Seven barriers to quantitative and qualitative church growth!

Every church should grow. Healthy things grow. How much and how fast is another issue, but both qualitative and quantitative growth should be happening, by his grace.

However, there are barriers that keep this from happening. Here is a very insightful piece by Pastor Carey Nieuwhof from Canada on seven of those barriers. Fasten your seat belt for a helpful but painful read. Some confession and soul searching may follow!

Originally posted by Carey Nieuwhof

Ever think that growth will solve all your problems?

It’s tempting to believe that. I know, because I still fall into that line of thinking unless I stop myself.

I’d be the first to admit that I’d rather be part of something that’s growing than something that’s stuck or dying, but growth doesn’t mean your issues disappear.

In fact, leaders of growing organizations just sign up for a new set of problems. While I’ll take those problems any day, they’re still problems.

Having started ministry in very small churches, I can relate to each of these struggles personally.

As our church has grown from a handful of people to 1400 people who now attend and 3000 people who call our church home, we’ve navigated all of these challenges. So has almost every growing church.

What’s true in church is true in any organization or business. We’re even working through rapid growth issues associated with this blog, my writing, and my podcast. You hope and pray people show up, but when they do, you get a whole new set of challenges. As things grow, everything gets more complicated.  It’s the leader’s job to create simplicity in the midst of it all.

Bottom line? Your struggles as a leader or as a church don’t go away when your church or organization starts to grow. They simply change.

Here are 7 things every leader of a growing church or organization struggles with.

1. The Senior Leader Being Less Available

I began ministry in a church of 6 people (and that was a normal Sunday…a bad Sunday was 2 people). When your church is really small, you’re pretty much available to do anything anyone needs. How can you argue you’re not available when you lead a tiny church?

But as your church grows, you need to begin a transition away from being available all the time. If you don’t, you will implode or your church will stop growing.

You can be generally available to 20 people.

You will wear yourself out trying to be consistently available for 200 people.

You’ll die trying to be available to 2000 people. Frankly, you’ll never even serve that many people because it’s humanly impossible, even if you worked 7 days a week, 20 hours a day. People will just walk away, their calls unanswered and their needs unmet.

As my friend Reggie Joiner says, the problem with needs-based ministry is there’s no end to human need.

Your church will struggle with the pastor being less available as it grows.  But it will struggle even more if you don’t restructure to grow bigger.

To reach more people, you need to be available to fewer people.

I wrote more about scaling your ministry through different stages in my new course, Breaking 200 Without Breaking You.

2. The Leader Not Doing Everything

A companion of being less available as a church grows is the reality that a pastor can’t do everything.

Many pastors of small churches start out as jacks of all trades: preacher, pastor, chaplain, wedding officiant, funeral officiant, bible study leader, team leader, curriculum designer and even friend who drops by.

When your church is small, it’s natural for the pastor to do almost all the work, because it seems there is no one else available to do it, and no money to outsource it or to hire anyone else.

When I started in ministry, in addition to preaching, teaching and vision casting (my primary gifitings) I also designed and printed the bulletins, created any computer graphics, performed weddings and funerals, visited in hospital, led the church bible study and was actively involved in our kids ministry. I was only mediocre at most things on that list, and terrible at a few.

As our church has grown, my role has become narrower and narrower.

At 200 Pastoral care became a groups and congregational responsibility. So did bible study (which became small groups instead).

At 400, I let go of graphics and design entirely (thankfully).  I also go out of direct involvement in student and children’s ministry as we hired people (I still share the the vision, but no longer own the responsibility).

At 800, I stepped back from leading and attending most meetings and almost everything else to focus on preaching, teaching, vision casting and senior leadership.

The struggle here is dual: you will struggle with letting go, and people will struggle with you letting go.

If you want to grow, you have to let go.

And, of course, as Andy Stanley says, by doing less you’ll accomplish more. Far more.

This sounds like a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

3. Not Knowing Everyone’s Name

People who are part of a small church panic about not knowing everyone’s name as a church grows.

Time to challenge that assumption. Why panic?

