Why Is My Church Not Growing?

Here is an example of a common question I receive:

My church is not growing. People come but they do not stay. We’ve analyzed all the majors and feel we are doing what we should but they do not stay. Any thoughts please?

I receive something similar almost weekly. I wish I had answers every time. I don’t. Most of the time I know many times they can’t afford a consultant (or don’t think they can, but should consider the investment), so I try to give them a few suggestions, in the limited time I have, to think through their issues.

Here is an expanded version of my typical answer:

It’s hard to diagnose here without more information. I do believe God wants the church to grow. We are to make disciples and part of discipleship is make more disciples. That in and of itself is growth.

A few quick comments first:

  • God is in charge of the numbers. People can disagree with me (and do) when I say I believe healthy churches are growing. Some grow in different ways. Some internally and some by raising up people who go outside the church to make disciples. Regardless of how growth occurs, all of us must agree God is ultimately in control.
  • The Holy Spirt grows people and therefore the church. We aren’t without responsibility in doing our part. We’ve been given an assignment to be a body with many parts, but we don’t ultimately grow people or churches.
  • Churches go through seasons, just as individual believers do. There are seasons we grow more than others and seasons we are simply maturing to grow later.
  • There are no cookie cutter answers. Just as God makes people unique, churches are unique because they are comprised of unique people.

With those clarifications, here are a few quick thoughts to help you discern your particular situation:

1. Do a survey of anyone who visited in the last year. Ask them why they stayed or didn’t stay. Ask them for ideas they have to improve a visitors experience. Ask them how they found the church. Be prepared for some hard answers, but you may discover things you aren’t seeing.

2. Do a church wide/or leadership wide half day brainstorming session, depending on the size of your church. You want enough people to have a wide range of ideas, but not so many that you never get anything accomplished. I’ve done this with 12 and I’ve done it with 100. That’s getting a little large, but you don’t want to exclude people who are genuinely concerned and want to help the church. I prefer people who have positive dispositions, but you need a range of thought. You might even bring someone in to facilitate this process. Many times there are answers in the room that come from collected thinking. Ask, why aren’t people staying and what can we do?

You may need to do a second half day, perhaps with a smaller group, to summarize and make conclusions from the feedback of the larger group. In my experience, you will produce some key thoughts from an exercise like this which will spur momentum, in addition to creating renewed energy among these key leaders. (But you’ll have to act on some of the suggestions.)

3. Pay a community member (or a professional consultant if you can afford it) to “secret shop” your church and give you honest feedback. You can often find someone to do this free of charge simply to help the church, but there are professionals who know what to look for in a church visit. Many times we can’t see what’s missing on our own.

The bottom line is that you’ll have to do something intentional to get the answers you don’t have. There are good church consultants out there if you want to take that step. Let me know if you want some names and contact information. But, keep asking the questions you’re asking. Our mission as a church hasn’t changed, but the culture around us is changing rapidly. We must continue to grow as church leaders in order to continue to make new disciples.

Praying for you.

How would you respond?

Are You in a Controlling Environment?

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How controlling is the environment in which you lead?

That’s a great question, isn’t it?

I’ve previously written about controlling leadership. I tried to help you discern controlling leaders in THIS POST. I shared some ways to confront a controlling leader in THIS POST. And I shared some results of controlling leadership HERE.

But, what about the organization itself? How do you know if it’s controlling?

How well would you say new ideas flourish? Or do they?

You would want to know, wouldn’t you?

But, how do you?

Want to test yourself or your organization?

Ask yourself:

Do ideas determine systems?

Or

Do systems control ideas?

Here is another set of questions with the same thought:

When someone has a new idea, do you adapt, tweak, and create systems to support them?

Or

Do you decide whether or not the idea can survive based on your current systems?

Think about it. In a controlling environment, an idea can flourish only if there are systems to support the idea. In a less controlling environment, they create systems around the ideas…systems to make the ideas work.

Which is most true of your organization?

This doesn’t mean there won’t be ideas that aren’t a fit for the purpose, culture or DNA of the organization.

