church issues

The issue with the traditional church is that it tends toward the professionalizing of the clergy and minimizing the efforts of the congregation.  That is the great benefit of a bivocational pastor, who knows he can’t do the job alone.  The busier they are, the more they MUST rely on the volunteers.  However, once established, the congregation feels an obligation to fund the pastor, and gain full-time staffs. 

I know from experience the issues of doing ministry part time.  In one placement, doing ministry on a college campus, I needed to arrive physically on campus for interactions with the head chaplain, and to make reservations for meeting rooms.  Unfortunately, those offices were open 9am – 4pm, and I was working 8-5, and the 30-minute drive each way cut into my lunch hour.  After a year, I handed the position to another, having at least established the position and started the reputation on that camputs.

In another task, I was already working 50-60 hours a week at my paid employment.  Adding the 20-hour church duties created a physical exhaustion that pushed me to end my service there after 10 months, because I couldn’t realistically cancel my employment.

In one startup congregation, seeking to evangelize the Jewish community, the 6 key volunteers set the room and performed all the administrative tasks that let the congregation leader arrive shortly after work on Friday evenings and lead the service.  Because we were performing the tear-down afterward, he was able to converse with the visitors and build the congregation.  In a similar congregation in another city, most of the setup was by the leader and his teenaged children, and I was able to bring those ministry volunteer skills to that congregation.

Most congregations at least 5 years old will have an established rhythm, and by the time theyt reach their 35th year, it’s hard to instill change.  Even when planting a second congregation, the habits of the parent will often replicated in the child, moreso if the funding is blended. 

The problem is that long-time volunteers have seniority, and with seniority comes the assumption that the person will remain in that position.  There is an expectation that someone placed in one role will stay in that role.  We’ve found their niche.  In some churches, for someone to change roles is hurtful to to one they left and starts them again as a novice in the new role.  Therefore, the leadership tends to think of the volunteer as permanently placed.  Even if they resign, they are often seen as unqualified for a second position, because their experience is only in the original slot.

This is fine for a community church, where everyone there is permanent.  They – or even their parents – grew up in that church.  Everyone has a role assigned upon gradution from school.  But for the newcomer, for them to take a slot may mean displacing someone, unless that person died while in the position.  (“Mrs D has always taught that age, and no one else could do as well.”)

Even with a new congregation, there is jockying for leadership.  Unless the emerging leader is willing to relinquish that role after a time, only the initial crew will be eligible for those roles.  As the congregation grows from the original crew (normally 12 to 40 adults) to a sustainable size with new congregants, it’s unlikely to attract too many with leadership gifts, unless there is a pre-existing familial connection.

Many of the functions in a traditional congregation don’t exist in a startup.  They are limited in funding and staff, and will do the minimum essential tasks.  As the congregation grows, there is need for flexibilty.  Where at the dreaming phase, the leadership may have offered surveys regarding where to serve, this is often a one-time occurrence.  However, in a rapidly congregation or one with high turnover, there is a constant need for new staff.  These congregations have systems established to onboard new members and help them become acclimated to appropriate jobs.  It would do the startup to begin with this mentality. 

In one startup, several volunteered to fill critical openings, and were then locked into that slot and exccluded from other activities.  The church wasn’t yet large enough for many of the secondary functions.  That congregation had the additional limitation of full-time staff that considered their role as to follow the founders’ vision and keep it from moving off target.  Therefore they were slow to establish supports and not well positioned to accept suggestions from outside the core leadership.  Their position is still not set, their authority not cemented, and might see suggestions as jockying for positioning.

One concern, therefore, is burnout by leadership, which considers themselves uniquely qualified to do the tasks, and unwilling to share roles.  Another is the tendancy to permanently lock volunteers into what were seen as temporary roles, which limits social interactions in the congregation at the critical formation time.

Starting a new congregation is hard work.  It is tasking on all involved.  And it means those leading must have loose grip on positions even as they quickly staff up the pool of temporary and replacement volunteers.

Most churches are on life support.