Truthfully most people don’t know everyone, even in a church of 50.

Human reality dictates we can only truly know about 5 people deeply and about 20 people well.

Which again leads to small groups and serving teams. You can (and should) organize hundreds and even thousands of people to be known in smaller circles of groups and teams.

The point or church is not for everyone to know everyone. The point is for everyone to be known.

I think I have a personal capacity to know between 1,500 to 2,000 people by name and then my mind fries. Our church (and my life) has grown beyond that. At one point I tried to know all of our volunteers by name, but even now, I get stumped (the volunteer name tags really help me).

If you’re leading a growing church, embrace that. Create a church where everyone who wants to be known…is.

You will reach far more people if you do.

4. Shifting From Leading People To Leading Leaders

If you’re going to lead a growing church effectively, you have to begin leading leaders instead of leading people.

That’s a hard shift for many people, including church staff.

There’s a temptation to want to be known and recognized by everyone you’re leading. The truly great leaders are prepared not to do that.

They realize that their greatest success will be found in leading staff and volunteers who can, in turn, lead others.

Which also means sometimes they get the credit rather than you. Which again, is fine if you’re committed to becoming an effective leader.

If you’re not fine with others receiving the credit, you’ll eventually stunt the church’s growth to the level of your insecurity.

If you struggle with insecurity, by the way, this is an amazing conversation with Josh Gagnon, who leads a top 5 fastest growing church in America and has had to battle his own insecurities in doing so.

But you must shift from leading people to leading leaders if you hope to reach more people.

5. Adding Systems

This is a hard one for any entrepreneurial leader (like myself). I love freedom and even spontaneity.

But for your church to ever sustainably pass 500 in attendance, let alone 1000, you have to have systems.

Many entrepreneurial leaders are afraid of systems and structure because they think it means the creation of a bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy stifles mission. Great systems fuel it.

Like an office tower designed to house thousands of people, great systems and structure support the goals of the organization with lean but solid processes around finances, management, discipleship and even the weekend services a church offers.

Without structure, freedom collapses into chaos and disorganization.

The novice leader values freedom from structure. The mature leader values freedom in structure.

Without great systems that foster care for people, you won’t care for people.

6. Saying No

‘Yes’ gets you to initial growth; ‘No’ gets you to sustained growth.

Many pastoral leaders are people pleasers. As I argue here, that can be deadly.

Most great organizations become effective not just because they decided what they are, but fundamentally because they decided what they are not.

As you grow, more and more people will show up with ideas about how to make things better.

It’s much easier to say no when you have a clearly defined mission, vision, strategy and culture.

The leader who says yes to everything ultimately says yes to nothing.

7. Dealing With Critics

So once you start growing, all the critics will disappear, correct?

Sorry to break the news…but just the opposite. They’ll line up.

You’ll have internal critics who want things to be the way they used to be. After all, the people heading for the Promised Land always want to go back to Egypt.

But the critics are not just internal, growth attracts a growing number of external critics.

Our generation seems to specialize in encouraging leaders and organizations to grow and then criticizing them when they do.

And before you accuse others, there’s a 99% chance you’ve thought or said something negative about a large church pastor you resent.

Growth attracts critics. It just always does.

So how do you process the criticism when you’re the one being criticized?

The best way to process what your critics have to say is to understand why they say it.

First, take whatever good there might in what they said and reflect on it. You’re not perfect. You can learn and develop from it.

But then process why the critics are often so mean-spirited.

What usually fuels a critics’ animosity toward success and growth? Three things:


A need to justify their own lack of progress


Once you understand that a critic’s arguments are often less about you than they are about them, you’re free to show compassion and even concern for them.


Despite a leader’s best intentions, often leaders who start things don’t know how to scale things as they grow.

I had to learn the hard way, and have led our church past the 200 barrier well past the 1000 attendance barrier with multiple locations. These are barriers that, despite best intentions, 98% of leaders never pass. In addition, I’m learning how to scale writing and podcasting from hobby level into a team endeavour that’s reaching hundreds of thousands of leaders a month. Scaling isn’t easy, but it’s doable.

