Breaking Through Your Growth Barriers

Athletes often describe hitting a “wall” of performance. It is a barrier where no apparent amount of effort appears able to push through the pain of the moment. Athletes who hit such a barrier either surrender to it, or they devise new understandings of the mind and disciplines of the body to help break through the barriers of their efforts. Are there such barriers that affect the life and ministry of churches?

Well over 85% of the churches in America have fewer than 200 people attending worship services each week. Church leaders have also reported specific challenges reaching between 300-500 people each week, just under 1,000 people, and around 2,000 people. Are these “barriers” God-ordained or are there specific understandings and disciplines that we can acquire that will help us lead through these barriers?

Bill Sullivan wrote Ten Steps to Breaking the 200 Barrier in 1988 and recently (2005) released an updated version. Carl George and Warren Bird wrote their book, How to Break Growth Barriers in the early 1990’s. I’ve learned from these books and others, along with seminars and conferences I’ve attended. But most of what I’ve personally learned about growth barriers has come in the context of leading an established church for 10 years, leading a denominational agency working with over 200 churches, and now planting a church for these past 9 years and working with other churches as a consultant. In my experience, there are 3 major areas of breakthrough understanding to help your church break growth barriers…the breakthrough of clarity, the breakthrough of consistency, and the breakthrough of congruence.

The breakthrough of clarity is all about having a clear and focused vision of a preferred future that is shared by the key leaders in the church. I am convinced that God wants to give each local church a convicting and compelling vision for being “Jesus with skin on” in their community. Many churches that I have worked with over the years are really struggling with this question: “What has God called us to do in this local church in this local community?” While the question is seemingly innocent and elementary, I’ve seen churches go down in flames (sometimes literally!) over the answers. Hearing clearly from the heart of God and making sure the pastor and the key leadership are united in these matters is absolutely non-negotiable.

I’ve recently had the privilege of connecting with several churches that are working on this very issue of clarity. Interestingly, one of the churches I’m working with has over 2000 people each week and is very fruitful in a number of ways. Yet the key leadership is clear that they are wandering and in need of a clear word from God. That same experience is happening with another church that I’m working with that has fewer than 200 people. Both churches are just beginning to understand the benefit of hearing God clearly and getting the church leadership on the same page. Larry Osborne’s book, The Unity Factor, is a great little resource on this matter.

Question: Are you clear about what God is specifically calling your church to do in your community?

The breakthrough of consistency is all about insuring that the strategies and programs of the church are executed with regularity and excellence. We’ve all heard the false saying, “practice makes perfect”. Many of us now know that is simply not true. The truth is that “perfect practice makes perfect”. I’ve experienced the need to discern the will of God and then DO the will of God. It’s what I call the “lather-rinse-repeat” cycle of obedience. You know the phrase from hair shampoo. I think it applies to our ministry in the church. Once we’ve heard the Lord clearly about His vision, we develop strategies and programs to fulfill the vision. At that point, walking out our excellent strategies is a matter of consistency and evaluation.

In our church (, we have done what we call “Discovery 101” (our “first step” welcome class) virtually every single month on Sunday afternoons since we started 9 years ago. I personally teach that class and have now taught the class just over 100 times! Our evaluations consistently show that getting someone to our 101 class is a key to connecting them to the vision, mission, and community of our local church. The book, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done is a great resource from a business perspective to help your ministry focus on accomplishing your vision with excellence and consistency.

Question: Are you consistently doing with excellence what you are called to do in your community?

The breakthrough of congruence is all about insuring that the message of your church is the same in all of your programs and activities. My experience in working with churches over 200 is that there are often competing visions and values in the various departments of the church. Many times in churches under 200 there are competing family networks that have different visions of the future. Congruence is about making sure that what people hear and receive from the parking lot, the platform, the pulpit, and the program activities are all the same. I’ve been really excited to see how our church has benefited from a focus on alignment in our strategies throughout the ministries.

We have described our ministry system as “Invite-Connect-Serve”. Each time we’ve made sure that our guests and regular attenders were all on the “same page”, we’ve seen huge benefit. Our childrens, student, and adult ministry all utilize the same framework of Invite-Connect-Serve and it has become a great strength of our entire ministry. More recently, we did an entire teaching series called, The Ripple Effect, where we helped our church “Focus on Five”. You can visit my leadership blog at for additional information about that series experience. Another strategy we’ve utilized several times is what we call layered learning. It essentially uses the 40 day campaign type of strategy with weekend teaching, daily devotions, and small group materials. The power of getting the whole church in agreement and focused together is huge!

Question: Do each of your programs and activities communicate the same message of your mission, vision, and values?

Dr. John Jackson is the Founding Pastor of Carson Valley Christian Center (www.cvcwired) and the author of Pastorpreneur and other books. Additional resources can be found at

Dr. John Jackson is the President of Jessup University. He’s the author of 10 books, the most recent being “Grace Ambassador”. He’s a transformative leader, committed to equipping believers and fostering change in their local communities… Read more

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