SIZE & 4 Ways to Break the Church Attendance Barrier #EdStetzer

by Ed Stetzer, Outreach Magazine, 7/12/16.

When it comes to church growth, some barriers or size plateaus prove to be difficult to overcome, churches feel stuck at a certain size…

For example, a lot of churches get stuck at 35 members. These kinds of churches are typically comprised of a family or two and some of their friends. Another barrier exists at 75 members. The church consists of a pastor, who may not be full time, and a congregation in which everybody knows each other. The 125-person barrier is one of the hardest for churches to break through because progress involves restructuring and thinking differently…

There are four shifts that must take place to ensure continued growth past the traditional attendance barriers.

1. Pro-Growth Shift

First, church members and leadership must shift their mindset from anti-growth to pro-growth. I once received some pushback from an occasional attendee at our church. During an outreach emphasis, he asked why we were wasting our time emphasizing church growth. He said we were behaving like a business and that we should be happy with the people we already had…

2. Relational Shift

…In Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations, Thom Rainer and I outline relational intentionality as one of seven elements … Because proximity to other people does not automatically lead to community with other people, the shift must move people from sitting in rows to sitting in circles. Having a 30-second meet and greet on Sunday mornings will not help visitors connect, but helping them to make friends through small groups will. A small group environment provides opportunities for authentic community and connection to the church at large.

3. Staff Shift

In order to break attendance barriers, a church must experience a staff shift. It’s not necessarily that churches need to hire more staff members—though that could be the case—but rather they must help their staff undergo mindset shifts regarding the functions and purposes of their ministries. They must intentionally spend time with two specific groups of people—leaders and the lost…

4. Ownership Shift

The fourth and final shift must take place in the lay leaders within the church. They must take responsibility for their respective ministries. They must own the goals, plans and strategies for implementing and improving their ministries.

This concept must spread to the church as a whole. Beyond merely those in a leadership position, every church member must see the church as his or her own. They should not think of it in terms of being the lead pastor’s church or the elders’ church. Every church member must take ownership and work toward the church’s growth and health…

Read more at … http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/18394-break-the-attendance-barrier.html

ATTENDANCE & Student List of How Leadership Styles Must Change as a Church Grows

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: The following list was put together by my seminary students from experience and research (and to fulfill a leadership exercise you can also use, access it HERE).  I think you will agree with me that it is an eye-opening list.


Fellowship Size (40 or less, relational base)

> Keep at this size by …. Allowing for the congregation members to “run” the church the way they prefer, sitting back without setting a clear vision (Northouse, 2012), letting the environment determine behavior and decision-making. (Lindsey G.)

> Grow out of this size by …. Set goals, develop problem-solving skills (Northouse, 2012), challenge the congregation by setting a clear and realistic vision. (Lindsey G.)

>Keep at this size by ….Growing inward with no focus on outreach. (Kim K.)

> Grow out of this size by ….focusing outward (while still focusing inward and upward) and creating/promoting small groups (Kim K.)

> Keep at this size by ….by focusing exclusively inward and not reaching into the surrounding community with evangelistic efforts. (Kelly H.)

> Grow out of this size by ….Establishing a firm relational foundation with the members first then setting up a home group ministry that encourages members to invite neighbors friends and coworkers to attend. (Kelly H.)

 Small Size (41-100, one big family)

> Keep at this size by ….Pastor doing all of the work, relationships within the church are the focus rather than forming new relationships outside the church. (Kim K.)

> Grow out of this size by ….partnering with God to take the gospel out of the church to the ends of the earth (Kim K.)

> Keep at this size by ….Focusing exclusively on congregational care. (Kelly H.)

>Grow out of this size by ….Adding to the home group ministry community outreach activities like soup suppers, musical events and children’s activities like vacation bible school. (Kelly H.)

> Keep at this size by …. Our senior pastor will be the only decision maker in our church.  He will follow up behind his leaders and make changes that he does not approve of based on his way of doing things even if the result is the same. (Melody C.)

> Grow out of this size by …. The Senior Pastor will allow the associate pastors to help oversee and develop the ministries.  He will verbally back up the decisions of the associates and will allow for delegation to lay leaders to assist and help do the work of the ministry.  Multiplication will be a part of the focus with outreach and evangelism as a larger part of the goal. (Melody C.)

Middle Size (101-175, maintains adequate ministries)

> Keep at this size by ….no new growth/maturity of Pastor or members. (Kim K.)

> Grow out of this size by …Moving out of your comfort zone and making new disciples. (Kim K.)

Awkward (176-225, doesn’t recognize it is a “congregation of congregations”)

> Keep at this size by ….  Continuing to place all responsibility on the two pastors on staff.  They will fill the roles of senior, youth, visitation, and outreach. (Bobby P.)

> Grow out of this size by …. Hiring part time staff as visitation and outreach coordinators.  These could be current pastors looking for more work, retired pastors, or even skilled lay people. (Bobby P.)

> Keep at this size by …. “treating the group as one large congregation with no varying cultures or perceptions.” (C.J. W.)

> Grow out of this size by …. “Accepting and celebrating the differences in the congregation and identifying and empowering leaders that can facilitate growth.” (C.J. W.)

