I was reading a blog post by Rick Warren, lead pastor of Saddleback Community Church, one of the largest in American church history, that talks about 10 major barriers to growth. This is great insight from someone with the experience and credibility to back it up. Warren stated that about 95 percent of all the churches in the world stop growing before they get to 300 people because they are structured to be at a size less than 300. It’s not the problem of the pastor or the people; it’s a problem of the structure. He goes to say that we often ask the wrong question, “What will help my church grow?” The right question is, “What is keeping my church from growing?” As I’ve related many times in greenhouse theology, growth is natural. All living things naturally grow. If the church is healthy it will grow. Warren notes that a church becomes healthy by removing the barriers and balancing the purposes. From Warren’s list here are the 10 common barriers that keep our churches from growing.
Members won’t bring their friends to church. You can’t grow a church without visitors. One of the reasons Christians won’t bring their friends to church is that they’re embarrassed or they think, “This is a church that meets my needs, but it’s not geared for my friend, an unbeliever, to understand it.” You have to create a service that is understandable but not watered-down.
People fear that growth will ruin the fellowship. Many churches say they are a loving church, but what they mean is that they are good at loving each other and not unbelievers. When members love their fellowship so much that they don’t want anyone new, then they’re not going to bring friends. The average member of a church knows 67 people, whether you have 67 people at your church or 6,000. If you only want to have a church of people you know, you’re only going to have about 67 people. The antidote to this barrier is affinity groups. The church must grow larger and smaller at the same time — larger through worship (weekend services) and smaller through fellowship (small groups).
Churches are driven by tradition rather than the purposes of God. Tradition is a good thing — as long as it works. Never confuse the message with the methods. The message must never change, but the methods have to change. If you don’t change methods from generation to generation, you are being unfaithful.
One of the most expensive and difficult things to do is keep a corpse from stinking. There are programs in your church that died a long time ago; you need to give them a decent burial. Periodically, you should go through everything you’re doing in your church and ask, “Should I reaffirm it, refine it, or do I need to replace it?” The hardest thing to give up is what worked before, but sometimes you have to stop it before it starts declining.
Churches are trying to appeal to everybody. Your church cannot be all things to all people. The moment you choose a style of music, you are going to turn someone off. You need to know whom your church can best reach in your community. Define that group of people, and then go after them.
Churches are program-oriented rather than process-oriented. A lot of churches think the goal is to keep the saints busy, and people are just worn out. Programs and events should not drive your church; they should fulfill the purposes. Where do you want to take your people in the next 10 years? Where do you want them to be different? You set your goal by determining your role — what God has called you to do. Once you know that, then you decide what programs best accomplish that goal.
Churches focus on meetings rather than ministry. When the number 1 qualifier in your church is attendance, then you are facing this barrier. It’s not all about the weekend; the weekend is simply the funnel by which you start the discipleship process. If Christianity is a life and not a religion, then it should focus on where we live our lives — at home, work, etc., and not at church. When you focus on meetings, you’re building a group of spectators. We don’t need more meetings; we need to meet more needs. You do that by turning every member into a minister.
Churches have teaching without application. Interpretation without application is abortion. You are aborting the text, because the Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives. Focus on obedience in your message. Take the Word and make it come alive.
The congregation doesn’t trust their leaders. Everything you do as a leader is built on trust. If you lose their trust, you may as well resign. It takes years to build trust, but you can lose it in an instant. You must build credibility to earn the right to lead. When you go to a bank to ask for a loan, the first thing they do is check your credit. If you are creditable, then you are worthy of the bank’s trust. People are doing a credit check on your leadership every second of your life. You build trust by loving people and liking people. The more you trust your people and show your vulnerability, the more they’re going to trust you. We actually help people more through our weaknesses than our strengths.
The Church is being killed by legalism. Many churches are more interested in keeping rules rather than relationships. Jesus always chose relationships over rules. People mattered more than keeping the Sabbath. There is a difference between acceptance and approval. Jesus accepts me completely, but he doesn’t approve of everything I do. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, but it does mean love.
Churches are structured for control rather than growth. In this respect there is no release of people to pursue the purposes of God- members are to not encouraged to be missional at all, and everything is overly complicated.