Top 10 Reasons Churches get Stuck


For more than 18 years I’ve been working full-time in a local church setting. The last 13 of those have been in large mega-church and multi-site settings. I’ve had the unique opportunity to work with an incredible team of people at a the Unstuck Group a successful consulting firm specializing in helping churches get unstuck. Over this span of time I’ve seen churches get and stay stuck for all kinds of reasons but there are 10 catalysts for church stuckness that I see come up over and over again. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Insider Focus

Alright so I said these weren’t in any particular order, well that’s mostly true. All except for this one. The most common area where I see churches get stuck is this issue of being insider focused. And it’s rooted in this fundamental question, “What is the church for?” I feel like I write about this topic a lot so I won’t regurgitate it here, just search “insider focus” in the search bar to your right 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’re focused on insiders instead of outsiders. They would resist that diagnosis and the label, but they’re practices, language, guest services (or lack thereof), and low number of annual conversations and baptisms tell a different story.

2. Staffing and Structure

There are very common growth barriers that churches hit and get stuck at. A start up church that is setting up and tearing down in rented space, the medium sized church, the megachurch and multisite church aren’t 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 times 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?

3. Misalignment

A majority of churches do not organize around a central vision. Many don’t have a clearly stated, meaningful, actionable, and relevant mission statement, vision statement, or organizational values. Or if they do they’re on a piece of paper in a drawer somewhere. 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.

4. Leadership

I love what Bill Hybles, the Sr. Pastor at Willow Creek has said about leadership, “Everyone gets better when the leader gets better.” A leader can be the 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.

5. Teaching

So I may be about to get some speaking pastors a bit upset. But speaking/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 that are simply great preachers. And guess what. Mediocre teaching, even good solid teaching is a barrier to growth and can lead to stuckness if great teaching isn’t developed or hired. Your church may be stuck because the teaching is stuck.

6. Weekend Experience

A lot of ministry segment leaders aren’t going to like what I’m about to say here, but it’s true, even if you don’t like it. In North America, it’s all about the weekend experience. That total street to seat experience that people have when they come to your church. It’s why your children’s ministry is growing (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 there is something special going on here.” New people bring new people when the weekend experience is going well. But when it’s stuck, there are no new people.

7. Volunteers

I rarely come across a church that says they have all the volunteers they need. I also rarely come across a church that makes it easy for people to get connected and start volunteering and they view volunteering as a part of the discipleship process. Meaning that when you serve you are actually becoming more like Jesus. In most churches the same people are still doing everything that they’ve always done. And until things change, nothing is going to change.

8. Finances

Many churches are stuck because of finances. Some are over extended 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 like all they care about is money. Your church doesn’t have a generous culture and as a result 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 that 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 that were successful in the past but keep 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 now? How do I get into a Bible Study? How do I get involved 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?

What are some other reasons you’ve seen churches get stuck? What would you add to the list?

Does this list resonate with you? Is your church stuck in one or more of these areas? It might be worth a conversation with the Unstuck Group, we specialize in helping churches get unstuck!

Photo Credit: tricky (rick harrison) via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership


Your First 90 Days

burnt matches

Some have said that your first 90 days in a new job are your most important 90 days in that job. After all in those first 90 days a new leader sets the tone for and posture from which they are going to lead. They begin to reveal how they will interact with other team members, how they make decisions, their communication style, and their ability to assess the landscape and implement change. During the first 90 days leaders are literally setting the tone and the underpinnings for the culture that they are going to build moving forward.

There are two distinct veins of thought when you’re beginning a new job, and they’re polar opposites. The first is to change everything you can during the first 90 days because you’ll never get another window of opportunity like this again. After all the reason that you’re in the room is because the last person couldn’t affect the change necessary to move things forward and so change is to be expected with a new hire right? The second approach is to be patient, seek first to understand, and chart a clear course of action to begin to implement change and build the culture you hope to become reality in the organization you find yourself leading. My encouragement whenever possible is to go with option #2. While not every job situation will allow you the luxury of seeking understanding first, some situations demand immediate change and definitive decision making, taking the time to seek organizational and cultural understanding will allow you to execute the right change, with the right people and resources, at the right time, with the right approach. Get one of those four out of order and you could be in trouble.

In his book, “The First 90 Days,” author Michael Watkins writes…

“There are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to diagnose the business situation accurately and clarify its challenges and opportunities. Start-ups, for instance – of a new product, process, plant, or completely new business – share challenges quite different from those you would face while turning around a product, process, or plant in serious trouble. A clear diagnosis of the situation is an essential prerequisite for developing your action plan.”

To be sure, each unique situation that you walk into will require a unique approach. In “The First 90 Days,” author Michael Watkins unpacks what it means to develop a strategy that matches the unique situation that you’re walking into.

#1 Start-up: Is this a new team or company?

#2 Turnaround: Is the group in trouble, do you need to help get things back on track?

