Identifying the Obstacles to Church Growth (Charles Arn)

Healthy people grow. Healthy animals grow. Healthy trees grow. Healthy plants grow. Healthy churches grow. Growth is a characteristic that God supernaturally breathed into all living things. And the body of Christ—the local church—is a living thing.

So, when a church is not growing, it is helpful to ask: “Why?”  If we understand the reason for a church’s lack of growth, it is easier to accurately diagnose the cause and to prescribe the cure.  Here are the five most common “growth-restricting obstacles”…

Growth-restricting obstacle #1: The Pastor.

There are three different causes if the pastor is inhibiting the growth of a church:

1. The pastor does not have a PRIORITY. Churches grow when they have a priority for reaching the unchurched. When the pastor doesn’t, the church won’t. (See Luke 19:10)

2. The pastor does not have a VISION. Growing churches have pastors who believe God wants to reach people in their community and assimilate them into the Body. No vision for outreach is as much a barrier as no priority.  (See Acts 16:9)

3. The pastor does not have the KNOWLEDGE. Working harder is not the secret to effective outreach. The secret is working smarter. Unfortunately, little is taught in most seminaries or Bible schools about how to invest the limited resources of a church for the greatest return.  (See Mt. 25:14-30)

Growth-restricting obstacle #2: The church members.

There are often competent and skilled clergy in non-growing churches, because the problem is not in the pulpit, it’s in the pews. Church members can keep a church from growing when:

Members have no priority for reaching the lost. “Sure, our church should reach people,” some say. “But me? I’ve got three kids, a job, membership at the health club, and a lawn to mow. Someone else with more time should feel compelled.”  (see II Pe. 3:9)

Members have a self-serving attitude about church. When members believe the priority of the pastor and the church should be to “feed the sheep” who are already in the flock, the message that newcomers hear is: “We like our church just the way it is…which is without you!”  (see Mt. 9:37)

Members fear that new people will destroy their fellowship. When “community” is the number one priority in a church, active membership will not grow beyond 100 people.  Beyond that point, members won’t know everyone…and, in their minds, that price of growth becomes greater than the benefit.  (II Cor. 4:5)

Growth-restricting obstacle #3: Perceived irrelevance.

Growing churches start with the issues and concerns of the people in their community, and then relate the gospel to those points of need. Stagnant churches are seen by the unchurched as having an irrelevant message.  (see Acts 2:6)

Growth-restricting obstacle #4: Using the wrong methods.

Any farmer knows you can’t harvest ripe wheat with a corn-picker. Using inappropriate methods can be worse than no methods, since they create resistance to the gospel. A bullhorn on a downtown street corner, English tracts in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, youth outreach in a senior adult community…none of these methods are wrong. But they are inappropriate for the harvest field.  (see Mt. 7:9)

Growth-restricting obstacle #5: No plan for assimilation.

Over 80 percent of those who drop out of church do so in the first year of their membership. A new member does not automatically become an active member without an intentional plan by the church on how to assimilate them into a caring, loving, Christian community.  (see Eph. 2:19)

There are many reasons why churches don’t grow. But there are no good reasons. Healthy churches grow. God wants your church to grow. He created it to grow. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding out what’s keeping it from growing, and removing those obstacles. What about your church?

NOTE: For more on how to identify and smash obstacles to your church’s growth, see the new book WHAT EVERY PASTOR SHOULD KNOW—101 Rules for Effective Leadership and Ministry for Your Church  (Baker Publishing.)  And, watch for the new “Church Revitalization Certificate” available through Wesley Seminary in early 2015!

  • Charles:

    Here are a couple quotes that might be add to Church Growth:

    “They will bear fruit in old age, Ps 92:14 (NIV).

    “Now is the time,” Amy Hanson.

    “Get involved,” Bob Chism.

    “It’s never too late to make a difference,” John Heide.

    “One can make a significant contribution in later life,” Richard L. Morgan.

    “God is not finished with you yet,” Ken Horn!

    The best is saved to the last,” Chris Hock!

    “What will your spiritual footprint be,” Miss Buchanan?

    “The choice is yours,” Chuck Stecker!

    “Multiple! Exceptional math for Life’s Second-Half,” Wes & Judy Wick.

    Recent books (2014) on the Second Half of Life by New Beginnings (www.go

    Planning the Life God Wants was written for Christians, non-Christians, those in debt, those planning their life and those wishing to leave a legacy. The focus is on salvation and stewardship with a brief mention of mental and physical health. In our Christian walk there is much to be accomplished in our
    congregation, community, state, and nation by fighting against the unshakable
    facts (challenge ageing intolerance and conflict; unconstitutional government;
    and reclaiming our nation as Christian and free). See Book Trailer:

    The Essential Ingredients for Second-Half Ministry was written to answer the question as to the missing ingredients for the church to be successful with the new life stage of Elderhood, graduation from the public sector, and the protirement life style. See Book Trailer:

    Life Stages Lessons were written as an Alpha Tau Omega Life Guide for
    American’s financial, mental, physical and religious health. Everyone,
    particularly your children, grandkid, women, and elderhood adults, will benefit
    from the book. Life Stages Lessons focus on the matters that make a difference (Stewardship) in this life and make all the difference (Salvation) for eternity. See Book Trailer:

    A New Life Stage is about WHY God has provided us with an extra 30 years to make an eternal difference in our second half of life. The book teaches about a new life stage, elderhood, life after adulthood, and equips, energizes, and enables the new life stage, elderhood.See Book Trailer: MyMCF2ys