“Overcoming Growth Barriers”

© Dr. John Jackson, 2006

         Barriers to your ministry vision do exist!  Some of them you know about, others are perceptible, but others hide under the surface and threaten to damage your ministry leadership.  I think there are two kinds of barriers that exist:  A “growth barrier” is a set of qualitative factors that create a ceiling to quantitative progress.  A “leadership barrier” is a barrier that exists in the mind, the heart, or the gift mix of the church leader(s).  This article focuses on “growth barriers” (a future article will address the leadership barriers).  Of the growth barriers, the 200 barrier is the most notable in that 85% of churches in North America stay below it.  The dynamics that relate to this barrier are mostly predicable, and from the leadership perspective, it marks the quantitative divide between small churches and large churches.

Tools to Break Barriers

Each size has a different DNA and size constraint. In my observation, there are at least 6 fundamentals that will help you and your church break through ministry growth barriers at any level:

Clarity of vision

Certainty of leadership

Unity of leadership

Connection with Community

Excellence in Presentation

Faithfulness in Follow Through


         Growing Churches have a heart for reaching people for Jesus Christ.  If your vision is to care for the contented, then you will not produce passion in your people to reach those outside the boundaries of the church family.  Walt Kallestad’s book entitled, Turn Your Church Inside Out is probably the easiest reading and clearest reference that I have read in years on this topic.  Clarity of vision must answer the question, “Who does my church exist for?”

One of the exciting dynamics of having a clear vision is recognizing the need to be present in the community.  Rather than waiting for the community to show up on the church’s doorstep, churches that break growth barriers practice what some call, “Presence Evangelism”; being present in the normal network of society, being present in the ministry to physical needs of people, and being present in the spiritual battle for people’s souls.

“Churches that are effective reaching people for Christ see the needs of the unchurched, establish ministries that allow the church to be present in the community, and have a process by which they are able to draw these unchurched people into the safety of Christ and a local church” (Mcintosh & Martin, Finding Them, Keeping Them, Page 22).


         Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Community Church in the San Diego area, has written a great book entitled The Unity Factor.  While it is a small book, it has a powerful message:  “Get the key influencers in your church to share a common vision.  Sacrifice today for the promise of tomorrow in these peoples lives.”  Without leadership unity, there will be no lasting ministry growth that breaks through barriers.

         Listen to this quote from a committed leader in a local church about the importance of leadership unity:

“At our church my wife and I are giving time we don’t have and tons of money because it’s important.  Do you think we are going to let sick people kill that work and investment? Heavens no!  It’s costing us way too much!  For every sick, agenda laden, divisive, contentious, person in our church we aren’t willing to confront (out of fear we say “oh that’s just the way they are,” “I don’t think God wants us to treat people like that”), there are 10, 20, 100, 1000 people out there to be won to Christ that won’t because they sniff out the contentiousness and will go somewhere else.  Do we want to stand before God and say we did the math wrong, or that we didn’t have the guts to make way for 100s more to come to Christ by not tackling these problems decisively?” (Don Nelson, personal conversation)


Some members and even leaders of churches have no understanding of the communities in which they live, work, and serve.  Sometimes this is due to a “Christian Bubble” they live in, seldom interacting with the unchurched around them.  But other times this lack of awareness is simply a lack of homework:  to know your community, you must study it.  Who lives near your church?

For example, imagine that your ministry is located in a community where the annual household income (an easily obtained figure) is $80,000 and one in six households has an income that exceeds $140,000.  How would your outreach focus be different than a church that is located in the heart of a college community with thousands of people who are single?  The heart of the gospel would never change, but the way that you advertise, the way you perform music and the style of speaking would all be vastly different.

Growing Churches break through growth barriers because they are effective students of their community culture.  If the local McDonald’s owner knows more about your community than you do as a pastor, then your church is in trouble.  Breaking through growth barriers means you understand how to reach your community.  Robert Schuller said it best when he proclaimed that churches must “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it”.  Barrier busting ministry always finds a way to connect with the community and meet needs in the name of Christ.


