Two Factors that are Killing Your Church’s Growth

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September 18, 2017
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September 25, 2017

Two Factors that are Killing Your Church’s Growth


by Aaron Buer

blog reposted courtesy of Breeze.

Here’s a question: Why is it that some churches grow and others don’t?

In many cases, growing churches and stagnant churches look almost identical from the outside. Similar buildings. Similar worship style. Similar budgets. Similar locations.

So what’s the difference? Why is it that some grow and others don’t?

Something that I’ve noticed through interacting with different churches is that growing churches are typically structured differently than stagnant or declining churches.

Growing churches either never had, or at some point shed their start-up structural configuration, while stagnant or declining churches were never able to make the jump.

So what does the staff structure of a growing church look like vs. the staff structure of a stagnant church? Here are two observations:

Guiding Board vs Micromanaging Board

This might come as a surprise but one of the strongest indicators that a church is growing or will grow is the relationship between the staff and the board.

In your context they might be called elders, deacons or possibly something else.

Honestly, I don’t think it matters much what you call these board members. What does matter is how they function. I’ve been a part of churches where nearly every decision had to go through the board. This slowed action to a crawl. It also created a sense of misunderstanding and sometimes even mistrust between staff and the board. Worse yet, it only takes a handful of comments like:

“I don’t know why we can’t do this. The board won’t let us.”

…until you have a serious trust issue on your hands.

So, is the answer to just get rid of your board? Just go Emperor Palpatine on them, dissolve the Galactic Senate and build a Death Star? (Whoa… that just got nerdy.)

grow, growth

Actually no, but what I’ve noticed is that most churches that are growing possess a different style of board leadership. Instead of managing the board guides. Specifically, the board guides the mission of the church. In other words, instead of operating at the ground level, the board operates at 30,000 ft.

Growth is a team sport

In our church, the board sets the trajectory for each year. They set somewhere between 3-5 initiatives for the staff to tackle and then they guide these projects as well as the overall mission of the church and leave the day to day tasks to the staff. For the sake of clarity, here are a few examples of what this looks like for us.

  • They set the appropriate staff to attender ratio but do not approve all staff hires.
  • They approve the overall budget amount but are not involved in how that money is spent.

One of my mentors describes this type of board governance as if we are playing soccer. The board functions like FIFA. They determine the rules of the game, the size of the field, etc. But, the staff function like the coaches and players.

grow, growth

The board owns vision and mission. The staff own strategy and tactics.

One of the greatest obstacles to growth in churches is the board to staff relationship. Unfortunately, changing this aspect of a church’s leadership can be a huge and painful undertaking but it may well be worth the trouble if you want to continue to grow.

An Empowering Senior Pastor vs A Controlling Senior Pastor

A second and related observation is that in growing churches the senior pastor is an empowering leader rather than a controlling leader.

Now, it is true that in many start-ups a strong and controlling senior pastor can drive growth… but only to a point. Most of the research I’ve seen would argue that at about 200 people, this leadership style starts to break down. At this point, a controlling senior leader stifles growth instead of driving it.

grow, growth

Part of the reason is that there is too much to control and the senior pastor becomes a bottleneck for decisions and action. At this point, many churches get stuck, in part because the senior pastor refuses to let go. In contrast, churches with a senior pastor that empowers others often continue to grow.

The willingness to empower others is one of the secrets to unlocking growth in your church. Click To TweetWhen done well, empowering others multiples productivity, creativity, passion and vision. Empowering others becomes the fuel that will propel the church forward.

Taking Action

If you’re wondering where you stand on this, here’s the litmus test: Does your board and staff structure drive your growth or does it stifle it?

If your structure is stifling growth there is a simple but painful solution. Empower. It’s time for the board to empower the staff and it’s time for the leader pastor to empower the staff. Control stifles growth because it is based on fear. Empowerment drives it because it is based on freedom.

While there are more factors in determining church growth, as I’ve interacted with different churches, I have noticed these two big indicators. These two factors could very well be killing your opportunity to grow as a church.

It’s my hope that this will help give insight to better articulate and understand how critical healthy relationships are between the board, senior pastor, and the staff so that your church can become even more effective at sharing the Gospel and serving the people connected to it.

If you have any wisdom on what these leadership relationships look like when at their best, I’d love it if you shared in the comments below.

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