They are 2 or 3 tithers away from closing their doors.  By that I mean if a key member dies, or has a sudden financial hit (lost job, etc) and quits giving to the church, it will make an impact on finances.  In small churches, it doesn’t take many to create a significant burden.

The wise church looks ahead and either changes, or dies.  But change is hard, which is why we see so many churches closing.

Thom Rainer is a leading voice in understanding church dynamics.  He is now out of the publishing management business and is consulting full-time.  His primary focus is on restoration and replanting existing churches.

In his latest post, he gives nine steps to take to prevent closing the doors. The dominant theme is to stop using words casually, and stop meeting for the purpose of meeting.  Instead, there needs to be more doing of the right things – evangelism, Bible teaching and prayer.



A growing organization needs a constant influx of leaders. In part to deal with assimilation of new people, and in part because some leaders will occasionally leave, often for benign reasons.  Some will need a break from time to time, or move away, or grow too old or sick for the tasks as defined.  But also, some of the new people will have leadership skills and abilities, and if you aren’t creating ways to include them quickly, you will lose them to someplace that will, or worse, they will sit and do nothing.

If you don’t give a leader something to do that expresses their giftedness, they will usually sit on their hands and do nothing.” Bill Hybels

So it’s important to think early about the kinds of roles within your church that need some level of leadership, and how much autonomy that position needs, and how soon you can grow someone into that role.

Leadership pathways need to be created. The beginning is to identify the organization structure. Look at everything the church does do an audit. Create lines of Authority, who respond reports to w hom. In the beginning the leader will do helper tasks within established vet and leader. As they show themselves faithful they will become an assistant leader, under the model of watch me do it I watch you do it you do it you teach. So you watch what they do and you give them part of the job while you watch. As they show themselves competent there comes a time where they do the entire job with with observation and then the entire job without observation but they report back. This is how we train leaders. Once they are faithful in a small role, we allow we look for ways to move them into larger roles. Need to make sure that they understand this is the process of becoming a leader within the organization. For you to do this without telling them that this is the pathway will make them frustrated that its not moving fast enough and they will leave, taking these new skills to another place.

When a new person comes into the organization help them understand what your structure is. Some churches want new people to wait until they can go to a new member class. But if the person is still new and then transition, they may not have the time to fit your schedule yet. They are still operating on the new member schedule. For you to insist that they take an extra time that is already committed somewhere else before they can join up with your organization, they may be 3 or 6 or 12 months before they do anything. When you do this approach, you stifle the grow of the organization. Instead, you need a continuous flow, a way for someone to visit once join the next week strike that. Join in the work at a low level even before they have formally joined the organization.

This is a dating time, before the marriage occurs. They want to make sure that they will be a good fit. Too many churches require someone to come and sit for a while, then to become a member, then to go through a one to two month new members process, before they can start contributing to the work of the organization. Again if you have someone who is anxious to express their giftedness, you will lose them.

I say this from my experience and a military church and Europe. I moved there in January when the church was fully functioning. In May and June, the military started their summer rotation, moving on to the next military base. It bothered me that we lost a third of the membership and a half of the leadership in one or two months, but I was assured that God would provide, and in August new people started arriving. As they joined they said I was a deacon or I was a teacher or I was a choir member in my last church. What can I do here how soon can I teach? Within a couple of months they were organization was fully staffed again and and ready for the school year. This happened every year that I was there.

I remember I joined within a month and was quickly using my skills as a teacher and singles leader. The day I joined was the day that Chuck joined. He had been attending for a year but had not contributed because there was no place for him to serve until I came and begin leading the singles group. That church needed to create a space for leaders like myself and Chuck to enter into the organization. They did it well.

The city where I live now I have not found a church to do that. Perhaps that is why most of those here in my denomination are declining and ready to die, the fear of someone new coming in from a different background and reorganizing the church to a new paradigm.  But there needs to be a middle ground.  That’s why I use the teach/watch/do/teach model of growing leaders.