Surprisingly, the reasons most leaders don’t scale their ministries aren’t spiritual—they’re structural. It’s the same reason over 99% of businesses stay small—the issues are structural.

So whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break. Even churches with attendances of 300-500 and multisite churches are finding the material helpful as they try to reach more people.


Executing consistently with excellence

I had a fascinating coaching call recently with a businessman in which he said that his boss had moved him from the good group to the excellent group in his company.

I thought of Jim Collin’s book, “Good to Great” along these lines. As we unpacked how he was doing and why he got elevated in his boss’s perception, we focused on his ability to “Execute Consistently with Excellence”- (ECE). It seems that many in his organization never get to this point.

I have been thinking of that ever since my call with him.

  1. What does it take to execute consistently with excellence?
  2. Why does there appear to be so few that execute consistently with excellence?

I thought of different groupings of leaders:

  1. Those who minister by executing consistently with excellence
  2. Those who minister by executing with excellence but not consistently
  3. Those who minister who neither execute well nor are characterized by excellence in what they do

It seem to be an issue for lots of leaders to be consistent with important things over a long period of time. It’s so easy to get sidetracked and distracted with things of lessor importance.  Or just not be consistently highly motivated to do work well to the glory of God.

I believe that there is a premium today for leaders who cultivate the ability to get things done (both the people side and the task side) and do what they do with excellence.

Honestly, there is a lot of sloppy work being done today by Christian leaders; or leaders who seem to do well some of the time but not most of the time or all of the time.

It was Charles Swindoll who said, “The trouble with life is that it’s so daily.” That is so true. Yesterday’s homeruns don’t win today’s ball games. We need to execute well consistently day after day; not just when we feel like it, when it ‘s convenient or if we’re  not tired. We are admonished in Colossians 3:17, 23 to do what we do wholeheartedly as to the Lord and not for men. Everything Jesus did he did with excellence. He changed water into the “best” wine. Mark 7:37 tells us that he does everything well; not passable, not so so , not okay but WELL!

There is a book by Larry Bossidy called, “Execution” which is the best piece of work I have seen on this subject. You will find a book note at under the tab, “Book Notes.”  Here is a quote from that book:

“What you want is a leadership gene pool that can conceive and shape executable strategies and convert them into operating plans and specific point of accountability. No strategy delivers results unless it’s converted into specific actions. Strategies most often fail because they aren’t executed well. Unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they’re pointless.

• Execution is a discipline, and integral to strategy
• Execution is the major job of the leader
• Execution must be a core element of an organization’s culture”

May I both challenge you and encourage you, fellow leader, to execute consistently with excellence (ECE) in your current role and responsibility so you can become a leader people can count on to follow up and follow through as you are led by him, empowered by him and honor him! 



Enemy # 1 for most Christian leaders!

We had been considering a long-term working relationship, but that all changed in the blink of an eye. It seemed to come out of nowhere. He shouted at me in anger, his face red with emotion. “Just remember one thing, I am in charge around here, not you.” I was shocked, dismayed, couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

A few weeks prior to that he shared with me that he would never hire anyone who was more gifted than he was. He didn’t want competition or comparisons to be made. I should have connected the dots and seen it coming, but I wanted to believe the best about this leader.

Who he believed me to be had posed a threat to him and brought out his deep insecurities. He reminded me of the boss who sent out a letter to his employees that read, “Search throughout the organization and find a person who is gifted, charming, has great people skills, and possesses a great work ethic; the kind of person who could someday take my place. And when you find him, fire him!”

For years, my mind has been toying with a short list of essential leadership qualities. Being secure in and at peace with who you are in Christ is at the top. To my way of thinking, personal security is the chief of character qualities. General Schwarzkopf  (from Gulf War fame) said that,“99% of leadership failures in the 20th Century were failures of character.” With that in mind, I’m inclined to think that insecurity is the birth mother of other character failures.

