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6 Keys to Breaking the 200, 400 and 800 Attendance Barriers

While there’s a lot of ‘sensitivity’ around the subject of large churches v. smaller churches, the reality is many church leaders I know sincerely want to reach more people.

Which means, in the end, they are hoping their church will grow.

Surprisingly, only a tiny percentage of churches ever make it past 200 people in attendance. Why is that?

Well, as I shared in this post (which is also by far the most read post on this blog), there are at least 8 reasons why churches don’t make it past the 200 attendance mark.

In this post I want to offer 6 keys to breaking church growth barriers and address 6 more reasons churches don’t get there.

church growth barriers

Here’s What’s Missing

I’m going to assume leaders are praying and that the church is biblical and authentic in its mission. I’ll also assume that leaders want to church to grow.

But even with all those conditions in place, too many churches just can’t push through.

And even once you get past 200, some churches can’t make it past 400 or 800.  Again, not for lack of desire or opportunity.

So why can’t they grow?

They simply haven’t structured for growth.

My first post explores this in detail and I’ll also remind you again of the best book I’ve ever read on the subject: Carl George and Warren Bird’s, How to Break Growth Barriers. They go into detail about some of the barriers I raise in this post and the previous one.

Wise leaders position their church today to make an impact tomorrow.

And by the way, if you’re tempted to criticize this as ‘yet another strategy piece’, please read Exodus 18Luke 10 and Acts 6. (Apparently, God likes structure and organization too.)


6 Keys to Breaking 200, 400 and 800 in Attendance

While embracing all 6 things won’t guarantee your church will grow, every church I know that has successfully pushed past the 200, 400 and 800 barriers has navigated these changes (and dealt with the 8 problems in the other post).

Here are 6 keys:


1. Push Down Decision Making

Too many leaders try to hold onto all the decision making power in an organization, whether that’s a board (see point 3) or usually, the pastor.

Organizations that make decisions in teams often face delays, frustrations and suffer from a lack of clarity. (Think of a committee system that grinds everything meaningful to a screeching halt.)

Our structure at Connexus where I serve is staff led, elder governed and people gifted.

We tell our staff  if you’re the leader, you’re the decision maker. Here’s how we put it:  You are free to consult with whoever you wish (your staff leader, volunteers, core team), but you don’t need permission from anyone. You’re the leader. Lead.

The exceptions to you being the sole decision maker are if your decision

requires spending that moves your total budget number higher than budgeted

impacts or changes the mission, vision, strategy or values of Connexus Church

impacts or effects other ministry areas, both negatively but also positively (in the time of team work).

It’s amazing how much you can get done if you let leaders lead.


2. A Willingness to Let Others Take the Credit

One of the main reasons pastors are afraid of push down decision making is that they want to be at the center of everything that happens. Drill down a little further and you discover that often, they are reluctant to let others take the credit.

Whether it’s a desire to control or just insecurity, it’s hurting their organization.

Part of growing a church is a willingness to let others be at the hospital bed, letting others get the credit for great ideas, letting others lead others to Christ, letting others win.

Understand, the more you let others lead in the organization, the more you will struggle with your own role (hopefully you zone it in on the two or three things you’re actually good at). But ironically, doing less and empowering your team doesn’t make you less valuable to the organization, it makes you more valuable.


3. Scalable Pastoral Care

At 200, the barrier to scalable pastoral care is the pastor. He or she wants to be there for everyone. Huge mistake. A workaholic or exceptionally gifted person can do most of the pastoral care to 300 or 400, but usually at that point he or she burns out or the church implodes.  Nobody can take it solo past 400.

That’s where systems are key. Many churches use small groups for this. But to get small groups to a scale where it works for churches larger than 400 takes a great system and leadership. If you want some free insight into how we do groups as a strategic partner of North Point church, you’ll find it here.

If your pastoral care doesn’t scale, your mission won’t either.


4. Governing Boards that Focus on Oversight, not Micromanagement

Boards that micromanage will keep your church small forever.

As your church grows past 200 to 400, 800 and beyond, your need to find godly leaders for your board who can understand larger organizations and develop high trust between the board and the staff team. Board members need to be comfortable with larger budgets, larger systems and how to handle personnel issues sensitively and strategically. Not everyone has the gifting for this, so choose wisely.