But, don’t let systems stifle creativity.

Let vision control your ability to move forward…not systems.

How would you discern a controlling environment?

How to Get a Boss to Notice You

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I was asked by a young leader recently:

How do I get my boss’s attention?

Honestly, I think the question was premature. He’s been on the job less than a month. I told him that. He is a friend (of a friend) and so I felt the freedom to be candid with him.

He is not only premature, but also probably asking the wrong question. He wants to do well in his career, wants to hit the ground running, but doesn’t feel he has been able yet to get the boss’s attention. I’m not sure at this point, that should be his greatest concern.

But, I value the fact that he is asking the question. It shows intentionality, which I appreciate.

I realize what some of my peers are thinking at this point…arrogance…impatience….audacity. I get that. It’s true the younger generation wants to move ahead fast. Real fast. They don’t necessarily understand the term or want to “pay their dues”. They want a seat at the table of leadership today. It’s a cultural shift we have made. I get that. I’m not even opposed to it. One of my favorite things to do is to invest in younger leaders and part of that is by giving them a seat at the table.

The reality is, though, in fairness to the boss, it would be hard to judge the system in such a short time. He may pay attention to this young leader if he does nothing else. Give it time.

But, again, I appreciate the fact that this young leader wants to make a difference enough to be noticed.

So here is my advice.

If you want your boss to notice you:

Be respectful  – The leader needs to know you recognize and appreciate the position he or she holds. That’s important whether or not you agree with the leader. If he or she doesn’t feel respected, you are unlikely to gain any attention.

Do great work

Be consistent – Consistency over time almost always leads to respect.

Do great work

Be resourceful – Especially today and in this economy, leaders are having to find ways to do more with less. Help that happen and you are practically guaranteed a seat at the table.

Do great work

Be responsive – Responsiveness is rare these days. Answer emails promptly. Be on time. Follow through on commitments.

Do great work

Be attentive – Things change fast. If you are aware of the times and can help the organization move forward quicker, you become a valuable commodity on the team.

Do great work

Be resilient – Do you wear your feelings on your sleeves? Are you always questioning another person’s motives? Would you be considered paranoid? Those are not welcoming attitudes that invite you a position to the table.

Do great work

Be exceptional – Normal is…well…normal. Exceptional is rare. If you want to truly set yourself apart, be noticed, and advance in leadership, you have to rise above normal.

Do great work

Do you catch the “subtleties” in this post?

My best advice to gaining the attention of your boss:

Do great work

Anything you would add?

The Quickest Way to Spur Change

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Do you want to know the fastest way to encourage change?

Expose leaders to new ideas.

In a team environment, where people are empowered to lead, new ideas produce change.

Often faster than any other way.

I’ve tried to practice this as a leader. That’s why I encourage attending conferences when possible. I pass along blogs and podcasts. We often read books together as a staff.

As long as people are allowed to dream…and the leader doesn’t have to control everything…when the team is introduced to new ideas…ideas produce energy and momentum. As team members attempt something new, change happens. Quickly. It doesn’t have to be monumental change to create excitement. Tweaks. Slight improvements. Small adjustments. Those can create an atmosphere and an appetite for change on a team. There is always less resistance to major change when change is a part of the culture.

Recently, our staff took this principle to a new level. We used training budget and our ministerial staff and spouses traveled to Asheville, NC. We went to learn from Biltmore Baptist Church. Pastor Bruce Frank is leading an exceptional team at a church several times larger than our church. Like Immanuel, they are an older established church, but they have figured out some things we are still learning. We toured the church and then each staff member at Immanuel met with their counterpart staff member at Biltmore. We asked questions and explored their story. It was insightful.

It is an experiment. Honestly, I’m not sure how it will work yet, but I’m sure of one thing. It exposed us to some new ideas. We have some immediate changes we are considering. Our team bonded. And, there is new energy and momentum developing. That has to produce some good.

And, that’s a win for me.

Do you want to encourage to encourage change quickly? Expose your team to some new ideas.

How does your team encourage change?

