Why Aren’t We Growing?
It was year eight at my current church. We had made significant changes to update our worship experience, aligned our leadership, created outreach activities, and a number of other key actions one will typically do to prepare a church for growth. Many people left the church during those first three or four years (during all the change), but somehow we managed to hang on and build a healthy church. Our staff was full of hard workers and our elders were on board and excited about our future. The only problem? There was little to no growth. Sure, we were able to sustain, we saw the number of people who came to faith double each year and we did see many new people, but they seemed to replace the natural decline due to relocations and other positive reasons for leaving. As the lead pastor, I was in a place where I felt like my bag of tricks was empty and no church growth program was going to change anything. I couldn’t figure it out. I wondered if some churches were just meant to be plateaued in the same place. There were many other churches around our church that were growing rapidly, opening up multiple campuses and talking about their new plans, new staff, and new buildings. I began to wonder, “am I the wrong leader? Did I take them as far as I could take them? Was there something in me holding the church back? How do we deal with a church that sees little to no growth?”
The first thing I did, and I would recommend anyone in a similar position to do, is some self-evaluation; you must ask yourself questions about your leadership. You’ve got to take time away with God to reflect on who you are, what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, and the why behind both of those answers. I found great value in personal counseling and coaching as well. Having someone focus on your growth, development, and blind spots is incredibly important. Don’t assume that the issue is out there when it could be in the mirror. This is a process and will likely take longer than a weekend.
The second thing we did as a church, and I think is critical to potential breakthrough, is to look at your perspective. I should tell you, I am a very analytical person. I am not afraid to look at facts. I love to evaluate and make things better. If you asked me a few years ago what was going on, I would have told you that there was nothing I didn’t see – I would have told you “it just isn’t working.” In my case, all of that changed when we partnered with Intentional Churches. It’s not that they have some silver bullet but they brought two things that we didn’t have before.
Intentional Churches first brought a process called an Intentional GrowthPlan that facilitated asking the right questions, not just of me as the leader, but of a whole group of people from our church. One important phrase used was, “the truth is in the room.” We were able to get perspective from each other that we didn’t have before. That perspective would soon completely change where we spent our time, our energy, and our money. The amazing thing to me was that perspective was right there in our room, we just hadn’t really asked for it in a way that was actionable. We focused on our outcomes, but not what was driving those outcomes. This wrong focus doesn’t just happen in churches, it happens in all organizations. We can get frustrated because the outcomes are not what we desire, but we don’t always go further upstream to see what is flowing towards the outcomes we are getting. When we focus on outcomes we can feel powerless but when we focus on what contributes to the outcomes we can get ahead of it. I had never heard this before in church life and it was yet another perspective that helped us get healthier as a church and prepared us for future growth. Our Intentional GrowthPlan provided us with measurable and actionable items that moved us forward.
Next, Intentional Churches provided for us a coach. For twelve months we were not alone; we had an experienced church leader walking with us through it all. This allowed us to have an outside voice speaking from an outside perspective. In our case, it was extremely beneficial, because our coach had experienced at his church, some of what we were facing at our church.
It’s not about Intentional Churches per se, but it is about perspective. While I don’t know your situation, my guess is there may be a perspective that you’re either unaware of or unwilling to see/hear. In our case, the right perspective teamed with a new way of operating made all the difference. We were busy with lots of great things and yet with limited time we needed to focus on the best things; we needed to operate proactively instead of reactively. We’re now growing again. In fact, the last eight weekends we are up about a hundred people each weekend compared to last year. We are seeing more spiritual growth and people pursuing spiritual growth as well. We have forward momentum and movement and it’s exciting to be a part of our church that is focused on the things that God values. For me personally, I was so impressed with the difference that I pursued training in StratOp which is at the core of the Intentional Church process. Today I have the privilege of coaching other churches in their own Intentional GrowthPlans and leverage my experience to see vision become reality.
While I know all too well how it feels to be stagnated and while I’d love to see even more progress than our church is currently making, I believe if our perspective is off, our activity will be off. If we’re willing to see it, the right perspective can take you far. And the greatest perspective of all? God loves you and your church and wants to see His mission go forward, unhindered. That is bigger than anything we can do and definitely something to be excited about.