot. Awakening, revival, and personal heart transformation never happen with a strategic plan, but by prayer through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray today and call your church to pray.
(Thanks to Carey Nieuwhof for his great podcast!)