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Getting Your Church Unstuck From Growth Hindrances

200 People

The vast majority of all U.S. churches stay stuck here because it marks the limit to the number of people with whom they pastor has the time, the energy or the personal reserves to stay close. People drift in and out of the church because the pastor has unknowingly set up the expectation that he, personally, is going to attend to them. Sooner or later, the pastor will unintentionally violate that agreement, and they will feel like things “just aren’t the same anymore” since all the new people came.

The pastoral strategy must be to remove himself slightly from the whole congregation in order to concentrate on a few present or prospective leaders. Forced to become more strategic and long-term in thinking, the pastor must back away from the people and get ahead of them.


1) Staffing plays an especially critical role in pushing past the 200 barrier. Even if it seems like the money is not there, seriously consider ‘hiring’ two full-time, pastoral-level staff with two full-time support personnel. Begin by paying salaries to the two support personnel and add pastors to the payroll as you can (They’re much more expensive to hire, and far more likely to be excited about the role—even as a volunteer).

2) Identify a fairly major work project and bond people to each other by getting them to work together on it. If people scrape paint side by side, they will feel like they are a part of the body, and the church will begin to grow. It builds esprit de corps, a vital replacement to the “big, happy family” feeling.

3) Write down the names of the seven most active-in-leadership individuals/couples in your church and the “hats” they wear; ask each individual/couples to help you think of other people to whom you can delegate all but two of your leaders’ jobs.

400 People

The pastor is absolutely convinced he or she cannot and should not pastor all the people in the church, so significant administrative and discipleship measures to utilize “the few” to pastor the many have already been adopted. Pastoral care, along with virtually every other ministry segment of the church, must be delegated the way Jethro instructed Moses. Church is administratively and relationally complex. Individuals and groups shift the focus of attention, and some “widows” are not going to be serviced properly.

The church becomes its own mission field, needing sub-congregations almost like new churches pioneered within it. Leaders are beginning to have an ambition for the people they directly oversee, and sometimes that internal ambition will cross grains with the whole program. Internal expansion and program needs should win out over the larger church program at least some of the time.

It’s time for the youth to be his or her own person. The senior pastor should welcome times when various ministry leaders “buck the system,” (developing kingdoms within a kingdom) not in the spirit of Absalom, but in the spirit of true servants who, like you, are in the business of ministry because they see the sheep needing more shepherds. Commission and appoint people, full of the Holy Spirit and power, to oversee vast areas of ministry responsibility.


1) Staff for sanity, staff for growth. If you keep an appropriate ratio of staff/people, sanity calls for the equivalent of 6 full-time staff, and growth will likely require a couple more than that. Make a list of everyone you would hire (to do what?) if you were given $500,000 to be used only for salaries. Don’t wait for the money. Ask the people on the list to start doing what you’d like them to oversee.

2) Appraise and repair the church program offerings to increase the number of strands—fellowship situations or opportunities—in the net you’re using to fish for people. The two main types of groups are getting (people come for care and nurture without having to do anything) and giving (people come in order to provide service for others). With an apprentice leader at you side, start two new groups, one of each variety, with very specific focuses—i.e. one targeting fathers in blended families, and the other developing prayer teams.

3) One of the most substantial ways to build team spirit and cooperation is to encourage members of the team to share their stories/successes/struggles with the whole group—especially with the primary leader present and attentive. Pastors who do all the talking at leadership gatherings miss a great opportunity to promote others into greater involvement and service. At you next church-wide leaders meeting, ask at least eight people to give a 5-7 minute presentation (complete with handouts) on the current condition of and the future vision for the ‘department’ they oversee. And (you) take notes while they are speaking!

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2016

About the Author: Daniel A. Brown, PhD, planted The Coastlands, a church near Santa Cruz, California, serving as Senior Pastor for 22 years. Daniel has authored four books and numerous articles, but he is best-known for the sorts of resources that help local church leaders excel in their spiritual assignment. For more about Daniel Brown, see his ministry resources website: CTW. Facebook. Twitter.

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