How to Break Growth Barriers: Capturing Overlooked Opportunities for Church Growth

Carl George leads the church growth institutue at Fuller Seminary and has consulted with thousands of churches in the area of church growth. His book, looks not only at barriers to growth, but focuses specifically on the leadership of the lead pastor. He uses the picture of a sheepherding vs. a rancher. The churches that are growing, the lead pastor sees himself as a rancher.

The characteristics of a sheepherder:  primary caregiving, overestimated significance, expectation drivenness, availability, performance, role comfort, poor delegating ability, poor planning ability, individualism, and ignorance of trends.

The characteristics of a rancher:  emphasis on the big picture, take-charge competence, one-another ministry expectation, group focus, flexible supervision, outcome objectives, large-picture focus, role creation, nondependency, and managerial skills.

Here are a few of the things I took away from this book:

  • We wrongly supposed that the key to effective ministry is our personal availability.
  • The leader’s prayerful goal is to determine how to apply his or her time and energy so that the most people can receive the best possible care in the shortest amount of time with the best use of resources.
  • I have yet to be in a church where more growth opportunity is not present than the church is willing to respond to.
  • You must shift from doing the caring, which usually means you do it yourself, to seeing to it that people get cared for, which means you develop and manage a system of care giving that will include as many of your church’s lay leaders as possible.
  • Church leaders have become keepers of the aquarium rather than fishermen of the deep.
  • Prayer is not so much an effort as a communion.
  • The leader’s basic philosophy must be:  We have seen what this organization can be; here is what the future needs to look like, and how we must act to make it so.  A leader is as powerful as the ideas he or she can communicate.
  • What gets rewarded gets done.
  • A leader is someone you will follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself.
  • The more inclined the pastor is toward personal involvement, the greater is his or her struggle learning to see to it that ministry is done as opposed to doing the ministry alone.
  • People’s needs to receive care must exceed your need to give it.  If you are to be effective in ministry, you must accept the fact that there will be times when cannot be both available and adequate.
  • After almost two decades of careful investigation of the North American church, it is my growing conviction that the way pastors manage as church leaders is the single most important cause for the failure of the church to perform in the way God requires and in the way the Holy Spirit would empower them to accomplish.
  • Leaders set a direction; managers outline the steps to the destination.
  • The purpose of organization is to make weakness irrelevant.

One of the main points of the book is that to grow and be a healthy church as God designed in the New Testament, the caring must come from more than the lead pastor. The lead pastor cannot and should not be the primary caregiver in a church. It is unfair to the lead pastor and the church. It means the lead pastor is not using all of his/her gifts and fulfilling the calling God has on their life. It also keeps people in the church with gifts in caring away from using their gifts. Yet this is the primary way most churches operate today. Which is why the average church in America is 75 people and 85% of churches have less than 200 people. This is also the greatest challenge facing churches in America, breaking the 200 barrier.

The big thing for churches is whether or not they want to grow and reach people. I have heard it all from people when it comes to church growth. Things like, “You’re just about numbers.” I am about numbers, because those numbers represent people I know, people I’m related to, people I care about who are not going to spend eternity with God and not be a part of the kingdom of God. So yes, numbers are important to me. As Bill Hybels says, “Lost people matter to God, therefore, they matter to me.” And honestly, if lost people don’t matter to you and you do not want to be a part of a church that is growing and reaching people, Revolution is not for you. We are a church where lost people matter and reaching people matter. I know that sounds harsh, but I think it is a sin to not reach as many people as possible.

Two weeks ago I asked the question, “What if the person who led you to Jesus said, ‘My church is big enough.'” What if that person didn’t have a passion to help people find their way back to God? Where would your life be? That is what is at stake as we look at the world around us.

5 thoughts on “How to Break Growth Barriers: Capturing Overlooked Opportunities for Church Growth

  1. Pingback: Transitions « My World

  2. When Christ equipped and sent out the 12 and then the 70– it wasn’t about numbers — it was about urgency. Don’t waste time changing clothes, changing houses, carrying extra set of underwear! Just get going! If they don’t receive you, move on! Not about numbers, about urgency of the message…When He talked about numbers, he talked about ONE lost sheep…

  3. I agree, Jesus is concerned with one. But that one is a number and it represents countless other people. Not just one specific person. The sheep, the coin and the prodigal son did not exist, which is why Jesus said, “It is like…”

    For me, numbers matter because of what they represent. The point isn’t to have the biggest church in the world, the point is to have a passion to help that one person find their way back to God, and then to help the next person.

  4. The key is the vision of reaching people for Christ and the first steps to do that, but after you start, you have to know what to do next. Staff (Associate Pastor or Children Assistant or second secretary?) mission, parking, advertising, what?

  5. I agree with Robert, it focuses on vision. The problem comes when the pastor gets a vision for the ministry and shares that vision. Then usually 1 of 2 things happen:
    1. The pastor tries to micro-manage everything which prevents God from pouring out blessings on the church. Moses even had 70 helpers and only the real important things were taken to Moses. Christ had 12 helpers.
    2. The leadership of the church gives up on the vision because the results weren’t fast enough or the leadership didn’t LEAD in the vision.
    In Christ,

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