Surface to Soul

5 reasons why congregations stall

I frequently  hear leaders ask the following two questions: “Why aren’t we growing?” and “Why aren’t we moving forward, faster?”

I think it’s fair to assume that thriving congregations should grow in a variety of ways and that congregations should be continuously moving toward God’s preferred future.

Here are five traits that could be hindering your progress:

  1.  Competent leaders: Few, if any organizations rise above the level of their leadership.  Leaders must model the way for others, communicate a clear, compelling vision, articulate a plan for moving forward, and find ways that individuals can make meaningful contributions. Rate your leadership teams on a scale of 1-10 (10=great!), based on this criteria.  If you’re not at least a 6 or above, you’re going to have challenges with growing and moving forward.  Consider ways to get the right people on the bus, and in the right seats.  You may also have to consider who needs to “get off the bus” in order for your leaders to move forward.
  2. Consistent action:  Leaders help define what matters most along with how others can contribute to God’s mission in the world.  Effective leaders also know the importance of setting and reviewing short-term wins and action steps.  They know the impact that can occur when a dozen or more people fulfill specific action steps EVERY month that are aligned with the congregation’s goals.
  3. Climate: Every congregation has an atmosphere that guests can quickly pick up on.  Are “all people” truly welcome?  Are we a friendly church or one that actually “befriend” people and invite them into our circle of friendships?  Is there a sense that “God is up to something” or do we simply go through the motions?  Are there indicators that suggest the congregation is willing to try new things and is willing to risk failure? Do people experience the sacred during worship and in their interactions with others?  What is transformational about people’s encounter with your Christian community?
  4. Communication: Does your congregation have a tagline, and/or an elevator speech that concisely starts who you are, what you do, and where you are going?  Is communication shared primarily for guests or for all people?  Is there an external focus that addresses ways to reach and serve people beyond the church building? Would people be able to state what the congregation values most and on what people talk about and do? Are people provided with pathways and processes for becoming more like Jesus everyday, everywhere?  Is your congregation becoming a storytelling Christian community where people regularly share about their life and faith journeys? Consider what gets in the way of helping people do what matters most.
  5. Commitment to excellence:  I often ask people, “What would prevent you from inviting a friend to worship or an event?  Responses include concerns about people feeling welcomed, their ability to follow along and stay engaged in worship. Some express concerns that their congregation seems  more like a social club than being an authentic Christian community where people encounter God. Does your congregation consistently offer “wow” experiences that people would willingly invite their friends, family members and co-workers too? Are processes in place for building on what’s working, changing what’s not working, and thinking beyond what’s been done in the past?

A sixth trait that would seem obvious but is often overlooked is prayer.  Prayer is essential for discerning God’s will, and gaining wisdom on how to move forward, and for helping people live a bold, consequential faith.  It’s what’s “fills our sails” and gives us the capacity to live God’s mission.

What traits are evident in your congregation? What’s missing?  What do you need to pay attention to in the future?

 

October 16, 2014

3 Responses on 5 reasons why congregations stall"

  1. Laura Crow says:

    Wow, all of these are important. I immediately wanted to jump on the first bullet- effective leadership, but I am gravitating more and more to #3 – climate. If the congregation exudes authenticity and grace, befriending newcomers rather than just being friendly, I think this is much more important over the long haul for a congregation to grow and sustain that growth. Dynamic leaders are present for a season and have much to offer, but truly embedded discipleship and a continually renewed commitment to a compelling vision is what will last.

  2. Sam says:

    All five points are great but I think it would be really hard to tell someone to step off the bus.

  3. Cindy says:

    Each of these are vitally important for leaders to keep in mind. Whether it is the pastor, the Faith Formation staff member(s) or the elected lay leaders of a church, all need to keep each of these in mind if they want to be a part of a vital congregation.

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