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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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