Five Growth Restricting Obstacles

Five Growth Restricting Obstacles
By Charles Arn

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God supernaturally breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ the local church is a living thing. So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why?”

A good doctor will not prescribe an antidote until he/she first identifies the problem. The same is true for the prescription of a non-growing church. The first thing to do is identify the problem. Just as there can be many reasons for a stomach ache, there can be many reasons for non-growth. And, like a stomach ache, non-growth is a symptom not the problem. If the reasons for non-growth are identified and eliminated, many churches experience new outreach and new people becoming Christians.

So, what keeps churches from growing? Here are five general growth-restricting obstacles. We don’t have the space here to solve each problem, but we hope to sensitize you to the categories and give you a better ability to diagnose your situation.

Growth-restricting obstacle # 1: The Pastor. There are three main ways in which the pastor can inhibit the growth of a church.

* The pastor does not have a priority for outreach. Some pastors simply don’t want to spend the time and energy to lead a growing church. Leading a growing church takes more work than leading a declining one. Perhaps the pastor has never been convicted that reaching lost people is a priority for his/her church. Possibly the pastor is unwilling to risk making the changes in budget or programs or worship service that would be necessary to reach unchurched people. A church led by a pastor with a low priority for reaching new people is not likely to grow.
* The pastor does not have a vision for growth. Growing churches have pastors that believe God wants their church to grow. Solomon said, “Without a vision…the people perish.” That is also true for a church. A lack of vision is just as much a barrier to outreach as a lack of priority. A pastor who desires a growing church must have a vision of what God wants that church to become, and then communicate that vision to the people.
* The pastor does not have the knowledge of how churches grow. There are many pastors who are wonderful spiritual leaders. But they have never learned the principles of how churches grow. Working harder is not the secret to church growth (although praying harder certainly helps). The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in seminaries or Bible schools about why people come to church, why they leave, and what can be done to increase church growth. If more pastors knew and then applied these principles, more churches would grow.

Growth Restricting Obstacle #2: The church members. While the pastor may be the obstacle to growth in some churches, there are many non-growing churches where the reason is in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when:

* Members have no personal priority for reaching the lost. Some members of non-growing churches believe that the benefit they will receive from participating in church outreach activities is simply not worth the cost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” they say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, and membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should certainly feel compelled.”
* Members have a self-serving attitude about church. Some members believe that while evangelism is a nice thing to do, the real priority of the church should be to feed the sheep. Such a conviction sees the pastor’s most important jobs as preaching to members, teaching members, counseling members, and calling on members. In other words, the church is here to serve me.
* Members fear that church growth will destroy their fellowship. Some members unknowingly frustrate church growth because they fear that growth brings loss of community and the sense of family. So they act in a manner that says to newcomers, “We like our church the way it is and newcomers like you are not important.”

Growth restricting obstacle #3: Perceived irrelevance. One difference between growing and non-growing churches is how the church is perceived by the people in its community. Growing churches are making the Gospel relevant to the concerns and needs of people in the 21st century. Arnell Arn Tessoni, former church planting director with the American Baptist Churches, observed: “It’s not so much the gospel that is the secret to reaching people…but the clothes in which we dress our Lord.” Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people they are trying to reach.

Growth restricting obstacle #4: Using the wrong methods. Peter Wagner, an early church growth authority, spoke about effective evangelism over 30 years ago and said, “You can’t go into a ripe field of wheat and expect to bring in the harvest—if you are using a corn picker.” Many churches are well intentioned, but simply misdirected in their outreach strategies; they are using the wrong methods for bringing in the harvest. Perhaps the outdated method is passing out gospel literature in an urban neighborhood…having evangelistic tent meetings… trying to grow a youth ministry when most people in the community are senior adults. None of these methods are necessarily wrong, it’s just that they are inappropriate for the harvest field in which the church is placed.

Growth restricting obstacle #5: No plan for assimilation. There was a sad story in the Los Angeles Times recently of a young, unwed mother who gave birth to her baby in the women’s restroom of a department store, and left it there for anyone who might stumble upon it. I believe some churches do a similar thing to their new baby Christians. They leave them on their own to survive, rather than having a plan to assimilate them into a caring, loving, nurturing Christian church. New Christians do not automatically become active church members. It takes making it a priority to give the nurturing, meaningful relationships to see new members get past that critical first year.
There are many reasons why churches don’t grow, but there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out why it’s not growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

Dr. Charles Arn is president of Church Growth, Inc. and Visiting Professor of Outreach at Wesley Seminary. He has been helping churches grow through his writing and consulting for nearly three decades.

From: web site. January 2010