1. Insider Focus
The most common reason churches get stuck is they focus on their insiders. And it’s rooted in this fundamental question: “What is the church for?” I write about this topic a lot, so I won’t regurgitate it here, but just search “insider focus” and you’ll get a grocery list of stuff. Bottom line is a majority of churches that are stuck get that way and stay that way because they are focused on inside members instead of visitors and people outside the church. They would resist the diagnosis and the label, but their practices, language, guest services (or lack thereof) and low number of annual conversions and baptisms tell a different story.
2. Staffing and Structure
A start-up church that is setting up and tearing down in a rented space, the medium-sized church, the megachurch and multisite church aren’t just different in size or economies of scale. They are completely different organizations. To get through these barriers and stay past these barriers takes more than momentum, it takes changing the staffing and organizational structure of the church--and often the way the church board operates in relationship to the staff. Do you have a staffing plan to get you where you want to go? Do you know what structure best fits your size and strategies?
A majority of churches do not organize around a central vision. Many don’t have a clearly stated, meaningful, actionable and relevant mission or vision statement or organizational values. Or if they do, they are buried somewhere in a drawer on a piece of paper. It’s the rare church that actually organizes the staffing strategy, budgeting process, ministry calendar, weekend teaching schedule and communication strategies to synergistically move the whole church in a particular direction. There is no clear plan to move from where they are to where God wants them to be. And a failure to plan is planning to fail.
I love what Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, has said about leadership, “Everyone gets better when the leader gets better.” A leader can be a lid on a church. In other words, sometimes churches get stuck because the leader is stuck. And it’s one thing to get stuck and a whole other thing to stay stuck. Leaders need to invest in their own leadership gifts and keep growing or they’ll end up being the reason the church gets stuck.
This may upset some speaking pastors, but preaching is a gift. Not everyone has it. Right? The other truth is not everyone who has a preaching gift has that gift given in the same amount. There are some really great preachers. And guess what? Mediocre teaching. Even good, solid teaching is a barrier to growth and can lead to being stuck if great teaching isn’t developed or hired. Your church can get stuck if the teaching is stuck.
6. Weekend Experience
For most Americans, the weekend experience is the main draw and large deciding factor of whether or not they connect and participate. That total street-to-seat experience that people have when they come to your church is really important. It’s why your children’s ministry grows (kids don’t drive themselves to church because they like the crafts that much). It’s why people say things like, “I’m not sure what it is, but something special is going on here.” New people bring new people when the experience is going well. But when it’s stuck, nothing is going to change.
I rarely come across a church that says they have all of the volunteers they need. I also rarely come across a church that makes it easy for people to get connected and start volunteering. Churches should view volunteering as part of the discipleship process—when you serve you actually are becoming more like Jesus. In most churches the same people are still doing everything they’ve always done.
Many churches are stuck because of finances. Some are overextended in debt with no clear plan to pay it off. Many don’t have and haven’t thought through a clear strategy to engage the givers in their churches. Few have a clear and effective budgeting process, much less know what financial health looks like in a church setting. Many don’t teach about generosity for fear of sounding as if all they care about is money. Your church doesn’t have a generous culture, and as a result of the kingdom isn’t taking the ground that it should be. If you don’t have a clear plan to manage today’s resources for tomorrow, your church is probably stuck financially.
9. The Past
I commonly see churches that are still enamored with past practices and ministry programs which worked years ago to connect new people to Jesus, but now only serve to keep the committed comfortable. Most churches don’t know how to gracefully put old ministry programs out to pasture. Unfortunately, as a result, those same churches continue to engage in ministry practices, keeping them from being successful in the future.
10. Next Steps
Many churches haven’t defined next steps for people who are attending their church. What is the next step coming out of a sermon? Now that I’ve attended for the first time as a guest, what do I do? How do I get into a Bible study? How do I get involved in volunteering? How do I financially contribute? Has your church defined the win regarding spiritual maturity and what you hope people will look like, and have you clearly charted a road map to help them get there?