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5 Barriers to Church Growth

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How to identify and break through the top five church growth barriers, no matter what your church size.

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Are you stuck? Has your church growth leveled off or even started declining? I can relate.

When we launched The Journey Church in 2002 with 110 people, I was ecstatic. What a great number for a brand-new church in the middle of New York City! Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long. The next week, only 55 of our 110 attendees returned. Not too bad, I reasoned—we’d kept half. Yet, over the next five months, with my dynamic leadership and powerful preaching, I “grew” the church down to 35 … in a city of 8 million. Something was definitely wrong.

Without knowing it, I was already bumping up against growth barriers—the issues we all face at various points in ministry that stop or reverse our church’s growth. But I slowly learned to identify and break through these barriers that were standing in our way. In five years, with God’s blessing and a clearly defined system for dealing with growth barriers, The Journey had become a multicultural, multisite community of more than 1,200.

Most churches seem to face growth barriers at five key points: when attendance reaches 65, 125, 250, 500 and 1,000. In training pastors throughout the country, I’ve discovered that we all deal with the same inevitable barriers, so remember you’re not alone. However, by becoming proactive in learning to identify and break through these barriers, we can keep our momentum and continue growing for God’s glory.

First and foremost, as a pastor looking to grow your church, make sure you’re always asking yourself the right question about growth.

The Wrong Question: How do I get my church to grow? Your job is not to force growth. When you think growth is your responsibility, you will inevitably make bad decisions. Church growth is ultimately not about what we can do in our own power; it’s about God’s power and His choice to work through us. Refuse to settle for anything less than God’s vision for your church.

The Right Question: What is keeping my church from growing? Healthy organisms grow. If you feel stagnation setting in, barriers are inhibiting your growth. Implement a plan to remove them.

Now that you’re asking the right question, I encourage you to make two affirmative decisions.

Decision No. 1: I believe God wants to grow my church. 2 Peter 3:9 (NLT) tells us, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise to return, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” Your church is part of that redemptive plan. Of course God wants it to grow. Growth signals repentance and life change.

Decision No. 2: I want to see my church grow. Does thinking about the next barrier you’re facing scare you into inactivity? Don’t get discouraged. God never gives us a vision without supplying what we need to fulfill it.

When you’re asking the right question, and you know in your core that both you and God want your church to grow, nothing can stop you—but growth barriers can definitely slow you down. So whether you are growing a small church in the suburbs or a megachurch in a big city, you need to be able to recognize the top five growth barriers and know how to meet them head-on

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