Why Churches don’t Grow: #1 Lack of Vision

Stuckness is no respecter of the “brand” or “flavor” of a church. All kinds of churches across America are stuck. Large churches, small churches, old churches, new churches, Baptist churches, Methodist churches, Nazarene churches, Presbyterian church and even non-denominational churches are stuck. In fact Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources has stated in his research that:

“Eight out of ten of the approximately 400,000 churches in the United States are declining or have plateaued.”

While there are all kinds of reasons that churches end up stuck, at the Unstuck Group we’ve identified 5 key contributors that lead to churches being stuck. Through working with churches across America we’ve observed these contributors over and over and over again. In the next few blog posts I’ll be sharing them with you.

The first contributor that leads to a church becoming stuck is a “Lack of Vision Focus.”

An old Japanese proverb says, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” There are a lot of churches out there that are living a nightmare because while there may be ministry activity, that ministry activity is not aligned to move the whole church towards accomplishing a clear vision.

But how do you know if you have a vision problem? Here are 6 indicators that you may have a vision problem at your church.

1. Tinkering with Tactics

Often I’ll see churches that have a vision problem begin to tinker with tactics instead of the core issue of vision. They’ll change a worship service time, begin or end a ministry, or attempt to copy the success of others. All of this is done in an attempt to find a silver bullet solution to get things growing and going in the right direction again.

2. Obsession with Excellence

Sometimes I’ll see churches that think if they just did what they were doing better, with more excellence, things would improve. But churches that obsess with excellence (or the pursuit of perfection) and think excellence is the solution are often avoiding dealing with a lack of vision. After all if you wait until something is perfect before you bring it to market, it will never get to market. And until you deal with the core issue of vision you will never have clarity on what it is you should actually be doing with excellence. If you end up doing the wrong thing better you’re just going to get to the wrong place faster.

3. Decision Making Stalls

When decision-making is slow, internal communication is cumbersome, and there is a gap between decisions and implementation it usually points to a structural issue. However what’s beneath the structural problem is really a vision problem. Clear vision provides everyone in the organization with a clear picture of how to make decisions and to behave. The clearer the vision the faster you can go.

4. Ministry Silos

Another common challenge that I see in churches that are stuck is ministry silos. Another word for this is departmentalization. Multiple unique individual ministries operating under one roof. Instead of working with one another, ministries end up competing for volunteers, budget resources, facility space, announcement time, and so on. Ministry silos are a sure sign of a vision problem. Because there isn’t a strong enough or clear enough vision for the church, each ministry ends up coming up with their own unique vision to chase after.

5. Staff Turnover

There are a lot of reasons churches experience staff turnover, and a vision problem is one of them. High capacity leaders who aren’t in a position to affect their destiny or “have a seat at the table,” are usually the first ones to go. While they’re eager to move the ball down the field, they’ll be the first ones to leave if you don’t provide them a way to keep score and know if they’re winning or not. High capacity leaders are attracted to big, clear, actionable, and attainable vision. If you don’t have one, you won’t have the other very long.

6. The Driving Value becomes “Take Care of who is Here”

When a vision problem sets in for some amount of time a natural drift begins to take place. Because there is no “next hill” to take the overarching value begins to move towards, “taking care of who is already here.” This becomes a bit of a downward spiral and “self-fulfilling prophecy,” so to speak. The more a church focuses on who is already here, the less vision there is for reaching who isn’t here which inevitably means there will be less people here to take care of.

Need help addressing the vision problem at your church? The Strategic Operating Process that we lead churches through at the Unstuck Group will help your church clarify your mission, vision, and core strategies—and then realize it through prioritized action initiatives.

Photo Credit: heanster via Compfight cc

Posted in Leadership


  1. Is Your Church STUCK with an Insider-Focus? - ChurchPlants - May 17, 2015

    […] week I started a series of blog posts about the 5 key contributors that lead to 80% of churches in America being stuck or in decline. […]

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image