turn around

How do you know whether whatever you’re leading is going to turn around?

That’s a great question.

So many leaders I know are trying to turn their organization around. Sometimes that means moving a stuck or declining organization into growth. Other times it means that while they have momentum, they sense they’re losing it and want to gain a foothold for tomorrow.

These are tumultuous times for so many leaders as entire industries are being disrupted. Everything from the hotel industry, to movie theatres, to taxi companies, to news, to the music industry, to churches, to the restaurant industry, to malls and retail, to pretty much you-name-it is struggling with pretty seismic shifts with how people behave. It’s hard to be a cab company in an era of Lyft, or a grocery store in the era of UberEats, or a theatre in the era of Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix and Apple TV, a brick and mortar store in the era of Amazon, or a church in the era of a million online options and the rise of post-Christian America.

And of course, the pioneers of a decade ago have their own issues. Apple’s hegemony over tech has been somewhat eroded, Uber is facing challenges as is Facebook as its demographics shift older every year.

In light of all that, how do you know if it’s going to turn around? If you’re going to make it? If the battle you’re in will be won or lost?

I’m an exceptional optimist. I believe you can do far more than you can imagine, and that the future is bright.

I’ve also seen leaders spin their wheels and fight losing battles. No leader wants to be the person trying to sell CDs in the age of Spotify. Unwittingly, though, many leaders are.

So, how do you know whether things will turn around?

While that’s tough to answer universally, there are some patterns I’ve seen so often in leadership that they’re worth naming.

Here are four signs it’s (probably) not going to turn around. These are gut checks, so get ready…

No leader wants to be the person trying to sell CDs in the age of Spotify. Unwittingly, though, many leaders are. Click To Tweet

1. You’re Trying to Revive What Worked In The Past Rather Than Finding What Will Work In The Future

At the most basic level, too many leaders try to revive what worked in the past rather than find what will work in the future.

That’s understandable for a few reasons.

First, people are generally better with the known than with the unknown. If you remember and recall something that worked, it’s easier to say “let’s do that again” than it is to try to blaze an unknown trail into the future. Building a nicer, cleaner taxi fleet is an easier to grasp idea than imagining the day when people use private car sharing to hail rides off an app.

Second, the past has a nostalgia the future never does. We tend to romanticize the past and worry about the future, and leaders easily forget how tough things were years ago or how innovative and controversial some of the things were a decade ago (think 1000 songs in your pocket, or using your credit card online, or drums in church).

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

I’m not against the past at all, but if most of your efforts are spent trying to revive what worked yesterday, you’re probably going to have a less pleasant tomorrow.

So ask yourself, is most of your energy spent trying to revive what was or build what will be? That will tell you loads.

Too many leaders spend their time trying to revive what was rather than build what will be. Click To Tweet

2. Your Metrics Are Tied To The Past, Not To The Future

Every leader has metrics they track, but often leaders track the wrong metrics.

Tracking overall attendance, traffic, giving, sales, or customers is necessary, but when you only see general data, you can get into long debates about what it means. 15 people will come up with 15 reasons why things are flat or down. Like the old joke about “well, how does this help us sell CDs?”

Rather than tracking new sales or overall number of guests, you might start tracking demographic data. How many 18-30 year olds are you reaching? How many young families are you seeing? Tracking demographics can show you trends (either positive or negative trends) that give you information on whether there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

And don’t ignore the internet. A ridiculous number of leaders either don’t track their online data or don’t know what to do with what they find beyond knowing whether it’s growing or not growing.

Google Analytics and social apps like Facebook can give you a crazy amount of data on who you’re reaching or not reaching (I know, this is scary, but this is the world we live in and I’m trusting you’re a leader who is committed to using it to make the world a better place. I am.) For example, I know the bulk of my readers are between 25-44 years of age and the top cities for my readers and listeners (hello Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, London…).

Here are some things to track to see if you’re making inroads or not:

  • Number of new guests or customers.
  • Number of second-time customers or guests.
  • Demographics of new guests or customers (age, location).
  • New donors or customers.
  • Age of new donors or customers.
  • Ratio of online traction to in-person traction.
  • Engagement level of guests or customers. In business, this might be how long it takes to make a purchase, the value of that purchase. In church world, it might be whether they’ve gotten involved, joined a group, volunteered, invited a friend.
  • Net Promoter Score—likelihood of a person who’s experienced what you offer to recommend it to a friend.

