8 Leadership Barriers to Church Growth - Leaders.Church


8 Leadership Barriers to Church Growth (Part 1 of 3)

~ How to Identify If Your Church Has Reached a Plateau and What to Do About It ~

A lot of church leaders I interact with seem to express how they hit plateaus at times, and sometimes … even decline.

This can be extremely frustrating!

Have you been there? Or maybe you’re there now, and you feel like you’re doing all the right things …

Your church is friendly.

The worship is relevant.

The preaching is solid.

The kids and youth ministries are topnotch.

People tell you they love the church.

And you even do external marketing like we teach in Church Marketing University.

But you’ve plateaued, and you cannot figure out what to do next.

So the question is:

How can you push through the barriers and see the growth you want to see?

Well … I want to answer that question in this three-part blog series. I’m going to “open the vault” and reveal what I’ve seen after working with thousands of church leaders …

… but before I do, I need to lay the foundation.

I’m amazed at how often I see pastors and church leaders engage in a type of “Hope Strategy” for growth.  They just kind of HOPE it happens and they frequently miss opportunities to set the stage for it to ACTUALLY happen.

Some churches throw stuff on the wall and just wait to see what sticks …

Others take the gunshot approach where they try a little of everything rather than intently focusing on a few things …

… and still others fail to measure their efforts, and as a result, they don’t know if the ministries actually accomplish what they hope to see happen.

But that doesn’t have to be your church’s story.

Or if it currently is your story…

The script is about to change.

You don’t have to hope for growth. Instead, you can set the stage for your church’s growth by removing eight specific barriers.

Churches that see regular growth have strong leadership throughout the church. Click To Tweet

Your church’s growth and success as a ministry rests in large part on its leadership. Churches that see impact and regular growth do so because they have strong leadership throughout the church (not just the lead pastor).

This is one of the missing ingredients that churches fail to pay attention to, and it’s a key differentiator between growing churches and stagnant churches.

When a church has a leader not personally growing in their leadership, that lack of growth trickles down through the organization.

As the leader goes, so goes the staff. As the staff goes, so go the key volunteers.  And as the key volunteers go, so goes the church.

This is what I like to call “Trickle Down Leadership.” Everything in your ministry rises and falls on leadership.

You have the capacity to lead the church to an entirely new level, but you can’t just “hope” for it.

Just imagine what it’d be like if your staff and volunteers were more effective with what they do.

Think of the impact your church could have if you had more volunteers than you have positions.

What will it be like when you no longer have to “hold people’s hands” …

… but you can delegate ministry and know you have a trusted team who will own it?

Just imagine.

Well, that doesn’t just happen automatically.

(NOTE: Want to know the proper roles and responsibilities for Church Boards? Click here)

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

The challenge comes when YOU feel stuck … when YOU’VE hit a wall.  How do you push past it? If you’re going to keep digging, leaving no stone unturned in your ability to lead and develop others, it’s just plain hard work.

You might say,

“I’ve done about everything I know how to do. I’ve exhausted all my options, and I don’t know what to do next.”

You might feel like you’ve reached your leadership ceiling and can’t lead to the next level …

Or maybe you’re just wiped, and your passion and desire to see the church or ministry grow is not what it needs to be. You just don’t know how much longer you can do it …

Or it could be that you feel like you’ve put in your time, you’ve seen great days in the past, and you want to coast it for a while.

I recently met with a staff pastor who felt his lead pastor had hit a leadership ceiling and needed to make changes in order to breakthrough his leadership barriers and lead the church to the next level. He was experiencing a leadership bottleneck.

Too many times this is the case. As churches grow, a pastor’s personal leadership capacity must also grow.

As churches grow, a pastor’s personal leadership capacity must also grow. Click To Tweet

The challenge is — all pastors face obstacles that will occasionally hinder their ability to lead effectively at the next level.

Here are eight primary leadership barriers that can lead to your ministry experiencing plateaus:

1. Your spiritual growth is stagnant.

It all starts here. You can be an incredible leader, but if you’re personal relationship with God has grown stagnant, you can be sure this is why your church has plateaued.

