Church growth often feels like a frustrating mystery. One minute everything is progressing nicely, and then suddenly it feels like you have hit a wall. Now all of your church’s energy is expended to simply maintain the plateau that you have reached.
One of the reasons that growth can feel so challenging is that strategies that worked well in the past abruptly stop working. The natural inclination is to pour more effort into what was working before. The plain truth is that you cannot reach certain attendance levels with the same focus, foundation, and techniques as the previous ones.
Mature Christians should be discipling new believers toward maturity.
For instance, it can be a challenge to reach the 500 level with the same strategy that was used to reach 200. There are points where reorganization is required to reach the next plateau.
Here are three areas a church should readdress if they want to cross the 500 threshold.
1. Free up leadership to cast a vision
To get to the 200 level, pastors often have their hands in everything. You typically do not have enough money for staff, and it can be touch-and-go with volunteers. Everything falls into the pastor’s lap. What they are not doing themselves, they are micro-managing. The situation kind of requires it.
At some point, it stops working. The pastor is no longer able to be involved in everything, and stuff starts to feel like it is falling into chaos. On top of that, people can begin to resent it when they feel like pastors are not available like they used to be.
To reach the next plateau, you need to broaden your leadership, and the pastoral team needs to transition toward vision casting. This can be a challenging shift for everyone involved. People can struggle with feeling the pastor is more distant, and it can be hard on some pastoral temperments to shift from a caretaker role into more of a leadership position.
The truth is that there comes the point when a leadership structure has reached its capacity and growth is not possible without some change.
2. Focus on discipleship and leadership development
Early on, it is easy for churches to do a good job of creating disciples without a clearly defined discipleship strategy. It is pretty easy for pastors to have a handle on where people are and to be intimately involved. At some point, a church stops being productive without some kind of process in place.
There comes a time when a church needs a clearly defined path for discipleship. Everyone in leadership should understand the process that someone goes through to move new believers down the road toward maturity. On some level, this needs to be an almost automated process that does not require the pastor to maintain. Mature Christians should be discipling new believers toward maturity.
The plain truth is that you cannot reach certain attendance levels with the same focus, foundation, and techniques as the previous ones.
If the church leadership wants to make the foundational changes necessary to reach the next level, they are going to need to turn their attention toward identifying and building up leaders from the pool of maturing disciples. As the church grows, trustworthy leaders are a necessity. Without them, you will not have a foundation that will support more growth.
The difference is that when a church’s attendance is small, it is not as critical that everyone involved is incredibly mature or has amazing leadership potential. The pastor is providing the direction and is hands-on enough that it mitigates a lot of potential disasters.
Growth requires that the pastor becomes somewhat removed from the day-to-day operations. This means that leaders need the spiritual sensitivity and authority needed to make healthy and smart decisions. So it is essential that the church has a plan for creating spiritually mature believers and identifying and producing leaders.
3. Get your staff and volunteer game together
In the 100–200 attendance range, churches can typically get by with a couple of part-time employees and some volunteers. Eventually, the attendance reaches a tipping point where part-time staff can no longer manage it and volunteers are burning out faster than you are able to replace them.
Deciding to invest in a couple of full-time positions can feel like a significant risk when their position feels aspirational. The fact is that you cannot expect your church to grow beyond the foundation you have established. If a church waits for growth to justify adding new staff, it will never happen.
One of the keys to boosting growth is allowing volunteers to handle ministry and hiring staff to manage volunteers. This means that churches need to excel at:
- Creating a volunteer recruitment strategy that is always in operation. You do not have to spend time looking for volunteers when you need them. You should constantly be growing a volunteer army.
- Preparing staff to recognize and celebrate volunteers. Their main job is to remove boundaries that make it hard for volunteers to feel productive and successful.
Once you fine-tune the volunteer process and put people in place to ensure they shine and feel positive about what they are doing, growth becomes a natural byproduct.
Growth is About Creating the Proper Foundation
There is only so much growth a foundation can support. At some point, you have to make some major adjustments to your situation to maintain new growth. When you create a foundation that can support new growth, it can happen naturally.
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