Tag Archive - inward

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10 Signs your Church is Headed for Decline

When I was young my Aunt purchased a brand new car. I didn’t have a car yet so even though it wasn’t red and it had 4 doors instead of 2 I thought it was really cool. And because she had a car and I didn’t she by default was cool too.

Everything was cool until she forgot to change the oil. Truth be told, she never changed the oil. From the day she drove the car off the lot to the day it died (which was much, much sooner than it should have), that car never experienced a single oil change. Routine maintenance wasn’t her strong suite. And most of us are just like her. We put off going to the doctor for our annual check-up, we postpone going to the dentist for our 6-month check up, and yes we put off routine maintenance on our automobiles.

We just keep going until it hurts enough that we are forced to stop and go in for a check up.

Unfortunately most church leadership teams operate the same way. They put off routine check ups and maintenance until it’s too late and decline starts to set in. What if there were early warning signs (flashing lights on the dashboard) that helped indicate that trouble was ahead? In my experience Coaching Church Leaders and Consulting with Churches across the country I’ve seen the following 10 indicators of an impending decline over and over again.

1. High Staff Turnover

When a church has trouble keeping staff, the church is in trouble. Some attrition is natural over time as the church grows, the staffing structures adjust, leaders hit lids, or vision shifts. But when turnover shifts from being a season to being the norm there is a cultural problem at play.

2. Fuzzy Vision

Without a doubt the single most life-threatening indicator that a church is in trouble is a lack of clarity. Clarity provides a church with the power to make decisions efficiently and align the organizational components of the church to move forward. If you don’t know where you’re going, and can’t state it clearly, you’ve got no chance to get there.

3. Complexity

When the church is growing it’s exciting! Staff members are hired, ministries are started, buildings are built and people are meeting Jesus! But it’s not as exciting when all of that growth and fun naturally lead to complexity. Growth naturally leads to complexity and complexity slows everything down.

4. Inward Focus

I’ve said this many times before, the most dangerous place 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 moving towards unhealthiness and decline.

5. Defending the Past

When a church is busy defending the past instead of building the future it is headed for decline. When a church becomes risk averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble. The real danger in playing defense is that it becomes a cultural mindset that actually stands in opposition to the Gospel. You see the Gospel was never meant to be or does it need to be defended it’s intended to be unleashed.

6. No Strategic Plan

Strategy answers the question, “How are we going to get there?” It’s planning for tomorrow today. Little is more demoralizing to a church staff team than a bunch of empty inspirational talk that never materializes into real courageous action.

7. Leadership Void

There are a lot of challenges facing the modern church, but perhaps the greatest challenge is a leadership challenge. The modern church is simply an anti-leadership organization. It doesn’t attract, develop, or keep leaders. Leaders by their very nature are change agents. Because the unstated goal of most churches is to preserve the past, church leaders often times find themselves fighting the family instead of fighting the enemy.

8. No Spiritual Maturity Pathway

I’ve observed that some 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.

9. Policy Trumps People

Policies shrink the box of creativity. They set the standard for how we do what we do every time we do it. Policies tell everybody in the organization what they can’t do, and leaders are solution oriented not excuse or problem oriented. A church with a lot of policies will consistently find it difficult to attract and keep good leaders. It’s very possible to policy your way right into decline.

10. Volunteer Scarcity

One of the things we’ve learned through our research at the Unstuck Group is that the average church in America is mobilizing somewhere around 43% of their adult and student population in volunteer opportunities. The reason it is so critical for churches to address this and take steps to move their culture in the right direction is because volunteering is discipleship. It’s not about filling roles and getting ministry done through people. It’s not about what we want from people, but rather what we want for people. It is discipleship. Because volunteering and living an others first life is the very essence of what it means to live like Jesus.

It would probably be worth some time discussing this list with the Sr. Leadership Team at your church and evaluate where your church measures up in each of these 10 areas of health.

What can we do about it? Engage the Unstuck Group in a Ministry Health Assessment. Discover islands of strength to build on and areas of opportunity to work on before they become serious and decline sets in.

By the way…leave a comment; I’d love to hear about what you’d add to the list!


Posted in Leadership

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5 Reasons Churches Don’t Grow

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. You can click on the following headings below to learn more about each of the 5 key reasons that churches get stuck. So here they are in no particular order:

#1 Lack of Vision

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 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.

#2 Inward Focused

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 moving towards unhealthiness and decline.

#3 No Clearly Defined Spiritual Maturity Pathway

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.

#4 Complexity

It’s exciting when you’re adding staff, adding ministries, building buildings, and more and more people are meeting Jesus. But it’s not as exciting when things get really complex and the fun stops and growth begins to slow down. Growth by it’s very nature leads to lids of complexity.

#5 Lack of Strong Leadership

The greatest crisis facing the modern day church is a crisis of leadership. The modern day Church simply doesn’t attract, develop, or keep leaders. Leaders by their very nature are change agents. Because the unstated goal of most churches is to preserve the past, church leaders often times find themselves fighting the family instead of fighting the enemy.

Photo Credit: heanster via Compfight cc


Posted in Leadership

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

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.

Photo Credit: BrianTuchalskiPhotography via Compfight cc


Posted in Leadership

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Early Warning Signs Your Church is in Trouble

Many churches have a tendency to measure attendance and money as their primary indicators for success, and not necessarily always in that order. There are a lot of other indicators that churches can measure to understand if they’re winning or not (baptisms, 1st time guests, and how many people are in bible studies just to name a few). Early indicators that a church is in trouble are often more difficult to detect however. Similar to the way many life threatening diseases behave a church can look healthy on the outside while wasting away on the inside. And like a life threatening disease it can be very difficult to detect. Here are a few early indicators your church should be paying attention to:

Fuzzy about the Future

Perhaps the single most life-threatening indicator that a church is in trouble is a lack of clarity. Clarity provides a church with the power to make decisions efficiently and align the organizational components of the church to move forward. If you don’t know where you’re going, and can’t state it clearly, you’ve got no chance to get there.

High Rate of Turnover

When a church has trouble keeping staff and volunteers, the church is in trouble. Turnover is not only an issue when it comes to the paid staff of the church but also the volunteers. When turnover becomes the norm there is a cultural problem at play.

Playing Defense

When a church becomes risk averse and starts making choices based on who they are going to keep as opposed to who they are going to reach, the church is in trouble. The real danger in playing defense is that it becomes a cultural mindset that actually stands in opposition to the Gospel. You see the Gospel was never meant to be or does it need to be defended it’s intended to be unleashed.

Inward Focus

When a church uses language that you have to be an educated Christian to understand, has a high giving-per-head ratio, is expecting nonbelievers to jump in on and participate in ministry programs that long-time believers participate in, have a poor guest experience and haven’t thought through way-finding…that church is in trouble. For more on being an insider focused church follow this link.

Think your church might be in trouble? The Unstuck Group can help! We help churches grow their impact through church consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. Follow this link to learn more!


Posted in Leadership