But when you start looking at demographics, new engagements and next-gen and new guest trends, you see a much clearer picture of the future.

You might even do focus groups with people who are coming and some who have left to discover what’s really happening.

You tend to manage what you measure. So, measure better.

You tend to manage what you measure. So, measure better. Click To Tweet

3. You’re More Committed to the Method Than You Are To the Mission

This is one of the most telling signs of whether what you’re leading will turn around.

Ask yourself: are you more committed to the method than you are to the mission?

Despite the fact that almost everyone answers that question by saying “the mission,” reality suggests otherwise.

In an era of massive disruption, the mission continues. The methods change.

In an era of massive disruption, the mission continues. The methods change. Click To Tweet

The market for the mission never goes away, it just changes.

The mission is:

Transportation. The method is taxis, Uber or Lyft.

Photography. The method is Instagram and smartphones, or film and printed pictures.

Travel. The method is a hotel or Airbnb. Or a travel agency or DIY travel.

In the church, the mission is to reach people with the good news of Jesus. The method, well it changes. For the record, I believe the gathered church is here to stay, but for reasons I share here, even the attractional church model that’s been so effective for a decade a half is already dated. 

Here’s the bottom line: to preserve the mission, you have to constantly reinvent the method.

I love podcasting. My podcast is pushing 10 million downloads and it’s been a much bigger success than I ever dreamed. So, leaders ask me all the time if I’ll podcast forever. When I tell them no, they looked shocked.

Here’s why I say no: my mission isn’t podcasting. It’s just a method. My mission is to provide resources that help people thrive in life and leadership. Right now, podcasting is a great method. When it stops being effective—or hopefully before it stops being effective—I’ll reinvent.

To preserve the mission, you have to constantly reinvent the method. Click To Tweet

4. You Constantly Criticize The People Who Are Gaining Traction 

A final sign it’s not going to turn around: you constantly criticize the people who are gaining traction.

It’s easy to hate the innovators, to make fun of the next-gen who are constantly on their phones, or who just don’t understand the value of a great hotel, or who don’t seem to want to get their driver’s licenses anymore. Or to make fun of the clothes (and glasses) younger preachers wear, or the flex work schedules and foosball tables tech companies have become famous for.

At a more sinister level, you may even question the motives of people who are innovating.

So often leaders on the decline adopt a critical spirit about everything around them.

Just stop. Adopt a critical mind, not a critical spirit. Great leaders have critical minds, not critical spirits.

Be a student.

Study what’s working. Study it hard enough until you understand it. Stop the eye-rolls. Listen. Learn. Humble yourself.

A critical mind will figure out why certain things are working and why other things aren’t. A critical spirit shuts down all learning.

Stop being a critic. Start being a student. You’re far more likely to make progress if you do.

Great leaders have critical minds, not critical spirits. Click To Tweet

How To Grow, Even If You Feel Stuck



Getting a church growing or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can seem daunting.

It doesn’t have to be.

Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you breakthrough. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

I started in leadership by helping three small churches grow to reach hundreds, and eventually thousands. I show you the principles in this online, on demand course.

The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.

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

See Any Signs?

What are some signs you’ve noticed that it’s not going to turn around?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

4 Big Signs It’s Not Going To Turn Around


  1. Graham Huxtable on February 28, 2021 at 4:18 am

    You write “The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing,”
    When last have you used a video? Surely by now you are using DVD’S, if you are keeping up with technology that the next-gen are using?

  2. Bobbie on February 20, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    I think it’s important to ask ourselves what we’re trying to do. Are we trying to build huge organizations that bring in tons of people and money or are we trying to bring salvation to the lost and make disciples.

    One requires a different investment and method than the other. I find that people in the first group are the ones that want to cling on to yesteryear.

    They had more people because of the culture, the hymns, the pews, no coffee, and on and on. Yet they don’t spend much time talking about how they can create disciples in this current environment.

    I have also been shocked at the amount of people in our churches who don’t even know the gospel. They don’t understand the sacrifice on the cross, the resurrection, and that Jesus is alive. If the people don’t even know the basics, then something is seriously wrong. We cannot be so married to our methods that we ignore what’s happening with the people.

    We can keep focusing on the past metrics and what used to be or minister to our current situation.

    Great thoughts.

  3. Robert Douglas Lewis on February 20, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    You said: “the mission is to reach people with the good news of Jesus.” That was certainly the mission of the Southern Baptist Churches I attended growing up. It was also mine as a young man. I still carry Gospel tracts in my car.