When a leader has deep insecurity, there is a tendency to use a leadership role to gain a sense of security and the motivation to manipulate and abuse those being led. Harshness and insensitivity in one’s personal relationships and the inability to be flexible, gracious and tolerant often flow out of insecurity.

When you’ve bought into a philosophy of competing, achieving at any price, winning in every situation, never admitting weakness, having to always be right, clawing your way up the ladder of success, worshiping at the altar of promotion, serving as a galley slave on the ship of popularity, you can find yourself constantly looking over your shoulder protecting your reputation while trying to maintain the appearance of success and infallibility.

John Wooden advised: “Pay more attention to your character than to your reputation, for your character is what you really are, whereas your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

I recall working with another leader who always had to be right and have the last word.  Anyone who disagreed or had a better idea than his was suspect and labeled as hostile or “not on board.” His insecurities stifled creativity, made empowerment almost impossible and generated few fresh ideas (other than his).

Outwardly, it looked like pride but insecurity was at the core. Insecurity in a leader’s life will cause him/her to loose objectivity. The leader himself will become the issue most of the time; looking good and being right at any price.

1.  Is your security increasingly rooted in Jesus Christ, or are you insecure and abusing your leadership role? Here are a few signs for you to be aware of.

2.  Is protecting your position and keeping yourself in a favorable light of higher value than the growth of the group or organization you lead?

3.  Which do you jump on faster, a perceived personal offense or an organizational problem or issue?

4.  How often are you tempted or swayed to make decisions that protect your status or reputation instead of doing what’s right and best for those you lead?

5.  Do you gravitate toward and select team members who follow you easily and avoid those who will firmly challenge you and force you to grow in your leadership?

6.  Do you often find yourself getting angry when someone disagrees or calls into question your opinion or a course of action you have suggested?

I believe that insecure leaders are dangerous leaders who hinder more than they help. How many church fights and splits are due to deeply rooted insecurity in key leaders? How many organizations quit growing or fall apart due to insecure leaders at the helm who can’t accept new ideas or new ways of doing things?

It’s sad to say, but many of the leaders I have worked with during my 50 years of ministry have been deeply insecure and have caused much pain in the lives of those they led.

Some have repented and asked for forgiveness, but others are still living in darkness and denial. I have battled with insecurity in my own life for years. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking bad, fear of making the wrong decision and the fear of having people dislike me has led me to do some really stupid things as a leader.

I believe that fear, pride and self-centeredness are symptoms of insecurity.  Sometimes the bold, assertive and confident leader can be the most insecure of all.

Some Practical suggestions to help deal with insecurity:

  • Pray daily that the Lord will enable you to have your security in Him and not in your success, ideas, or popularity
  • Confess actions and attitudes based on insecurity as the sin it really is, asking for forgiveness and a Christ-centered perspective
  • Have at least one person with whom you work who will watch out for any of the above-mentioned signs of insecurity and bring it to your attention. Your view of yourself can easily be distorted
  • Do a study on the life of King Saul to see an insecure leader in action and learn from his mistakes

Select one to three passages of scripture that help you focus on the glory of God and not self promotion (one of my favorites is Psalm 115:1 “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory…” (NIV)

“He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth.”John 7:18  (NIV)

Whose honor are you really working for? Honestly?




















Five ultimate responsibilities of a leader!

There are many responsibilities that fall to the lot of a leader.  They are not all equal in value or impact. Here are five of them that Dan Rockwell calls “Ultimate Responsibilities.”

Originally posted by Dan Rockwell

Frantic leaders manage too much and lead too little. Doing it all only works on TV commercials and in the movies.

Engage in fewer activities – behaviors that matter most.

You must know what matters, before you can do it.

The 5 ultimate responsibilities of leadership:

1.  Define and focus on what matters now.

The delivery of value requires the elimination of irrelevant behaviors and low-value activities. Distraction is more than a nuisance. It’s a subtle enemy that crushes organizations. Never dance with distraction – defeat it with merciless focus.

