Three conversations to help Churches get UNSTUCK

  The Unstuck Group helps churches around the country build strategic plans using our Four Step Process. We believe every church, rural or urban; can grow if it becomes healthy. Healthy things grow. 

A recent survey showed the majority of North American churches (mostly rural churches) average less than 87 people each Sunday. Another study (from 2011) showed the majority of North American churches either aren't growing or have been in decline for the last 30 years. This stat is still pretty accurate. While the majority of churches are under 90, there are churches who make it to the 200-400 mark, only to find themselves stuck as well. In addition to churches in decline or stuck, many are closing their doors. 

In March 2016, Ed Stetzer pushed out this tweet:

"In a given week in the United States, 77 churches were planted, and 71 were closed." -from our @LifeWayResearch report at @NewChurches (2014).

These are scary stats and makes one wonder what the future of church looks like. Before you panic, let me remind you of what the Bible says. First, Jesus is the builder of the church (Matthew 16:18). I'm pretty sure He is aware of these stats, and I'm also sure He isn't freaking out. Second, we know it's God's will for churches to grow, which means, He's on our side, which is a very good thing. 

The question remains, "How can smaller churches who are stuck or in decline begin growing?" 

I work with smaller churches around the country and lead coaching networks for rural pastors at Nebraska Christian College. In my experience common denominators always seems to stand out among churches that bring about stuck-ness.

Here are three conversations churches should have when talking about how to get unstuck.

1. What are you married to?

Notice I didn't say who, but what. In most cases, stuck churches are married to the traditions of the church instead of a vision for the church. You can't be married to both. One will be jealous of the other and they will always compete for attention and resources. Getting unstuck begins by clarifying vision and embracing change, even if it means you have to divorce (and bury) past traditions that stand in the way of vision implementation and progress. 

2. Who's in the Cab?

Jim Collins talks about the importance of the right people on the bus. I like Larry Osborne's analogy better.  Once while sitting with a handful of pastors at a Leadership Network gathering, Larry used this story...

"A [small] church is like an S-10 pickup truck. The pastor is the driver and usually the two guys who helped him get it started is in the cab with him. Soon people climb in the back of the truck; growth is happening. Then, because the truck is so full, people began falling out. The pastor thinks, 'I need to get to the next town so I can buy a bigger truck!' Unfortunately, the pastor doesn't know the way. Just then, he looks in his rear-view mirror, and sees a guy in the back with a map sticking out of his pocket. He thinks to himself, 'I need that guy in the cab with me.' However, there's only one way that can happen. The pastor must be bold enough to ask one of the two guys (who have been with him since day one) to go to the back of the truck and let the new guy come to the cab. If the guy in the cab is good leader and understands the vision, he'll go to the back of the truck and lead well. If not, he'll leave the truck and may take a few with him." 

As a pastor, you have to make sure you have the right people in the cab, or you'll never break growth barriers. This means you may have to ask people who have been with you since the beginning to move to the back in order to make room for the guy who has the gifts and talents to help you get to the next level of ministry.

3. Who are you trying to reach? 

While almost every church agrees their target should be people who aren't Christians, most aren't see unchurched people on Sunday. I have learned that every church loves the idea of reaching unchurched people, but not every church loves reaching unchurched people. When a church says, "Our mission is reach the lost!" I will counter with, "What evidence is there on Sunday that proves this?" Worship styles, preaching styles and facility changes are just a few things that are vital to reaching the unchurched. This means "it's not about me" anymore. Getting unstuck requires more than changing the way you think; it also requires taking action as well. 


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