I have been blessed to witness what I consider extremely fast growth in several churches, since entering full-time vocational ministry. In church planting and church revitalization we have seen hundreds come to faith in Christ or reconnect with the church. We have been in churches, which have grown faster than we could anticipate. It’s been an amazing journey – a miracle of God – filled with lots of excitement.

One thing I have learned along the way, however, is growth impacts every ministry in the church. When explosive growth is occurring it is felt by every staff member – every often very stretched staff member.

One of my favorite leadership stories is of David in 1 Samuel 23. I think he and his team would have identified with the overwhelmingness of faster than anticipated growth. It’s a great “problem” to have, but it does cause tensions, which need to be managed.

In fact, I have learned there are dangers with fast growth in any organization. In reality, growth can cover over a multitude of problems. Being aware of these is critical to sustaining health – and ultimately growth – in the future.

Here are 5 dangers of explosive growth:

Growth masks real problems – Growth gets the all the attention. It’s attractive. Everyone is excited. Momentum is high. But, because of this, problems within a team or organization won’t show up immediately. Make no mistake about it, eventually they will.

The organization is leadership poor – I didn’t say “poor leadership”. I said leadership poor. When the organization is growing fast, you can never seem to afford adequate staff or train volunteers quick enough. In time, if you aren’t careful you can jeopardize future success simply because there aren’t an adequate number of leaders to take you to the next level.

Inadequate Systems – Current systems may be stretched. They may not make sense in current context. They may be burdensome and simply ignored. When current systems do not support the rate of growth you often spend too much time playing catch-up to implement adequate systems. Eventually you can become distracted from the things which helped you grow.

People will feel scattered/left behind – With the rate of growth, communication is more important than ever, but people are stretched. They will be pulled in many different directions. This will often produce holes in the communication process. People forget to communicate, they make too many assumptions or there just is more information than can be easily absorbed. It will frustrate the healthiest teams.

You become reactive rather than proactive – In a fast growing organization, “just keeping up” will be a prevailing emotion among leadership. You’ll often find yourself “making it up as you go”. With the speed of life in the organization, there never seems to be time to get ahead of the growth curve. You’ll make a lot of mistakes.

Well, those are some of the problems with explosive growth, which only produces an obvious question.

What can you do about it?

Be aware. Realize everything may not be as seems. Things may not be as healthy as you think they are. Just because there is growth, doesn’t mean everyone is on board. If momentum slows, the real problems will be revealed, but the sooner you can identify these areas of weakness the less damage it will cause in creating sustainable growth. Ask lots of questions. Stay grounded in your faith. Continue to work on team development – even though it seems you don’t have time.

Recruit. Recruit. Recruit. – It’s even more important in fast growth situations you be constantly looking for new leaders and developing existing leadership. There must be an intentional effort in every area to empower people and train volunteers for leadership positions. Again, you may not feel you can pick your head up from the “real work” to recruit, but you simply must. Make sure someone has this as one of their key roles on the team, but it should ultimately be the responsibility of everyone.

Systematize as much as you can. – Wherever and whenever possible, you should add structure to the organization along the way. You may never catch up with growth, but as problems are discovered it will often be a systems problem. Again, the more ahead of this issue you can be the better. Don’t overthink this. Don’t create burdensome structures. Don’t try to rid yourself of the messiness of growth. (That’s deadly to growth.) But, continually think strategically of what is needed to ensure you can continue to grow at the current rate. This is another area it helps to have someone specifically designated – someone who is wired to think systematically – to specialize in this vital area. Don’t put a rule-following controller in this position, but put someone who is not afraid of change, but can build healthy processes to help things move more efficiently.

Communicate. And, communicaate some more. The faster you are growing the better your communication must become. Communication is always a struggle in any organization, but healthy organizations continually analyze their approach and attempt to improve. In stressful times, communication must receive even more attention. Don’t be afraid to tell people what they may already know or repeat what’s already been said.

Take time to plan. It’s important, even during explosive growth – maybe especially – to discipline yourself enough to plan for the future. You don’t have to plan far down the road, maybe even just the next quarter, but leaders need to be visionary enough to look for what’s coming next. They need to attempt to get some forward-thinking goals and objectives in place. In spite of the constant demand due to growth, leaders must take time away from doing the work to evaluate, alter the plan as needed, and ensure operations are improved to maintain growth and momentum.