All ministry leaders experience moments when life gets crazy. Hey, that’s ministry! But you cannot go long without communing with God.

Remember, while you may be a pastor, you’re still a disciple of Jesus.

2. Your leadership growth is stifled.

If you rarely read books and blogs or listen to podcasts, you probably are not growing as a leader. It’s cliché but it’s true — leaders are readers. Have you capped your leadership?

Society is rapidly changing. Ministry is changing. And the way you lead must also change. You have to stay fresh, constantly feeding yourself and digging deeper to learn the newest, latest practices when leading others.

This is true both for you and the leaders in your ministry. Are you challenging the leaders in your ministry to grow? Do you have a development strategy to help your entire team grow?

One of the missing ingredients for church growth is the personal growth of its leadership. Click To Tweet

3. You must approve all decisions.

If you micro-manage every detail, you cannot possibly lead at the next level.  Either you’ll burn out or your ministry will plateau. It’s that simple.

If you’re sitting at the top with the sense that the church can’t move forward without your brilliant decision-making, you have a barrier that can and needs to be broken.

God has put capable people in your sphere of influence that you can empower to help move the ministry forward.

4. You think too small.

No one wants to admit they think small. And small is different for every person.

But if you don’t begin to think bigger, you’ll operate the same way you did in the early days when the ministry was smaller. As it grows, your mindset must shift, and the way you lead must adjust.

What is the current dream you have for your ministry? Is it a God-sized dream that’s only possible with His help?

5. You are not truly listening.

Someone once said, “A leader who fails to listen will be surrounded by people with nothing to say.” Unnecessary obstacles follow those who do not listen.

Be smart with who you put around you, and then pay attention to those people. There’s nothing worse than to have a team of capable people who don’t feel they can share with you.

Listening doesn’t mean you will agree with every thought that comes your way…

… but many leaders cap their leadership because they don’t create an environment that gives people the freedom to speak candidly about their thoughts for the ministry.

6. Your organization structure has not changed.

As organizations grow, the structure of how they are led will evolve. Without an evolving structure, churches will become operationally unhealthy.

And remember, what worked organizationally last year probably won’t this year and certainly won’t next year.

You may need to reconfigure who leads different ministries. You may need to re-assign responsibilities. People come and go and what worked with one team of people might look different with a new team of people.

7. Your network is limited.

Connecting with other leaders in your same field is crucial to keeping current with what’s working and what’s not.

One of the saddest cases I see is when a church leader has not networked for years, and all of the sudden they want advice from others who’ve blazed the trail before them but have no one to turn to.

It’s now easier than ever to connect with people because of social media. The key is, leaders have to take the intentional steps to do so.

(NOTE: Want to know the proper roles and responsibilities for Church Boards? Click here)

Guidelines for church boards & pastors

8. You are managing what you have.

While you have to manage staff or teams of volunteers, remaining there will only get you so far. Always think and manage with the future in your present.

How can you move from managing what you have to the point where others are managing it for you? In this way, you begin leading higher and higher.

If you remain bogged down with the minutia from day to day and are not leading at the 30,000 ft level, you’re slowing the capacity for the ministry to grow.

These eight barriers could indicate a leader is in a dangerous place. The first step in growing individually as your church grows is to recognize the current reality of your situation.

It’s easy to see flaws and “opportunities to improve” in other people’s leadership.  However, it’s much more difficult for leaders themselves to come to grips with these realities in their lives.

Are you creating a ceiling for your church because of your leadership?

Can you identify with any of these barriers or are there other indicators you see that may be capping the organization?

If you want to see your ministry grow, it starts with the leader. It starts with YOU!

You can “hope” you’ll get better but if you don’t take action it’s not going to happen…

… yet God can help you see the growth you desire as you take intentional steps to eliminate potential barriers in your leadership.


What if you don’t have a team of capable leaders?

They’re great people. They love God. But their skill set and capacity to help take the ministry where you want it to go just doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. You may be doing all you can, but it’s not a one person operation. What do you do?

In part 2, we’ll take a look at how to solve this dilemma. Click here for part 2 now.


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