Overcoming Barriers That Stunt Our Growth

an illustration of a man standing on one side of a brick wall trying to get the attention of those on the other side of the wall with a megaphone
© 2018 ThinkStock Photos.

When Isaiah said of the watchman, "Let him declare what he sees" (Isaiah 21:6), he was pointing to what might be described as the prophetic dimension of a watchman. A watchman of ancient times was constantly alert to any impending attack from the enemy and gave a warning to leaders of the city if something concerned him.

Church health is a big part of a pastors calling. As leaders, we become aware of people’s issues and spiritual sensitivities (which include divisiveness), and God's vision for the congregation we serve. We also become aware of possible barriers that can injure our ability to be a healthy leader of a growing, healthy church.

Common Church Growth Barriers:

  • Not being appropriately seeker sensitive or aware while remaining attentive to the needs of the people who are regulars

This type of seeker sensitivity is not one of compromising our presentation of truth, but it’s being aware of those who do not understand church or do not understand our church

Thoughts: Some churches create an alternative service (or class) that focuses on the unchurched. Some have visitor parking near the door with people who watch for newcomers in order to answer any questions, and to personally guide them to classes, bathrooms, the sanctuary, and information on "What We Believe," etc.

  • Not wanting the church to grow because they are afraid it will injure the close-knit feeling

 Churches must create alternative small group experiences and ministry involvements for fellowship. We all need other people in our lives . . . people who care about us and miss us when we’re gone. Fellowship = unity. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)

  • Fearing that the church will lose its tradition

Tradition usually has a good beginning, but can become, well, "traditional". We repeat something because it worked in the past. We need to continue traditions that are working to reach people now.  However, we need to be conscious of (and take action) when some programs need to be revitalized or simply discontinued.

Regularly ask these hard questions:

Is it working?

Do we need to tweak it?

Do we need to replace it?

  • Not bringing friends to church

Some congregants are embarrassed because . . .

The services don't relate to unbelievers. The services may meet that particular church’s "traditional" needs, but not the needs of a person who might be seeking and open to the Gospel.

The church isn’t friendly, or everyone looks and acts depressed. Focus on the goal! A healthy church will draw people – because people want to be healthy.

  • Emphasizing meetings rather than ministry

Church health is the number one measure of success – not attendance. Attendance is important but not the MOST important. Members need to become ministers.Do not rationalize audience decline, though. If the attendance goes down, you need to understand the reasons. There could be some issues that need to be addressed.

  • Teaching without application

This only informs – rather than transforms. The goal in preaching is to make it behavioral. The Bible tells us to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22).

  • Embracing legalism

If churches are more interested in keeping the rules and maintaining the "history" than they are at winning people to Christ, they are driven by legalism. This will inevitably kill the growth. The need is to create a climate of acceptance that meets people where they are and allows them to be nurtured while they are becoming what Christ wants them to be. By meeting people where they are, you can eventually lead them to where they need to be.

  • Being structured for control rather than growth

Many churches are over-structured, and they are choking to death. The need is to be flexible, reasonable, and open as we create ways to meet the challenges of the future.

About the Author

Dr. Wayde Goodall is a member of the Church Growth International Board (CGI) under the direction of Pastor Yonggi Cho, and an adjunct professor at several Christian universities and seminaries. For the last seven years, he served as Dean of the College of Ministry at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA. Founder of Worldwide Family, Inc. and Integrity Coaching international, he is a frequent global speaker on topics such as men's issues, business and church leadership, pastoral care, and marriage and family.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.

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