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Why Churches Don’t Grow: #4 Complexity is Constricting

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This week we’ll be wrapping up a series of blog posts about the 5 key contributors that lead to 80% of churches in America being stuck or in decline. These key contributors have been observed repeatedly in our work with churches at the Unstuck Group. And while churches get stuck and decline for all kinds of reasons, these 5 key contributors are more often than not to blame.

If you lead well enough, partnering with the Holy Spirit, over an extended period of time and your church grows then eventually you’re going to be leading a less nimble and more complex organization than you ever intended. It’s exciting when you’re adding staff, adding ministries, building buildings, and more and more people are showing up. But it’s not as exciting when things get really complex and the fun stops and growth begins to slow down. You know complexity is constricting growth when you experience the following:

1. Decision-Making Slows Down

Complexity can slow decision-making, and when decision-making slows progress slows and momentum fades. Structures that supported you and helped you when you were smaller in size can actually be a lid to growth later. For instance I commonly see smaller churches have a Staff Team that implements day-to-day ministry, an Elder Board that is supposed to be thinking about the future and living at a 30,000 foot view, and a Board of Directors that is responsible for the physical assets of the church property, finances, and often times HR as well. While that structure can serve you well when the church is smaller it becomes a nightmare to try and get everyone on the same page and make decisions in a timely manner as the church grows.

2. Unable to Set and Meet Goals

Another symptom that complexity is constricting growth is the inability to set and meet goals in a timely manner. If you’re unable to agree upon what the next steps are you’ve got a complexity issue. If there’s a gap between goals that are agreed to and then what’s actually acted upon and accomplished, you’ve got a complexity issue.

3. Cross Communication

When team members receive a different set of instructions from different leaders on the team there is a complexity issue. Mixed messages and conflicting sets of instructions can be frustrating to a team and are a symptom that complexity is constricting growth at your church.

4. Confusion

When people don’t know what to do next complexity is constricting growth. Clarity not only combats confusion but is the antidote to complexity. Putting the right systems in place help provide clarity as to what we need to do next to get where we want to go.

5. Running in Quicksand

Ever feel like you were running in quicksand? Ever feel like you’re expending a lot of energy but you’re just not getting anywhere? Not only are you stuck but it’s actually getting worse, you’re sinking. It’s possible to have so many systems and policies in place that the complexity of it all kills you. Policies are not the goal. The vision is the goal. All of your structures, policies and systems should be designed to get you there. If they don’t, then get rid of them.

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Posted in Leadership

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Why Churches Don’t Grow: #3 No Spiritual Maturity Pathway

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Today we’re continuing this series of blog posts about the 5 key contributors that lead to 80% of churches in America being stuck or in decline. These key contributors have been observed repeatedly in our work with churches at the Unstuck Group. While churches get stuck and decline for all kinds of reasons, these 5 key contributors are the consistent culprits.

Many churches are stuck or declining not because they have a difficult time attracting or introducing new people to Jesus but because they have no plan in place to move people towards spiritual maturity or the plan they’re working is broken. Here are a couple of indicators that there is a breakdown somewhere in your spiritual maturity pathway:

1. Content is Mistaken for the Solution

Neither Jesus nor the Apostle Paul defined spiritual maturity as knowledge. Content is not the solution. It’s not what you know; it’s what you do with what you know. It’s an issue of obedience and application. Is your church actually helping people apply the Bible to their everyday life or are you just teaching bible classes?

2. There are Too Many Steps

If the road map to spiritual maturity has been defined at your church and it’s too long or has too many steps it simply won’t work. People will quit on you. Then you will have the tendency to think the few people you end up with at the end of the arduous process you’ve build are the spiritual elite. Meanwhile many people who could have been brought along with you have been left by the wayside to figure it out on their own. Jesus only spent 3 years with His disciples and then turned them loose to change the world. Most churches today would never let the disciples serve in a leadership role, much less lead the church because they hadn’t “walked with Jesus long enough.” We’re not building Fords, we’re building disciples. Disciplemaking is not an assembly line.

3. There is No Clear Next Step

When someone says yes to following Jesus have you defined the next step for them to take? Then what happens next? Is the process working? Each step in the process needs to be clear, natural and intuitive. Has your church taken the time to map out and answer the question of “What’s my next step?” Then ask that question over and over again until you’ve arrived at some point of “spiritual maturity.”

4. People aren’t Giving or Serving

You’re never more like Jesus than when you give or when you serve; because giving and serving are the very essence of what it means to live like Jesus. Does your church treat volunteering as discipleship? Does your church not only provide opportunities for people to give and serve but train them how to do both well?

