I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of pastors around the country – many of them stuck at a growth barrier. Usually they are stuck around 75 or 125.
There are lots of books and blogs on growth barriers by experts. I am by no means an expert but I see a pattern in most of these situations that is solvable.
We had the same exact problem at Crosspoint Church in Decatur, Alabama. We hit 75 and stayed there for several years. We finally broke 100 but stayed rignt around 125 again for a few years. Once we made the right adjustments, we blew through 500 in a relatively short time.
Three Critical Areas
I think there are three things that must be addressed to crush these first two barriers. These three principles are like the legs of a three legged stool
As long as the legs are the same length, this stool is very stable. More stable than a 4 legged stool even (because even if one or two legs is (are) slightly shorter than the other it will be sturdy without wobbling. However if one leg is dramatically shorter (or longer) than the other’s the stool is virtually useless.
The Three Legs
The legs on the stool are SYSTEMS, STRUCTURE, SHOW. When we pay attention to strengthening these three things equally across the board the stool can bear a lot of weight. (i.e. the church can grow).
Systems are critical for any organization to grow. The reason McDonalds can sell billions of hamburgers around the world that all taste the same (I’ve had burgers in Africa, Thailand, Romania – they are all the same.) is because they have a system (a process) for how to make burgers. They have a system for everything – how to train people, how to count money, how to make a milkshake, how to clean a freezer.
The system must be written down, then it has to be implemented, then it has to be continuously improved. In smaller churches systems is a weak link. What happens when a guest comes? There should be a system for that. What happens when someone makes a decision? There should be a system for that. What happens when someone gives for the first time? There should be a system for that.
The problem with many churches is the system is very loose, often changes, rarely get done consistently, and is not something that can be passed off to others.
When we were under 100 people, I did all the follow. Sometimes it was email, sometimes it was a handwritten note. Sometimes it happened on Monday, sometimes on Thursday and sometimes it didn’t happen at all. The inconsistency in the process gave inconsistent results. When we wrote the process down, ensured someone had ownership and responsibility for the process – we started seeing growth.
You need processes for everything from what to do in case of bad weather to welcoming your guests to handling a request for financial assistance. Then you need someone to own that process and work it. When you do, you will see growth.
One of the problems in smaller churches is many times you have the wrong people doing the wrong things. Many times it’s the pastor, or his wife doing things they should not be doing.
I used to do everything. I approved the bulletin, selected the song backgrounds, wrote the sermon, bought the kids curriculum etc. My wife was children’s minister, janitor, and secretary. If we wanted to start a ministry we put a warm body in.
You need the right people doing the right things. Your wife may love kids and the church. That doesn’t mean she’s the catalytic leader your kids ministry needs. Just because you have 11 teens coming to your church doesn’t mean you need a student pastor. As pastor you do not have to pick the slide backgrounds. In fact you shouldn’t be doing it! Your creative arts/worship person should do it!
If you want your kids ministry to grow – you need a catalytic leader to lead the growth. If that leader is your wife, fine but make sure the right person is there.
If you want your worship service to grow you are going to have to stop doing a lot of the things you are doing. When you are the bottleneck for stuff getting done the right stuff isn’t getting done.
When we were 93 people (after growing down from 170) I quit doing everything but teaching and casting vision. I hired a children’s pastor to relieve my wife, put her in her sweet spot in guest services, moved my student pastor to focus on assimilation and process development, moved a key leader out of children’s ministry to a position that was floundering and we exploded – tripling our size in a year.
Get the right people in the right place!
Your Sunday service has to be excellent. Most of the churches I see at 75-125 people have horrible worship services. Nothing looks planned, transitions are weak, use of technology is sloppy, and frankly the preaching is horrible.
Having some lights, a band, some jump backs and a sermonspice.com video does not make a cutting edge service. In fact these things might be killing your service because you don’t know how to use them effectively!
Our services were terrible when we were 100 people. We used cheesy graphics, sloppy sets, our transitions were awkward and it really looked like we were winging it – even though I was a decent speaker when I wanted to be and our band was pretty good.
We made a decision to put on the best show possible (in adults and kids) and go all out – even if we had to spend money to do it and it was the biggest boost we made. We also evaluated what we were doing by watching video, looking at photos and asking the question – is this really worthy of people’s time and attention?
This may be the most difficult piece to put together because not every church has great musicians and frankly not ever preacher is gifted as a speaker. But you can get better. You just have to be honest about where you are. Most people are not.
If you would like help in any of these areas, I can recommend resources or I can be a resource to you. I love helping churches accomplish their vision.