    I’m thinking, though, that, now, the mission of the church is to nurture and equip the members to love their neighbors as themselves, and through that avenue, a natural sharing of the Good News has an opportunity to take place in our biblically illiterate pagan-leaning culture. Button-holing has become negative with many non-believers and a stereotype.

    When the USA and Canada were truly Christian nations, evangelism meetings, tent revivals, and button-holing strangers with the Gospel worked because even the schools taught the Bible. The lost attended church services. It was the culture. Most everyone was exposed to the Gospel.

    Now we are a mission field and we must build bridges through relationships that form a basis of genuine sharing. Nowadays, few people in our countries know the basics of the Gospel or care.

  4. goldsilk city on October 23, 2019 at 3:54 am

    chung cu goldsilk city

  5. Alec Miletich on October 22, 2019 at 10:04 pm

    Our pastor friend, is about to embark on whether or not to continue or fold the church (less than 40 in attendance).
    We are praying wisdom for him and the elders.
    Member’s are saying that he is too “spiritual ” we’ve known him for 15+ years, he is passionate, etc.
    We try to encourage yet it is difficult for he and his wife, to endure.
    How can Carey help?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 23, 2019 at 7:01 pm

      Hey Alec,

      I actually have some courses that might be able to help them turn the church around. For them, I would reccomend the Church Growth Masterclass Starter Edition. Here is the link to the course: https://churchgrowthmasterclass.com/special

      The Starter edition is 7 key conversations I used to turn around 3 churches that totaled almost 40 in attendance at their lowest point.

      I really hope this can help!

  6. Dee Carol on October 17, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    Take our stewardship campaign. As a couple, we overhauled it to be a generosity campaign based on your thankfulness to God (not to meet a budget.) For 3 consecutive years, the pledges have grown 10% over the previous year. Yet we have people coming to our administrative board asking for us to go back to the old method of going door-to-door to ask people to pledge – in the daytime on weekdays. So very tired of dragging people forward only to be met with such loyalty to methods that have not worked in decades.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 17, 2019 at 4:50 pm


      This is so hard, I would just encourage you to keep pushing forward in spite of the negative voices. There will always be those that disagree, but stick with it!

    • Chris Heitkamp on October 23, 2019 at 7:07 am

      There is wisdom in listening to the 85% of people saying nothing over the 15% with criticism.

  7. Adam on October 14, 2019 at 11:08 am

    They all seem to come from a defeated mindset, kind of a “we’ve lost it and want it back”. The experience we have had has been one of a lot of healing, starting with correct information that shows growth and a positive outlook. So much really comes down to ones outlook on the situation, and it’s hard to convince folks if they believe the situation is grim. All four are great to keep in mind. Thank you for highlighting them.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 14, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Adam. Agreed, it’s almost ‘we’re going to cling to this no matter what’ mentality. Thanks!

  8. Cathy Phillips on October 14, 2019 at 10:50 am

    So good! Tracking is difficult. I think we do a good with cards to fill out in service, website cards and prayer request, and good follow up teams. Still finding certain groups don’t like giving their info. We must build relationships and trust first. Doing this, but always room for improvement.
    We have noticed increase on the FB live audience. Currently we aren’t tracking who they are, or their demographics, giving etc. I will ask the team to partner with the video team to see how we can get more info about our online audience.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 14, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      Good points. I think the key is to look for new growth and fuel that. If there’s no new growth anywhere, well, that’s a very different issue.

  9. Tim Rives on October 14, 2019 at 8:49 am

    Great Article Carey! Number 2 is especially relevant. Those are just harder to track, but hard is not an excuse. Love it!

    • Sunday Higemeh on October 14, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Carey, this is awesome. Sign No.3 is a clear picture of what I see happen in everyday business world, the church setting and organisations. It is tough to stick to just one constant method. We truly need to revolve with time and season. This is interesting!

      • Carey Nieuwhof on October 14, 2019 at 1:45 pm

        Long live the mission!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 14, 2019 at 1:44 pm

      Thanks. Metrics are so important. They can be divisive or they can unite around the mission.

      • Chuck on February 21, 2021 at 7:47 am

        I have seen as much danger in worshipping metrics as I have in worshipping methods. Both become idols very fast. If you get psyched over all those “likes” or ratings or snazzy comments more than you get thrilled because Jesus is glorified, maybe it’s time for a gut check. Ask King Solomon about that one.

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