Large (226-450, functions as a congregation of congregations)

> Keep at this size by …. keeping the resources stretched so thin that people are starting to sneak out the back door. (Bobby P.)

> Grow out of this size by …. Establishing roles within the church so the attenders feel needed and valued.  They will have a reason to continue attending this particular church week after week. (Bobby P.)

 Huge (451-700, administration consumes most time)

> Keep at this size by …. “micromanage. Not allow staff to lead to their fullest potential.” (C.J. W.)

> Grow out of this size by …. “Developing a staff culture of leading leaders.” (C.J. W.)

Mini-denominational (701+, a network of congregations, each which its own identity)

> Keep at this size by …. Maintaining what is already “good,” coasting along on old vision, setting values that reflect being “mediocre” is good enough (Northouse, 2012).

> Grow out of this size by …. Be intentional about strategic planning, which “requires developing careful plans of action based on the available resources and personnel to achieve a goal” (Northouse, 2012, p. 95), challenge and cast vision, equip people to lead and grow. (Lindsey G.)

ATTENDANCE & A List of Principles That Break the 1,000 & 1,500 Barriers #ElmerTowns #GaryMcIntosh

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I often ask student-researchers in my Missional Church MISS 600 course to research and compile a list of strategies and tactics to break through different church size barriers.  Below is a list complied by students in churches facing 1,000 and 1,500 size barriers (with their commentary on their perception of the relevance of each strategies/tactics).”

Kenny G. said:

Towns (1998) has suggested 8 issues that churches around 1,000 begin to deal with.

1.     Uncharted Waters – in this section he notes that it is at this point that pastors and boards typically begin to enter areas of leadership that they do not understand and they have trouble spotting the troublesome issues (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 6).j

2.     Growth itself as a barrier – here he notes that the increased number of people leads to more problems because there are more people with more problems which adds layers of complexity (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para8).

3.     Lack of cohesion in critical mass – At this level, Towns, Wagner, and Rainer (1998) notes that the things that hold the group together begin to become less noticeable and thus, there is a lack of cohesion (Chapter 7, para. 9).

4.     Platform for growth without personal bonding – the church grows because of its platform and not because of personal relationships. This leads to a bit of the revolving door syndrome which keeps new people coming in but not staying (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer 1998, Chapter 7, para. 10).

5.     Space limitation – this one sort of speaks for itself; the church runs out of room for new people (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 13). Park Chapel is dealing with this issue right now.

6.     Change in leadership style – at this level the leadership must shift to a more executive style (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 20).

7.     Limited pastoral leadership – the senior/lead/head pastor must shift his/her focus from ministry directly to the congregation to equipping/training those who will serve the ministries (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 23).

8.     Projection of needs onto the congregation – pastors must look to the diversity of needs in the growing congregation instead of the one or two things that got them to this point (Towns, Wagner, & Rainer, 1998, Chapter 7, para. 29).

Gary McIntosh (2009) offers things that a church must do to get beyond the 1,500 mark.

1.     Adjusting roles of board and staff – the board (in PC’s case, elders) must step out of everyday decision-making and let that be handled by the staff. The board functions as the policy forming, overall budgeting, values, and long-range planning issues (McIntosh, 2009, p. 165)

2.     Adjust staff organization – the senior pastor must change how he/she functions either to more executive-type leadership or to a team of leaders (McIntosh, 2009, p. 166).

3.     Team Building – staff members must shift from being “practitioners” to “team-builders” because the numbers necessitate more hands on ministry than they themselves can provide (McIntosh, 2009, p. 166).

4.     Be a church of small groups – the church must shift from having small groups to be a church of small groups (McIntosh, 2009, p. 167). This allows the congregants to continue to experience the cohesion that is necessary for them to stick around and develop more intimate relationships.

5.     Think beyond the local church – must have a globally minded board (and ministers) because the church’s impact with stretch beyond their local context (McIntosh, 2009, p. 167).

As can be seen, many of these suggestions in McIntosh address the issues raised by Towns, Wagner, and Rainer. This is the best I could come up with – and I apologize for potentially causing my fellow classmates more work.

McIntosh, G. L. (2009). Taking your church to the next level: What go you here won’t get you there [Google Books version]. Retrieved from books.google.com

Towns, E., Wagner, C. P., & T. S. (1998). The everychurch guide to growth: How any plateaued church can grow [Lifeway Reader version]. Retrieved from reader.lifeway.com

GROWTH BARRIERS: The 200 Barrier in Churches: 9 Observations

The 200 Growth Barrier in Churches Revisited: 9 Observations
by Thom Rainer, 3/20/14

“It was a fascinating journey to read again works from the 1970s and 1980s by Bill Sullivan, C. Peter Wagner, Elmer Towns, Bill Easum, John Maxwell (pre-leadership guru days), Carl George, George Hunter, and others. I was particularly interested in those works dealing with the 200 attendance barrier in churches. So I took a day to review those specific works. Allow me to share with you some observations.”

Read more at … http://thomrainer.com/2014/03/19/the-200-growth-barrier-in-churches-revisited-9-observations/