One of the easiest way is to increase participation is to focus on the people that are doing a little bit and ask them to do just a little bit more. We call this moving the middle because if you look at a bell graph and activity involvement you’ll have probably a lot of people doing only little bit and then you’ll have a kind of a drop off and then you’ll have a substantial number doing some and then it will tell off on the far right side there’s a lot of people doing a lot of their there’s a few people doing a awful lot of things and so if you look at it say we were doing 10 activities doing the week and probably a third to I have a the people in the average church or attending one or two events and soul the far left side would be pretty high. Then you’ll have a drop off and a number of people probably a tenth or maybe a quarter will be involved in 4 or 5 activities if you want to counted as leadership than it will be 0 to the left of that and these people will show up starting with one or two or maybe for.

And then the Kerrville drop off again or if you is that you will have a smaller number of people who are doing 5 or 8 functions and so what your trying to do is to take the people that are involved in one or two or three activities and push them 2 to 3 or 5. As this displays on a bell curve this shows that you are moving the middle to the right by one point where about to points what it translates to his a whole lot of activity because in a congregation of 200 if you can get a quarter which would be 50 to Adam one more activity your now adding 50 hours of that of activity but if you took someone who is already doing ate activities and might not have maybe they can add one more hour but there’s only 10 or 20 of those people your only adding 10 or 20 hours of activity so its much more activity by getting the middle to each and one more hour then it is to try to work at the people that are already busy and trying to get them to Adam one more activity the other side of is your growing leaders by putting the people in the middle into increase leadership responsibility and then it the same time you are saving the people that are highly committed from burnout and your giving them a chance to offload some of their responsibilities hi just moves they tail into left a little bit but the important part is putting the most number of people involved in doing several activities and at least one leadership per person. After all the gold is to involve more people in the ministry and the mission of the organization. Be in part because we know volunteers 10 to give twice as our twice as likely to give and generally give free times as much to the organization. If I increase there activity buy a few percent by one more hour week which may turn into 10% more commitment that one hour or week becomes I a higher involvement of their giving it also commits them to the church more often and gives the view of the first time Vista that this is an active congregation where people show up and is not declining it is not dwindling the people are constantly involved in busy and and doing and this is a place where they can find a place to plug in.

In old houses, there weren’t many electrical outlets.  They didn’t need them.  There were no microwaves or computers.  Most kitchen gadgets were hand powered.  TVs didn’t come until the 50s and 60s. Maybe a record player. A couple of lights per room.

Today, everything plugs in.  Even the battery items need daily recharging.  Modern building code is a double outlet every six feet.  And you can’t daisy-chain extension cords around the room.  Gone are the days of the 14 cords into the single outlet.

multiple plugs in full socket

There’s a similar concept I learned from “Sticky Church”. You can’t plug in a new cord until another is removed. There are only so many spaces. He used the idea of a lego block, but it’s the same concept. If you don’t make space for new people, there is no place for them to join. And in the same way, if you don’t keep some connections, the marginal members will walk away.

Plan for Growth

The first rule in growing is to plan for it.  Isaiah says to “strengthen the pegs and loosen the cords.”  I’ve always taken that to mean we should have a good organizational structure of reports and accountability, but also make room for more.

Rather than splitting a group, you build new teachers and launch them into new spaces.  This builds a cadre of apprentice and substitute teachers while preparing you for growth.  I’ve spent time as a church’s ‘permanent substitute’ – able to teach any class with short notice, in case of last minute illnesses or car trouble.  A church needs those people, and a ready supply of substitute teachers lets them get experience before giving them their own class.

This is how we used to do church planting.  Identify an area, hire a pastor and recruit a cadre of families.  They will start meeting in separate small groups while still connected with the main congregation.  Eventually they will start worshiping together, in the sponsor’s building.  Once they have the rhythm and habits of the new congregation established, the church will rent new space and launch the new congregation with a commissioning or sending service.

The first way to keep people at the church is to make sure they are welcomed in properly.

Welcome them at the door, and notice them before they leave.