How Do You Find So Many Great Restaurants?

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I’ll be honest…I like to eat. It’s become somewhat of a habit, in fact.

Our boys used to make fun of Cheryl and me because we would often drive long distances to eat.

Since, we’ve moved to Lexington, KY, we’ve determined that there are nearly 100 locally owned restaurants…and we are half way into exploring them all. We’ve uncovered some gems too.

People keep asking us…they always have:

How do you find so many good restaurants?

People who have lived here for years are learning restaurants from us. I kind of like that.

But, it’s a great question…and by the way…the answer serves as a great leadership and life principle as well. (If you knew me…you already knew that…right?)

Here is the answer:

We don’t limit ourselves to what we already know.

  • We take risks
  • We explore
  • We listen and ask questions of others
  • We venture off the path everyone around us has paved
  • We occasionally even get lost along the way
  • We aren’t afraid to be the first ones (in our circle of influence) who try something new

We will often Google reviews and we are impacted by them somewhat, but mostly we just take chances. That’s where we discover some of the greatest places.

Recently, we were in Maryland. We took the road less traveled, ended up on a dead end at the ocean in Virginia. It was a dive. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but it was great. Another gem.

You see, for us…
Being stuck with the same short list of restaurants…with the same menu items…

Boring…boring…very, very boring. (That’s actually a song in my head…wish you could hear the tune…)

That’s our secret. How do you find good restaurants?

And, just curious, does that represent how you do life?

By the way, it’s how I often do leadership too.

Three Steps to Setting Achievable Goals

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In my previous post, I talked about resolutions in a light-hearted manner. Many say they don’t make them, because they don’t work. The news media doesn’t help. Every year I see the same reports telling us how many people don’t keep the resolutions they make. No encouragement there. So, I shared some broad resolutions that are more life directions than actual resolutions. (Read that post HERE.)

I know this, however, seldom do we hit a target we haven’t yet identified or located. So, if you want to improve in certain areas of your life, you need some new direction to get you there. You’ll have to make some changes in what you are currently doing.

Call them goals if you want. That seems to be a more popular word these days, but decide a few areas in which you want to see improvement, then put some goals in place to help you get there. Making positive lifestyle changes isn’t easy, but it really does start with that simple of a process.

To help you get started, here are…

Three guidelines I use for choosing achievable goals:

Quantifiable – Make sure you can make the goal measurable. Don’t say you want to lose weight. Decide how many pounds you want to lose. Don’t say you want to read more. Say you want to read one book a month…something like that. You want to read your Bible more? Then set a goal to read one chapter per day. Not…save more money…but save $50 per pay period…etc.

Reasonable – Set a goal you can actually attain. Otherwise you’ll give up easily. If saving $50 per pay period is completely unreasonable, then decide the reasonable number. It probably should be some stretch to make it worth celebrating later (which is a key component in goal setting), but make sure you can do it. Losing 10 pounds per week is going to be tough…perhaps even unhealthy…but two pounds per week…pretty much anyone can do that with a little discipline.

Motivated – Pick goals you are passionate enough about to put the energy and discipline in it to achieve success. Do you REALLY want to lose weight? Do you TRULY want to do better with your finances? Is reading your Bible ABSOLUTELY a goal worth pursuing? Your degree of motivation will likely determine how committed to achieving the goal you remain.

If you think through setting quantifiable, reasonable and motivated goals, and then you consistently practice them for a month, or two, or better yet three…you’ll be we’ll on your way to successfully completing them. And, the satisfaction from that will be worth celebrating.

If you are really serious about this process and want more, read THIS POST on writing a Life Plan.

Do you set goals (or resolutions) for the new year?

An Organizational Growth Cap Theory

When I consider companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Amazon, the one constant I think of is change. Interestingly, after I typed that first sentence, I Googled “Most Innovative Companies” and found Fast’s list for 2012. How close do you think I got to their list? See for yourself HERE. But, don’t be impressed with my guesswork. You could have done the same thing, because it’s obvious to us that these companies are all about change.