Churches that end up with a micromanaging board will never make it to 800, let alone past it.

If you want more on constitutions for a growing church, don’t miss this great post Jeff Brodie has on 5 essentials for every church constitution.


5. An Outward Focused Vision

Too many churches are focused on themselves and keeping their members happy. Almost every church that moves past the 800 mark has overcome this and has embraced an outward focused vision.

You can’t underestimate the importance of an outward focused vision (which if course, is the heart of the Gospel).

A church that is focused on itself ultimately loses its potential and the wider community and often, in the end, loses itself. It will implode or shrink to the point of ineffectiveness.

To drill down on an outward focused vision, here’s a post on why your church isn’t for everyone and another post on how to gain alignment around your mission, vision and strategy.


6. A Bias toward What is Possible

 I’m so glad you read to the end of this post. This is huge.

Churches that grow are churches that default toward what is possible when it comes to opportunity.  Not sure what I mean? Study the opposite. You’ve seen it or lived it far too often.

Someone comes with a bright idea and the group listening almost immediately comes up with 21 reasons why the idea can’t happen. We’re too small. That will never work. So and so tried it.…. And on and on it goes until all vision is dead. And if it squirms trying to find new life, some person who is pessimism’s gift to the world will step on it one more time. No wonder change is impossible. The culture has already decided it is.

In growing churches, bring a new idea and people will default into how to make the idea happen. Their bias is always toward what is possible. And if it seems impossible, they will brainstorm until they figure out a way to make it happen.

Want more on this? Here’s a post on the Top 5 Ministry Excuses You Need to Stop Making.

This issue, by the way, drives me so crazy I wrote a book on it. Watch for No Excuses, coming out this year.

I hope these 6 keys help you.

What other barriers have you seen churches overcome? What would you add to this list?

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  • Gary

    Love all the comments. How do you move from being a hands-on shepherd to a mentor of others? Often I see what you mean that the temperament just isn’t there to share ministry. Not selfish, just believing that the one-on-one was their job and theirs alone. I see how that can limit growth structurally, even when the heart is there.

    • Hey Gary…great question. I think it starts with an openness to change and with a humility to put the mission ahead of your skills or interests.

  • JT

    Hey Carey, Thanks so much for your leadership and insight. As a fairly new church planter, I listen to your podcast all the time and read your blog. I can probably say that our success is due to the insights gained through your leadership and learning from Andy Stanley at North Point (the other podcast I listen to). We just celebrated our one year anniversary this past Sunday, April 12th. I just ordered the “How to Break Growth Barriers” book. We have had tremendous success in reaching people with just a small staff. . . One Full Time Pastor, and two part staffers (Worship Leader and Bookkeeper/Secretary/Kids Church Oversight. Last Sunday, our church attendance hit 390!!! Praise the Lord! Praying we break through the next barrier of 400 and then on to 800! Praying for wisdom and we get ready to bring on our next hire. Can you recommend any hiring procedures? Thanks again for your encouraging and most helpful post and dialogues on your podcast!

    • JT…one of the most encouraging comments I’ve received in a while. Thank you! Keep going my friend. Be encouraged!

  • nani babu nelli

    What type of the committee and staff needed in church that want to be grown.

    • Ideally people who are open to change. If you don’t have them to begin, recruit them over time.

      • nani babu nelli

        Would you pls let us know what type of offices we can allot

  • Cheryl Johnston

    I’m looking forward to the book as well. I’ve worked at organizations where the receptionist or secretaries killed “business” because of their “can’t do” attitudes. Things turned around when management helped them changed their daily approach to “can do.” In our fear, we tie God’s hands. Great article!

  • Emilio Abiusi

    Good article Just missing the 2 most important things:
    – Prayer
    – God focuse

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  • Jonny

    Is it just me or are you missing a “submit” button for becoming a launch insider?!!

    • Jonny…great catch. You’re right. That explains why only one person signed up (and I have no idea how he got on the list). I have tried multiple versions of the sign up box and it doesn’t seem to work. I’ve removed it for now but will give people an opportunity down the road—well before launch. Sorry and thanks!

      • Jonny

        Great! Look forward to catching your new book when it is released.