#3 Realignment: Do you need to revitalize the project, team, or processes?

#4 Sustaining Success: Is this a well-oiled machine that simply needs you to keep moving it in the right direction?

A blessing and a curse of being new to the organization is the gift of fresh eyes. You haven’t been in the organization long enough to catch the disease of the organization, and so you see things others do not. So be honest, sober-minded, go slow when you can, don’t get stuck in minutia, keep first things first, and be decisive when decisions need to be made. You can do this!

Need help developing an actionable strategy to lead from where you are to where God wants you to be? The Unstuck Group helps churches clarify their mission, vision, and core strategies—and then realize it through prioritized action initiatives! Check it out!

Photo Credit: Skley via Compfight cc

Posted in Staffing


You’ve Got to be Stupid to take that Job!


Thinking about taking a new job? Think twice, because you’ve got to be stupid to take that job. And I mean it. There’s a special blend of arrogance and naivety needed to take a new job, especially in church-world.

Arrogance: To believe that you can actually be the one and only special person to walk in the room and change things.

Naivety: To cover up for the fact that you can’t possibly know everything you’re actually getting ready to get yourself into.

There are quite a few biblical characters that demonstrated this same special blend of arrogance and naivety. A couple in particular come to mind.

Joseph was naive enough to share a dream that he had about his brothers bowing down to him. It came off a bit arrogant and he ended up getting beat up and sold into slavery by those same brothers. Then after a while God would use him to save the entire group of people (there weren’t many yet) that would end up being the nation of Israel.

David was arrogant and naive enough to walk onto the battlefield with Goliath. He carried an attitude that cried, “Well of course my God is big enough to do this. What’s wrong with the rest of you guys, why are you afraid?” It came off as complete arrogance.

 Peter was naive enough to act first and think second on many accounts, not least of which was getting out of the boat in the middle of a storm to walk to Jesus on the water. Yea, good thinking Peter.

It takes a bit of stupid faith to follow Jesus, a special blend of arrogance and naivety. Make sure you’ve got it before you say yes to your next church job.

Photo Credit: MïK via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership, Staffing


Church Shopping: Find What You’re Looking For


People church shop. Like it or not when people look for a church they typically go on a bit of a shopping spree to find what they’re looking for. Comparing and measuring teaching, worship style, facilities, kids ministry, general vibe…the list goes on and on. Week after week they walk on church properties with a mental scorecard looking for that special feeling that says, “You’re home.” So here’s how to find what you’re looking for when you’re church shopping.

Worship Style

One of the first things people check out when they come to your church is the music. “Does it give me the goose bumps or make me want to cringe?” But we need to be asking less about the music style and more about what the music is moving people towards. Now I’m not saying that quality doesn’t matter, rather the direction the music moves people matters more. Is it moving people towards Jesus or liking your church? They’re not always the same thing.

Mission & Vision

Most people are looking for a church that cares about what they care about. In other words, will the church support their vision and what they’re passionate about pursuing in life? When church shopping check your vision at the door and see if you can buy into and support the vision of the church first.

Kids & Student Ministries

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard church shoppers make a decision on a church based on the kids or student ministries. Your kids are important and they should be considered in any decision like this. But how often do you allow your kids to lead and make major decisions for the family?


Teaching is a big deal when it comes to church shopping. Did I like the pastor, did I like their presentation, their approach, are they likeable, and so on. Teaching isn’t just about entertainment. Albeit entertainment matters and so does likeability, it’s just a starting point though. The right question to ask: “Is the teaching helpful?” Does it help you move towards Jesus and following Him more closely? Or is it just entertaining?

Photo Credit: yuisotozaki via Compfight cc

Posted in Creative Arts, Leadership


The Difference between Politics and Leadership


If you’ve ever served on a church staff team, if you’ve ever volunteered at a high level in a church, or frankly if you’ve just simply been around church-world for a while you know that churches can be very political. I don’t mean political in the sense of Republican or Democrat, although some churches go down that road too. I mean political in the sense that if you want to get something done it’s all about who you know, who you align yourself with, or what you can offer others in exchange for their support. In short, church politics can be damaging to people in the church, the perception that people outside the church have of Jesus and His followers, and to the mission of Jesus to reconcile the people of the planet to the purposes of God.


Key Word = Confrontation
Leaders confront reality and the status qua with a picture of what should be and a preferred future. They courageously make difficult decisions and are willing to suffer loss for the sake of the mission. Leadership is motivated by what’s best for the organization, not what’s best for an individual or even the leader themselves.


Key Work = Manipulation
People who play politics are motivated by selfish ambition, seeing their dreams come true and advancing their position or status. They want something from people, not for them. Because they lack the experience, character, or gifting to lead; the only tactic they’re left with to get where they want to go is manipulation.

Photo Credit: Vox Efx via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership
Page 1 of 10012345»102030...Last »