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Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation

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Why Churches Don’t Grow: #2 The Inward Focused Church

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Last 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. These key contributors have been observed repeatedly in our work with churches at the Unstuck Group. While churches get stuck and decline for all kinds of reasons, these 5 key contributors are the consistent culprits.

One of the most dangerous places a church can be in their life cycle is when the ministry they are doing is having a big impact with insiders (people who already know Jesus and are inside the church) but a low impact with outsiders (people who don’t know Jesus yet). It’s dangerous because it’s comfortable. It feels like things are going well and you have momentum because people are happy, they’re regularly attending, and they seem to be “all in” with what you’re doing. But if you aren’t reaching new people, your church or ministry is already taking steps towards unhealthiness and decline. So how do you know if your church is drifting towards becoming insider focused? Here are a couple of indicators:

1. Insider Language

The most obvious way to tell if a church is insider focused or outsider focused is the language that they choose to use. It either says that the church is “inclusive” or “exclusive.” And it’s important because words build worlds. There are all kinds of ways this goes wrong in churches. Preaching as though everyone already knows Jesus and comes to the room with basic Bible knowledge, coming up with cool names and brands for ministries that mean nothing to people outside the church, and mentioning people from stage by name without explaining who they are just a couple of them. Two big principles to keep in mind when it comes to the language you choose to use in your church are: clear always trumps cute or cool and you’re always better off just calling things what they are

2. A Poor Guest Experience

Is your church prepared for guests? My wife and I were attending a church for the first time. We have kids, a lot of them. So the first thing we were looking for was where to take our children. But we couldn’t seem to find any clear signage to point us in the right direction or any guest service volunteers that were easily identifiable to ask where to go. Finally, I saw someone walking by and asked where to take my children. Instead of stopping to help us they continued to walk past us and shout and pointed down the hallway. Come to find out later this person was a Children’s Ministry Staff Member. The ironic thing is they had a great children’s ministry. Developing a culture of guest services in your church begins with developing a culture of guest services among your staff.

3. Low Percentage of Baptisms

The average healthy church in America baptizes 10% of their total weekend attendance each year. That is to say in an outsider focused growing church of 500 people (weekend attendance: worship services and kids), on average that church would baptize 50 people in a year. I always think to myself how ironic it is when I hear an insider-focused church criticize growing churches, as if to say “They are doing something wrong and aren’t preaching the Word.” Essentially saying that if they were doing things “right” and “preaching the Word” they wouldn’t be growing.

4. High Giving-Per-Head

It may sound counter-intuitive but in growing outsider focused churches I consistently see giving-per-head numbers around $25-$40 per person. In churches that are stuck and insider focused it’s not uncommon to see giving-per-head numbers between $40-$60 per person. Churches that are filled with people who have been around for a while, know Jesus and are biblically educated to tithe consistently have a strong giving-per-head number. Churches that are reaching a lot of new people are consistently going to lag in their giving.

5. Risk Avoidance Culture

New things attract new people and new churches reach new people. When a church is starting up it’s all about risk (church planting by it’s very nature is risky). Over time however it’s easier (and less risky) to do ministry programs to keep church people happy than it is to continue to reach out to people who are outside of the church. When is the last time your church risked something big for God?

Interested in digging into this topic more with your team? Follow this link for a FREE resource to use with your team.

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Posted in Leadership

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A Large Multisite Church in Phoenix is Hiring a Children’s Pastor

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I’m pleased to announce a new Staff Search. Sun Valley Community Church, the church I have the honor of serving at, is beginning a national search for a Children’s Pastor to serve on our Tempe Campus. Sun Valley began as a church plant in 1990 in Chandler, Arizona. Over the years Sun Valley has grown into a large multi-site church in the Phoenix area. Currently there are three campuses located in Casa Grande, Gilbert, and Tempe with a total weekend attendance of nearly 6,000 people and in recent years was named by Outreach Magazine as one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in America. The Tempe Campus was the result of a merger in October 2011 with Bethany Community Church. In the merger Sun Valley acquired a 16-acre, 8-building campus with over 100,000 sq. ft. under roof. At present, the campus attendance is 1,200 people but when fully utilized, the campus capacity will accommodate more than 6,000 people. Sun Valley was recently featured in a new book by Leadership Network about church mergers: Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work. To learn more about that story click here Part-1 and Part-2.

Interested in learning more? Continue reading below…

Continue Reading…


Posted in Staffing

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

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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.

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Posted in Leadership
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