3 Ways Almost Every Church Gets Stuck


At some point, almost every church gets stuck. If yours isn’t stuck right now, just wait a while. Every church and organization gets stuck at some point.

Usually, churches get stuck because what was working stopped working,

When that happens, leaders aren’t sure what to do.

While figuring that out is complex (and a frequent subject of many posts on this blog), trying to find a solution is difficult if you’re looking in the wrong place.

It’s easy to think that churches are prone to get stuck in the past. And that’s true. If there’s a trend, it’s almost always toward the past in many churches.

After all, the past has a nostalgia the future never does.

And yet, some churches also get stuck in the present, and in the future (as strange as that sounds). That may be exactly where your church is stuck, without you realizing it.

Here are three dynamics that all leaders have to wrestle down when their church (or any organization for that matter) is stuck.

The past has a nostalgia the future never does. Click To Tweet

1. Stuck in the Past

The older your church is, or the more successful your church was at some point, the more likely it is some of your leaders will get stuck in the past.

When a church gets stuck in the past, you hear voice after voice saying let’s go back to the way it was.

The problem, of course, is that you can’t go back to the way it was. The past died long ago.

What worked then worked because the conditions were right then. And those conditions changed some time ago.

This isn’t just a traditional church thing. Church plants that have hit a plateau or decline will long for the good old days too. Remember 2016, when everything was up and to the right?

There’s a world of difference between learning from the past and living in the past.

There's a world of difference between learning from the past and living in the past. Click To Tweet

It’s great to isolate the principles from the past that worked and try to apply them (or abandon them) in light of today’s conditions.

But it’s foolish to keep trying to re-create the past. It’s gone.

If God wanted you to keep ministering in 1995 or 2016, he would have left you there.

But he didn’t. So move on.

Churches that live in the past never have much of a future.

Churches that live in the past never have much of a future. Click To Tweet

2. Signs You’re Stuck in the Future

Stuck in the future? I know, that doesn’t even sound possible, but it is.

Here’s how it happens.

You get stuck in the future when a visionary leader tries to move forward without any clear, coherent or cogent plan.

It happens innocently enough.

Many leaders get excited about what could be. Maybe he read five new books. Or she listens to podcasts about organizations that have crushed their goals. Or he’s been to so many conferences he’s lost count.

The talk is always about what could be, what should be and what might be, but there’s zero plan to get anyone there.

A vision without a plan isn’t a dream. It’s a nightmare.

A vision without a plan isn't a dream. It's a nightmare. Click To Tweet

The vision eventually dangles in front of people so often that no one believes it anymore.

As a leader, you eventually become the parent who constantly promises the kids a trip to Disney but never takes them.

Focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Which is why many leaders love to live in the future; then they don’t have to deal with anything.

Focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Click To Tweet

3. Stuck in the Present

Just like you can get stuck in the past and in the future, you can also get stuck in the present.

How does that happen?

It’s not that difficult.

Leaders who get stuck in the present usually have no learnings from the past or vision for the future.

One sure sign you’re stuck in the present is that there are no next steps to move you forward.

You’re not trying anything, not experimenting. You’re probably not even diagnosing.

You just are.

As a result, week after week you do the same thing only to discover diminishing returns.

And you don’t even take the time to discuss why it’s not working anymore, why the mission is dying on your watch.

That’s how you get stuck in the present.

Leaders who get stuck in the present have no learnings from the past or vision for the future. Click To Tweet

Next Steps

So how do you get past stuck?

Learn from the past. Imagine a better future. And create a plan.

It’s easier to say than to do, but almost all effective leadership hinges on doing those three well.

Most organizations will tilt toward being stuck in the past or living in the future, but on their own, neither is healthy.

So glean lessons from the past, envision a better future, and make a plan to get there.

That will help you get past stuck.

Get Past Stuck

So you would love to see your church grow in 2020, but the question is how? 

Naturally, I can’t make a church grow and you can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.

But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people.

That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.  

The Church Growth Masterclass is designed to help you jumpstart a stuck church, or help your growing church reach even more people. 

It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

In the Church Growth Masterclass you’ll learn:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
  • 5 essentials for church growth
  • 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
  • How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

Really hoping 2020 is a year of growth and impact for you and your church!

What Do You See?

How have you experienced being stuck? Which form best describes your situation?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

3 Ways Almost Every Church Gets Stuck


  1. Olivier on February 22, 2020 at 5:43 am

    Very helpful. Thank you Carey

  2. Jeff on February 15, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    My biggest frustration as a pastor is that I never get asked versions of “how can we be more faithful to Christ?” as much as I hear renditions of “why aren’t things the way they used to be?”

  3. Nic on January 20, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    Hi Carey,
    Any chance your book (7 powerful conversations) will be available on Google Play Books at some point?


    • Jean Altena on January 23, 2018 at 4:05 pm

      Oh Man!!!
      I am dizzy after reading this
      The only word l remember is
      “STUCK ”
      When we see a house on fire we
      don’t have a plan how we are going to go to it we all run to it in flocks.
      Sooooo we need to call on God for a renewal of His Holy Spirit and fire in our church’s .
      Stand back and let God , He never changes and is never ” STUCK “

  4. Janneke Blois on January 20, 2018 at 11:18 am

    In our international church fellowship we use both contemporary and old songs, even in different languages. Quite a challenge, but it does work!!

  5. Raymond Hays on January 19, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    My only comment is that as much as I enjoy seeing growth in the church and moving forward I believe is needed, But, sometimes when the church makes these types of changes they seem to lose sight of the older folk who would still enjoy a little of the past in the service. I really miss the old Hymn book songs. in the last three churches I attended the youth took so much charge they threw out the old books and won’t think of good praise and worship.

    • Annie on January 19, 2018 at 11:15 pm

      This comment really resounded with me: There’s a world of difference between learning from the past and living in the past.

      I feel so much safer holding on to the past rather than taking the steps necessary to move forward.

      It is something I struggle with on a daily basis.

      I also miss the old hymn book songs. At the same time, I know that the new songs will also, in due time, become old. It seems there is always this struggle to hold fast while at the same time recognizing the need to move forward.

      It therefore, comes as no surprise to see how the diverse body of believers that make up the church deal with these same issues.

      Maybe we need up to ten different services every Sunday morning? (One for each decade of believers.)

      I am just thankful that so many people still attend church, myself included, despite the fact that churches continue to move forward in new and innovative ways.

  6. Kallen Musonda on January 19, 2018 at 12:35 am

    Good teachings, it is a prayer answered to me. Especially that I have read it at the beginning of the year. Knowledge will always lead us to a point of victory. Another topic I enjoy is breaking a 50,200 and 1000 barrier in church growth

  7. Scott Bledsoe on January 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Carey, I was wondering who you could recommend in either book or website or coaching for small groups. We are stuck in this area of our church and I”m looking for resources. Thanks

  8. Joseph O. Oyaka on January 18, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Thank you for this useful piece.

  9. Kallen Musonda Kallen Musonda 6 on January 18, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Could teaching ,Iove it, very helpful especially that, it come in the first month of the year of

  10. Jo Anne Taylor on January 18, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Having a plan and implementing a plan are sometimes very different things, too! The church that says, “This is what we need to do” and then actually does it looks a lot different from a church that adopts a plan and then puts it on a shelf. “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only,” takes on new meaning for me. Thanks, Carey!

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