2.  Develop and maximize talent through coaching.

  •  The real product of leadership is achievement through fulfilled people.
  • Coaching enables ownership, fulfillment, energy, and learning for teammates with aspirations to grow.
  • Coaching-leaders get out of the way, while staying connected.

 3.  Get out of the way while staying connected.

  • Connect with the people who are getting the best results.
  • Connect with under-utilized people who aspire to add more value.
  • Avoid getting sucked into urgent trivialities. Quickly delegate easily solved issues.
  • Help others improve their own work. Don’t tweak.
  • Honor behaviors that align with organizational values.
  • Walk around.
  • Say thank you everywhere you go.

 4.  Smooth the path to achievement.

  • Successful leaders minimize the resources and energy it takes to run organizations while maximizing positive outcomes.
  • Eliminate duplication of effort.
  • Minimize paper-work.
  • Create systems and structures that strengthen team camaraderie.
  • Make hard work as effective and efficient as possible. First, do what matters most. Second, improve the way you do it.

 5.  Lift people out of the weeds.

  •  Busy people always end up lost in the weeds.
  • Connect team members with other insiders and outsiders.
  • Explain the big picture.
  • Narrow scope.
  • Focus on solutions.
  • Ask, “What matters now?”

Bonus:  Deal with tough issues others avoid. Others are waiting for you to call-out the elephant in the room.






Seven hard things pastors and Christian leaders need to hear!

As pastors and leaders, we don't always hear what we need to hear. At times our people try to protect us from things we should probably hear but are not easy to hear. Ron Edmondson share 7 hard words that pastors and leaders need to hear and do something with.

Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

I love pastors. I love to encourage pastors. And, it’s Biblical. (Ephesians 4:29 – or something like that.)

Seriously, I’m a pastor. And, I work with pastors everyday. Having not been a pastor – in the business world longer than I’ve been a pastor – I’ve still got somewhat of an objective — almost outside perspective. 

And, now I am a pastor – having been one for over a decade – sometimes I wish I could share with pastors what I’m really thinking.

Well, maybe I can.

Here are 7 hard words every pastor needs to hear:

1.  Your family should not be second to your ministry – Your ministry is important. It’s your calling — hopefully your passion. But, so is your family. Or, at least, they should be. In fact, I’d claim if your family suffers, almost without exception, so will your ministry.

2.  You may never feel completely in control – I realize the ministry has so many unknowns. You work mostly with volunteers. You can’t seem to motivate people to do what people need to be doing. That’s not going to change. You are walking by faith – remember.

3.  You need someone in your life, besides your spouse, who knows the dark places – Your spouse will usually feel the need to cover for you, defend you — and, hopefully, usually sees the best in you. You need someone who knows you well, but can look at you and boldly say, “You’re not telling me the whole story. What’s the real deal?”

4.  Your pace often determines your longevity – If you run too fast — you’ll burnout. If you run too slow — you’ll get bored. And, either is dangerous.

5.  You aren’t the only one who can do it – Whatever it is – you aren’t indispensable. In fact, God has designed the church as a Body with many parts who can do many things. Are you seriously allowing yourself to be held responsible for everything? You’ll be far more successful in ministry if you learn to equip and release.

6.  Your church can function without you – You also aren’t irreplaceable. You’re awesome — and wonderful — and the greatest pastor ever — maybe — but the “Church” has lasted for several centuries without you. Sorry to break it to you, but when we come to realize this as true, it is a freeing reality. Jesus is in control. He promised this. He cannot be replaced. 

7.  You’re doing better than you think you are – Admit it. You’re tempted to compare yourself to others — aren’t you? And, it’s depressing at times. How can they contribute the same or even less effort than you and seem to get more results? Why are there numbers bigger? Why are they growing? If only you had their incredible staff, or building, or location, or ______. You know the comparison drill. But, God has a plan for you. It’s unique from His plan for everyone else. Be faithful to Him and compare yourself to how obedient you are being to what He has called you to do. 

And, don’t worry about everyone else. And, someday — I’m convinced — I’m sure of it — you’ll indeed hear “Well done good and faithful servant — well done.”