Many churches have greeters at the beginning of the service, but the best ones also have them on the way out.  The greeters help them find their way.  The ones after the service make sure the visitor doesn’t leave without a chance to reflect on what just happened.

Paco Underhill, in his book “Why We Shop” notes that the foyer of a store, the first 10 feet, is a transition zone, and it’s there to help the customer get their bearings.  The usher at the door escorts them from the world at large into the safe space of the church.  They help with parking. They help them get in, such as providing umbrella escort in the rain, or help to the parent with 3 kids and two diaper bags – or a box of snacks for class.  They don’t leave the new person to fend for themselves, but instead guide them to a classroom or a seat in the sanctuary.

The 3 key questions here are: “I’m <your name>..  How long have you been coming?  Is there some need I can pray about?


It’s easier to grow a church if you’re keeping the ones you attract. Really, it’s easier to attract new people if you’re doing the right things to keep them, to nurture the existing members and regulars.  Here’s what I mean. (more…)

I got a strange email Friday afternoon.  The pastor of the churches I visited once sent me an email with the cryptic subject line: “Survive”.  Here is the entire text of the email:

Breakfast at 8:30. Class will follow. Be done before noon

I had no idea what he was talking about.  I went to the website to find out. There was no website.  I googled and found a Facebook page that said that page was shutting down and directed me to another page that didn’t exist.  So I sent the pastor a reply saying I had a conflict, but was interested in details:

Thanks for the invite.  However I have a commitment Saturday morning this week.

Also, I don’t know what Survive is.  I looked for it on the website, but the church has no social media presence to find out.  I did find a Facebook page that said it was going to be taken down last December, but the link didn’t go anywhere, or was private, so it wasn’t any help.
Now I must tell you that although I only attended one Sunday, I did talk with the pastor about how I might help the church.  I gave him a presentation on how to easily create a social media presence for not much money.  He thanked me and said he had people in the church that could do it.  That was six months ago.
I’m guessing the church is still trying to decide how to survive the declining membership.  Given what I’ve seen, that might become a real issue.

We live in a world where people are online all day.  One study suggested teens are on social networks more hours than they sleep.  So if you’re going to connect, if they’re even going to be aware of what you do, you need to be where they are.

One key marketing tool is Twitter. With Twitter, you ‘tweet’ short messages – 160 characters.  You can’t get too deep into it, but you can build curiosity and then pull them to another platform (like your blog) where you can expand the topic.

One strategy is to build awareness on Twitter, pull them to Facebook for dialogue, and then lead them to the blog site where you are able to explore the topic and collect their contact information.

So how to do you do Twitter so you don’t come off like a wanna-be or like you’re spamming them?  I bought a guide, and rights to share it with you.  It’s made for product marketers, but works just as well for churches.  Click here to read it.

Ed Stetzer is one of the experts I follow.  He writes on behalf of LifeWay publishers, and is a Southern Baptist (SBC).  With the annual meeting approaching, he wrote an interesting post as food for thought

It’s easy to look at the declining statistics in our denomination and moan over the opportunities we are missing. It’s also easy to dismiss statistics and the story they tell, choosing to ignore reality. The way forward for Southern Baptists is to reject both approaches. Instead, we ought to take a deep breath, come to grips with what the stats tell us, and then move forward in hope. There are reasons to be concerned with the state of the Convention, but also reasons to celebrate. I’d like to highlight reasons I’m excited about the meeting in New Orleans next week, and encouraged about the future of the SBC.

He also quoted former SBC president Jimmy Draper, who said “Ed, if we don’t find a way to encourage church starts, to reinforce doctrinal principles for discipleship to the Great Commission, to enlist, encourage, and equip younger leaders, and to cooperate with those within [doctrinal] parameters, we are dead in the water.”

You know I support church planting, but we can’t get there from here with new churches alone.  We will have to do better at renewing our faith inside existing congregations.  If we only start one to lose two, we fail.  Better to start two and strengthen three.  Both must teach the Bible faithfully, build young leaders, and be intentional about evangelism and missions


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