Hitting A Church Growth Barrier? Getting Bigger Isn’t Your Only Option

Should pastors adjust our leadership style to accommodate a larger congregation? Or is there a way to allow for and encourage growth that won’t require such a radical shift?

For years it’s been assumed that if your church is hitting a growth barrier there’s only one thing to do – learn how to readjust your leadership style so the congregation can keep growing numerically.

As it turns out, it’s not that simple.

When your church is pushing up against a numerical growth barrier you have a decision to make. Most of the time, the decision is made subconsciously – and therefore poorly. In this article I want to take that decision from the subconscious to the conscious level to help give us a chance to make the decision more wisely.

Here’s the decision: Should you, as a pastor adjust your leadership style to accommodate a larger congregation? Or is there a way to allow for and encourage growth that won’t require such a radical shift?

It Starts With Awareness

I’m not talking about stopping or limiting church growth. Never.

And I’m not saying we shouldn’t adapt, grow and expand our leadership skill set. We should always be doing that.

What I am suggesting is that it isn’t always necessary to make a radical shift in your leadership style in order to accommodate for numerical growth.

There are options that will allow and adapt for church growth without making the abrupt and not-always-helpful change from hands-on pastor/shepherd to CEO-style manager.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t aware of any other options. I know I wasn’t.

Stay Inside Your Gifting and Calling

Years ago, when our church experienced a season of sudden numerical increase, I made the transition from shepherding to managing quite willingly and enthusiastically. But very soon I found that this shift had placed me outside my calling and gifting – the end result being a very dark season for me and the church.

In my conversations with hundreds of fellow small-church pastors, I’ve come to believe that my situation is not unique – in fact, it’s normative.

Not only is the move from shepherd to manager not an automatic decision, in many (maybe most) cases it’s the wrong decision.

Most pastors are not called to pivot from being a hands-on pastor to a managerial whiz. Some are, and I’m grateful for what God does in churches when that happens. But it’s not as necessary as we may have been told.

Thankfully, there are other options.

So what can a hands-on shepherding pastor do to stay in pastoral mode without stifling their church’s potential for numerical growth? Here are a few options to consider:

1. Become A Discipling Pastor

In this recent article, I described what I call the Pastoral Prime Mandate from Ephesians 4:11-12. Pastors are not called to do all the ministry for the people in the church. We, along with the other fourfold leadership gifts, are called to equip God’s people for the work of ministry – to make disciples who become disciple-makers.

The good news is, you don’t have to stop being hands-on for that to happen. Instead, you get to extend your pastoral gift by seeing others step into their gifting. The pastoral gift doesn’t have to stop with you. It can be handed off to a new generation.

2. Become a Sending Church

You can only be a hands-on pastor with a limited number of people. But that doesn’t have to inhibit church growth.

When we equip people to become disciple-makers themselves, part of that process is letting them go to plant or serve in other churches when the time comes.

There are so many small/mid-size churches that have a huge kingdom impact because they’re training and sending people into ministry outside their own walls. They may not be well-known because their congregation remains small. But their size doesn’t limit their impact or effectiveness.

3. Do Ministry From The Church Building, Not Just In It

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to reach people who will never enter our church building. Through online opportunities like live-streaming, blogging, podcasting and more, any church can reach an untold number of people in life-changing ways.

We must get past the idea that the only effective ministry is the kind that fills up our buildings. That’s far too limiting.

Even as you pastor those who come into your building on Sundays, you can minister to so many others through an online presence that directs them to another local church where they can be pastored by someone else.

That is church growth.

Other Options

Those are three options that our church has done and continues to do with great joy and effectiveness.

To be sure, they all required growth and learning on our part. But they didn’t necessitate a shift to a leadership style that falls outside our gifting and calling.

Do you know of other churches that have stayed small, and pastors that have stayed hands-on while making significant contributions to the growth of the church? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear all about it.

(Photo by Michael Rosner-Hyman | Unsplash)


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