All churches experience temporary plateaus and flat lines in their growth patterns. The obvious goal is to discover the cause and regain momentum in as short a time as possible. This is not an easy task, but it’s the leader’s job to press forward with faith and hard work.
Not unlike physical health, once an accurate diagnosis is made a good doctor can administer the proper protocol and get you back to health. But without an accurate diagnosis, even the best physicians can’t help you regain health.
Diagnosing the exact cause(s) of being stuck in a holding pattern is critical. For churches, “maintenance mode” is basically an ongoing and unaddressed holding pattern in attendance. Knowing the underlying cause of a church stuck in maintenance will help you identify and focus on the solutions needed to help you break out and regain momentum.
Keep in mind that it’s possible to grow for a season while beginning a slide into a maintenance mode, so these seven signs may also serve as proactive warnings.
Which of these may apply to your church?
1) Shepherding is a priority over evangelism.
Caring for the body of Christ is an important part of any local church ministry. Jesus modeled the leadership of a loving shepherd who cares for the flock. However, he never allowed that to trump the mission. True discipleship reproduces mature believers who hold evangelism as a priority. In this context I’m referring to evangelism as nothing more complex than people inviting the unchurched to church. When this slows or nearly stops, a church of any size can move into maintenance mode. Maintenance is practically defined as doing the same things with the same people over and over again. Evangelism is about new people.
2) Activity wins over productivity.
Busyness is one of the greatest causes of smaller churches staying small and large churches getting stuck. No one local church was designed to do every ministry someone in the congregation can dream up. That’s just not possible, nor is it wise. Nonetheless a surprising number of churches attempt to do so. A more strategic and lean approach to ministry leads to greater productivity and results in greater life change. Click & Tweet! Busyness often results merely in people becoming exhausted with little results for all the hard work.
3) Analyzing is emphasized over innovating.
When in a holding pattern, I’ve caught myself falling into the trap of analyzing rather than innovating toward growth oriented solutions. A little of this is good, we need solid thinking to base future plans upon. But a steady diet of analysis leads to excuses. As John Maxwell teaches, “The paralysis of analysis” will shut down any organization. Innovative thinking, risk-taking and strong leadership are required to break out and regain momentum. What ministry innovation are you working on right now?
4) Depth is affirmed more than reach.
Spiritual formation requires moving from “milk to meat”. Spiritual depth is a hallmark of growing and healthy churches. However, churches that elevate depth over reaching more people will eventually stagnate and stop growing. Click & Tweet! These two things need not be mutually exclusive. But if you don’t give the edge to creating a church environment where the unchurched understand what is being said, and feel comfortable and accepted in your worship service, then all the depth in the world is not helpful. Eventually you are teaching the same deep truths to the same people over and over again.
5) Stability is valued over progress.
Protecting the culture and honoring your history is important. But when stability and peace win out over measurable progress, the future of your church is in jeopardy. None of us can tolerate constant change and high octane drive on a constant basis. Leading in such a way that allows the congregation to “breathe” between more aggressive seasons of leadership is smart. But when the comfortable nature of “breathe time” is clearly the dominant pattern, maintenance kicks in and progress shuts down. What is the one thing that you are driving forward on a visionary level that calls for measurable progress?
6) Community is embraced greater than compassion.
Like the other points, this is not an “either or” choice. However, without intentionality all churches will drift inward toward community among the believers rather than giving themselves away out in the community to those who are hurting and in need. This is not meant as guilt or an assumption of any kind, but more of an observation of the nature of the local church. It’s simply a reality, and a common practice of churches that are merely maintaining. It only takes a small shift to begin partnership with local ministries and county agencies to make a compassionate difference in your community.
7) Delegation is practiced more than development.
Delegation is good, but not to the exclusion of developing people for leadership in your church. Delegation is handing off important tasks for others to accomplish. That’s a good thing, and it’s quick and easy. Delegation alone works, if the church never grows. However, investing leadership development into your key people carries a much greater long term impact. Not only will there be more people to delegate to, (people to help you carry the vision-based load) but the leaders who lead with you, will be more inspired, encouraged and competent in what they do.
I trust these points will provide for a thoughtful and productive conversation with you and your leadership team.