I have had the opportunity to visit many churches over the last several months, both in the DC metropolitan area and in different parts of the country. Many of these churches are filled with good people and pastors who have a heart to reach out and grow their churches. Yet, after laboring many years in ministry, many still are not growing and long to do so. Why, I asked? What is going on that is causing these churches not to grow?
As I reflected on this issue, it occurred to me that churches and the pastors who lead them are faced with many of the same issues that large and small business owners face as they seek to grow their businesses. Leading a church encompasses all of the same issues that running a business does—research and development, sales and marketing, operations, finance and administration, and management. Unless a leadership learns to manage each of these areas effectively, their ministry’s impact and fruitfulness will be hindered.
Let’s review the key problem areas that can prevent healthy growth in a church body. Prayerfully consider these areas before the Lord to see if they could be holding back the health and growth of your church body.
1. Lack of Resources
Many church leaders face a chronic lack of resources. These resources can include money, facilities, staff, or volunteers to implement the ministry the church needs. I recently spoke with a young pastor who bemoaned the fact that each of the young men he discipled and trained left the church to go begin new ministries. Granted, this is a healthy thing for the kingdom at large, however, these experiences left this young pastor short of leadership resources on a continual basis for his own ministry.
2. Lack of the Spiritual Gifts of Leadership and Administration on the Church Leadership Team
Many pastors are in a place of serving as “solo-preneurs” in the early years of the life of their churches. Many of these men and women are pastors at heart—they are more oriented to shepherding the flock than doing some of the more leadership-oriented tasks, such as creating vision, building teams, hiring staff, and developing programs. The church needs someone with the gift of leadership to move the ministry forward, set vision and direction. This allows the pastor the freedom to develop messages and pastor the flock. If the pastor does not possess a leadership gift, he or she needs to ensure that someone on the leadership team does, and that this gift is highly valued and used properly.
3. Lack of Clarity Regarding the Needs of Its Target Group
Every church and business is faced with the difficult task of determining the needs of its target group. Certain churches over the years have done a phenomenal job of studying their communities and designing ministry programs based on the needs of their target group. A couple of these churches that come quickly to mind are Willow Creek and Saddleback Community Church. Their careful “exegesis” of their communities helped to produce the outstanding level of growth these churches have experienced, notwithstanding God’s blessings. Of course, there is always the need to present the gospel—that is a given. Yet, the methods by which this is done can vary widely between various groups. Is this something your leadership team has done? Do you know the types of programs and services to which your target group will respond? Do you know what will be ineffective in reaching them? Don’t waste time developing programs for which there is no audience.
4. Failure to Effectively “Get the Word Out”
Every leader and every business must learn to “get the word out” and effectively market its services. You might have the best teaching, the best church programs, the most healthy relationships, and wonderful fellowship, yet if no one knows about your church, it is not going to grow. How is your church leadership team doing at getting the word out about your ministry? Is your failure to do so negatively impacting your church’s growth?
5. Lack of Joint, Big-Picture Perspective
I have seen many small churches that either inherited a facility or even large churches who own resources that they are not fully utilizing. They have labored for years, sometimes over a decade, and not been able to grow their ministries, upgrade to a nicer facility, or even repair broken appliances in the church. Why not join together, especially churches that are in nearby communities, to share facilities, ministry resources, and people resources? Co-sponsoring events is another great way to help both churches reach out and grow. This would enable more ministry to happen with less resource expenditure and less effort. We all are trying to accomplish the same vision—that of extending the Great Commission to all.
6. Lack of Excellence in Programming and Care
This is something I see regularly both in businesses and churches, and it relates to the environment of how people are cared for and their needs met. This has to do with both the physical plant of the facility, but also the process by which people are cared for. It really becomes a customer service issue. Leaders do not take care to resolve concerns people have. The organization does not strive for excellence, and the health of the church suffers. Examples of this in churches can include a pastor’s failure to return people’s calls for days at a time, failure to follow up on situations that concern people until they are resolved, or even old, raggedy carpet in the church facility. I experienced this just recently as I sat on hold for over twenty minutes with my mortgage company to resolve a simple question. These are the enemies of excellence. Each instance communicates a lack of care about members we are called to shepherd.
7. Discouragement and Losing the “Mental Game”
Ministry and running a business have a lot in common. They both take a tremendous amount of perseverance. Many pastors and small business leaders work alone, especially at the beginning. They know what their vision is, they are excited about it, and they are trying to communicate it to others so that they will get excited about it, too. Yet, often people don’t understand the vision of what pastors and leaders are trying to do, and they fail to “get on board” to help. Even worse, they often fail to understand the magnitude of the task and simply nitpick and criticize what the pastor or leader has not yet accomplished. Both pastors and small business leaders have to develop a tenacity to stay with their vision until it happens, and be willing to change strategies as necessary along the way to reach their goals.
8. Lack of Health in the Leadership Team or Church
We all remember the story of Achan in the Old Testament, who failed to get rid of idols that the Lord had prohibited the Israelites from holding onto. There can be “sin the camp” in the present, or past sin in the camp, which is negatively impacting the health and growth of the church. Seek God about this as a pastor and leadership team to ensure that there is no place of known sin before Him that could cause His discipline to be upon the church.