Sometimes God brings supernatural growth. During those seasons leaders should be especially aware of potential dangers. (Can you imagine the first century church adding 3,000 to their numbers in a single day?)

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • In the section “What can you do about it?”, you insulted a large number of church leaders when you stated: “Don’t put a rule-following controller in this position”. That is the type of person that most church leaders look for because they believe this type of person will get the job done right.

    • Ron Edmondson says:

      Controller is the key. If you read my blog at all you’ll see I’m much in favor of delegation. Even rule followers need that. Jesus is our best example of giving ministry away n
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  • German says:

    The problem is if you are member in the church council of a pastor-centered, pastor-focused church. The official saying is "Only Jesus Christ!" – but in practice people are clinging to certain persons and even certain church buildings. Other church congregations of the same denomination (that often are nearer to their places of living!) are not attractive for them. A strong leader often does not want to be criticized by other people. He alone decides about the way his church will go. Co-workers will be bound as urgently needed workforce. But their pastoral care will be neglected. If you criticize things that do no work well you belong to those who left their first love to Jesus Christ. If you bring up new ideas how to distribute the masses of newcomers to other churches withs lots of free capacity you will be scolded to hinder the Holy Spirit. Well, your faith has to be really strong and Jesus-centered if you will bear these conditions for several years …

  • @billtb says:

    Many denominationally affiliated churches that see significant growth get the quick attention of denominational "officials." The pastor and the staff of fast growing churches are often elevated to rock-star status in the denomination and suddenly find themselves being invited to lead workshops, serve on committees, asked to write articles (and sometimes books), coach other denominational pastors, and of course speak at events.

    All this attention is flattering and ego-bathing (which isn't a bad thing), but it can make it difficult for the pastor/staff to say no. And when they say "Yes" too many times, the church's mission gets pushed to the back burner and the explosive growth starts to wane. Jim Collins points to similar issues with rock-star business leaders.

    The solution is to enjoy the ego shower, but to set clear boundaries and keep focused on the church's mission.

  • Kevin says:

    For a number of years, I have worked with entrepreneurial companies that experience rapid. growth, and I see many similarities here. One of the fundamental problems is one of leadership. In an entrepreneurial company, most things are run by the entrpreneur, with different people reporting to that person. However, the entrpreneur still makes most decisions and runs the company directly. There comes a time when the size of the company and the speed of growth will outpace the entrepreneur's ability to keep up. An experienced, serial entrepreneur realizes when this is happening, and begins to move from the current structure to one that is based on a team of experienced manages, and a system of operations that is strong enough to deal with the growth.

    Those companies that don't adapt or are too slow will be killed by their own success. In particular for the inexperienced entrepreneur, creating a management team is probably not a skill set. In addition, it often happens that during rapid growth, people are put into management as a result of their being in the right place the right time. Unfoartunaltely, they may not have the skills necessary t work well in that circumstance. Sometimes, intensive mentoring will help a person grow into the position, but at others, a change is necessary, in particular where such specialties as financier human resources. In a ministry environment! moving people on in this type of circumstance can be delicate, as you don't want to hurt people.

    Many of the concepts from business can actually be applied to this situation, remembering of course that ruNning the business itself is not the aim, but supporting the congregation as it grows is.

  • […] 5 Dangers of Explosive Growth and What to Do About It […]

  • Ron, We would love to see your great articles on http://www.CollectiveFaith.com. Please join and share with our Christian Social Network.

  • In an organization with explosive growth, burnout and stress are highly probable. Exploitation happens to a greater extent. Pre-planning and preparation matters a lot to handle such situation.

  • @levittmike says:

    I have worked for organizations that had rapid growth, and without a strong foundation (aka masks real problems), it creates a big mess once challenges arise.

  • Any organization or company that suddenly grew by leaps and bounds would most likely be over the moon about its progress and think it's enough to sustain the success. The problem here is that the company might get overconfident about the success it has attained that it may forget to focus on various factors that can help it sustain that success.

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