Then I think of churches I know…some of the most growing, Kingdom-impacting churches I know are also the most innovative…the most open to continual change. I think of LifeChurch.tv, for example. Not only have they impacted many with their vision for multi-site/video venues, but they’ve also helped us discover or been a part of YouVersion and Open, a resource website for churches and ministries. I also think of Andy Stanley’s North Point and how their version of doing church and Andy’s preaching style has impacted so many others. Both LifeChurch and North Point appear to be a culture of change. From what I read about their culture, change is continually being introduced.

Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that either of the church models is the right one for every church. Neither are they the exact right model for the church I pastor. I am interested in church growth. I do like to see progress. I do want to avoid capping Kingdom growth.

I am suggesting that there may be something about growth we can learn from the two examples…business and church. My personal experience, and watching other organizations succeed, has led me to believe that there is something about continual change that produces continual growth.

In fact, I wonder if:

The level of growth an organization can experience may be determined by its level of tolerance or resistance to change.

I’m still processing that thought.

What do you think?

Some of my best work…

Is done when I can’t understand all that I’m doing…

  • When things are messy…
  • When my head is cloudy…
  • When I have more questions than answers…
  • When my faith is being stretched…
  • When I am unsure of my position…

If you wait until you have all the answers…where doubt is removed completely…

You’ll often find yourself stagnant on making decisions…

You’ll seldom achieve “the best you can do”…

And the rewards you receive will be less than monumental…

Part of living the Christian faith is actually using it!

How are you currently having to walk by faith?

One who watches the wind will not sow, and the one who looks at the clouds will not reap. (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

Attempting to Eliminate Risk in Leadership

If you want to eliminate risk from leadership…

Here’s what you have to accept:

It will be expensive – You’ll have to eliminate every thing which could go wrong. That will not be cheap to accomplish.

It will be time consuming – You will have to research all scenarios and answer all questions. That will take considerable time.

It may seem impractical – Getting to zero risk may never actually happen regardless of how hard you try. Risk seems to find its way back into the equation, in my experience.

It may be unrealistic– Life is a risk. Risk is all around us. If it involves people, time or circumstances, risk seems more realistic than no risk…to me. I’m not saying it won’t, I’m just questioning how practical that really is and really whether or not that’s even leadership. Leadership by application involves risk.

I’m not trying to stop you from trying to eliminate risk in leadership. Study. Evaluate. Question. Critique. Make practical plans as much as possible. That certainly sounds like good stewardship. I try to do each of those. You can certainly keep doing so until you are comfortable the risk is eliminated. Go for it!

My personal thought, however, is that when eliminating risk is a primary motivation you may lose opportunity. Try to eliminate risk and the world and the best ideas may pass you by.

Eliminating risk certainly doesn’t mesh with my understand of faith, nor does it mesh with the passion or adventure God seems to have given to the people He created. We seem to be by nature seekers of adventure, discovery…risk.

But, if that’s your goal…to eliminate risk…don’t let me stand in your way. Zero risk on the way…right?

Bonus question: What is the biggest risk you are currently attempting?

The Value of a Long-Term Plan

I read a blog post recently that indicated the death of long-term planning was imminent. Their point was that we need to be so flexible in a fast changing world that we should no longer make 5, 10, or 20 year plans. Even a one year plan was diminished in importance for this writer.

I understand. I agree with the writer in principle.

In the age of short-term, instant everything, long-range planning gets a bad rap.I have a concern though.

My fear is if you don’t look further down the road, you’ll wake up surprised someday.

You’ll drift off course…

You’ll lose your way…

You’ll get distracted…

You don’t have to be rigid with your plan. I don’t even like the sound of that. You don’t have to legislate the methods of reaching the plan. That could keep you from embracing current trends. You don’t have to resist change because you have a plan. That seems counter-productive to me.

I just think you may still need a long-term plan.

Knowing where you want to end up is one key to long-term success. To me, that requires a longer term plan.

I know this:

You seldom hit a target you haven’t positioned in front of you.

How do you feel about long-term planning?