         Unchurched people have come to expect (but not accept!) mediocrity whenever they do attend church.  And churchgoers have come to accept and expect mediocrity from others as well as ourselves when it comes to presentation-oriented ministry.  Few people have the guts to stand up and say, “This is bad.  God is not pleased with us offering the leftovers of what we could offer Him.”  God is pleased with sacrifice, with excellence, with our best.  Consider this warning from Malachi:

“When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 1:8, NIV)

Excellence in your weekend service presentation is critical to your success in taking new ground for the Kingdom.  I believe most churches need to narrow their “targets” of excellence. For most churches today, I think of these 3 excellence “targets” as essential:

  • Excellence in weekend teaching
  • Excellence in worship and musical presentation
  • Excellence in children’s ministries

When our church, Carson Valley Christian Center (now LifePoint Church in NV; http://www.lifepointnv.com)  was planted and launched in February 1998, we committed to those 3 areas from the start.  People are attracted to and stay at a church because excellence in one or more of these “top three” areas, and so they simply must have the utmost priority for your entire fellowship.  Sometimes, the dark question which few churches have the guts to ask their people is this:  “Would you invite your unchurched friends and neighbors to our church if the presentation in one or more of the ‘top three’ areas were improved?  Does our mediocrity prevent you from inviting anyone to our church?”

We live in a time where “ought” doesn’t cut it any more.  Saying to someone that they “ought” to come to church won’t budge them from their lethargy.  But, presenting a warm and excellent worship service that touches their heart, stimulates their mind, and engages their soul will break through the barriers of their heart resistance.  Paying attention to specific ministry needs (children’s ministry, first touch ministry, and age graded programming) with excellence demonstrates commitment to your vision of reaching people. 

Sometimes churches are failing to offer an excellent well-rounded presentation on the weekends because the church is trying to do more than it can do well.  Obviously, the goal would be to do all of it well.  But I challenge you first to do fewer things “well” rather than more things “poorly.” 


“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV)

Once you know what the right thing is for your vision, your leadership, your community…just do it!  Do it over and over again.  Do it well.  Do it right.  Do it consistently and faithfully.  Persistent execution of your vision will produce a harvest.  Practice continuous improvement and be a laser beam rather than a shotgun.  A “shotgun” approach is usually tempting to us, since it makes a lot of noise and produces an immediate response from our people!  But the “laser beam” approach will be quieter and more exacting, and will yield results worth waiting for.  A harvest!

It has been my experience that “staying the course” relates to four specific dimensions; each of them require constant attention and pose strategic questions:

Call:  Are you clear about God’s call on your life, your call to ministry, and the vision He has for you and for those you shepherd?

Character:  What are the essentials of heart and mind that make up the “you” that you want to be.  What are the epitaphs you want written on your tombstone by your family, friends, AND adversaries?  Are you clear about how your character has been shaped and is shared with others?

Community:  Do you have “anchor relationships” in your life?  Are there people into whom you have invested and who both keep you accountable and can undergird your life during a storm?  All ministry flows out of relationships; are you building a community of relationships that model and contribute health in your life?

Competency:  Have you identified your gifts and are you continuously improving your kingdom effectiveness with your gift?  Are you clear about how the 80/20 rule works in your life as it relates to effectiveness?

Your church can grow!  You can reach more people for Christ and fulfill the Great Commission.  Perseverance in ministry always relates to clarity of vision AND persistence in follow through.  In short, knowing what to do and doing it consistently well is key!  This process takes time, energy, and more effort than you will have on some days.  But never give up.  In time you will reap a harvest, and God will give you wisdom and direction as you seek to bring people to Christ and grow them to maturity in Him.

Published by drjohnjackson

President of Jessup University (www.jessup.edu), speaker and author of books on leadership and transformation

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