That’s a frustrating question to consider.
Maybe you’re praying, preaching, leading and building, only to feel tired and stuck. You watch other churches with similar programs and ministries explode with new people and wonder what you should do differently.
And while it can be tough, great pastors and leaders stop to consider the reasons churches never grow or stop growing.
First, there are SPIRITUAL growth barriers.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Paul’s words contain great church growth advice for pastors. It’s important you plant and it’s important someone waters, but in the end, it’s God who makes the church grow. A church isn’t a business or an organization, it’s a spiritual organism. It’s the body of Christ.
You can’t push a button to control the Holy Spirit. You can’t orchestrate the blessings of God.
Leadership, systems, and strategies are important, and we’re still called to plant and water. But church growth is a blessing from God. That’s why spiritual renewal and prayer are foundational to leading a healthy church. No church growth technique or tactic will compensate for the hand of God.
Second, there are CULTURAL growth barriers.
Remember the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13? Some soil fell along the path, some fell on rocky soil, some fell among the thorns and some fell on good ground.
In the story, both the farmer and the seed were consistent. The difference in what grew and what didn’t grow was the soil.
The culture in your church is like the soil in Jesus’ parable.
You can do all the right things, but still not experience growth if the soil isn’t prepared in the right way. Strategies, tactics and ideas – no matter how valuable or helpful – won’t work if your church isn’t ready.
One of the biggest obstacles to church growth is members who are unable to leave their comfort zone for the sake of the gospel. C. Peter Wagner says church members often resist change because of the desire to:
- preserve social intimacy
- maintain control
- conserve memories
- protect turf
- remain comfortable
Churches that break growth barriers have members who are willing to set aside their own needs and preferences for the sake of the Gospel. That’s the kind of healthy culture where growth happens naturally.
Third, there are STRUCTURAL growth barriers.
Carey Nieuwhof says some churches operate like mom and pop corner stores. He writes:
In the corner store, Mom and Pop run everything, Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the Director of Marketing? He’s at the cash register. Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow.
Supermarkets, he says, are different. They are organized differently. They are managed differently.
In short, supermarkets are structured to be larger.
If your church is structured like a mom and pop business, where the pastor and a handful of leaders are responsible for everything from accounting to ministry, the church will likely struggle to grow.
In fact, it’s likely your church is perfectly structured for your current size. If you want your church to grow, you certainly need to pay attention to the spiritual markers, but you also need to look at the structural issues that are keeping you from breaking the next growth barrier.
So those are the three types of obstacles that stand in the way of church growth. The good news is you can take action in each category.
Spiritual barriers can be broken with prayer and the Holy Spirit. Cultural barriers can be defeated with leadership and communication. Structural barriers can be fixed with healthy systems and processes.
If you have growth barriers you would like to overcome, take a look at this free eBook. It’s called The Senior Pastors Guide to Breaking Barriers. If you’re looking to break the 200, 500 or even the 1,000 barrier, this book will give you some great principles and action steps.