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9 Signs Your Church is Stalling Out

stalling out

Sometimes it’s hard to know whether or not your church or organization is making progress or whether it’s about to stall out.

Sure, you can look at attendance and giving numbers. But by then…it’s often too late. The damage is done by the time you see a slowing or decline in those numbers.

And those two numbers don’t tell the whole story anyway. There are deeper signs that your church may be headed for a stall out long before that shows up in attendance or givings.

It’s also key to know that stalling out happens to every organization and church at some point in its life-cycle. Even churches and organizations that have made progress in the past—reached people, grown and seen great things happen—eventually stall out unless they continually reinvent and renew themselves.

Often you might see a 3 year run, 5 year run or even 15 year run on incredible growth and realization of your mission, but there’s almost a universal stall out that happens unless you anticipate it and correct it.

The reason this matters is the church has the most important mission on earth. No one should be more zealous to see people reached and the Kingdom expand than Christian leaders.

Yet often we’re content to either let things slide, or even if we want to see change, we’re not equipped to do what it takes to move the mission forward again.

That’s why knowing the signs of a stall-out are so critical. If you see it happening, you can seize the moment.

If you don’t, you won’t.

So here are 7 signs your church is stalling out.

1. You’re killing most new ideas

In start-up mode, new ideas abound.  After all, they’re almost all you’ve got.

But over time, every leader and every organization becomes resistant to change.

After all, most people change when the pain of the status quo is greater than the pain associated with change.

That explains why change is so easy in the early days: the pain of failing or not existing is great.

It also explains why most organizations get anxious to change once they’re in a tailspin (which can often be too late).

But as long as the lights are on and the bills are paid and there’s some kind of progress, leaders resist change.

As a result, unwise leaders kill new ideas.

When you regularly kill new ideas, it’s not just the ideas that die. Eventually, the mission does too.

2. The visionaries are frustrated, grow quiet or leave

Organizations that grow almost always have at least a few visionaries. In many cases in the start-up days, visionaries abound.

One sure sign your organization is about to stall out is that the visionaries either grow frustrated, get quiet or leave.

When that happens, panic.

Visionaries will first grow frustrated when their ideas get rejected. And it’s not just their ideas…it’s any new ideas. Visionaries care less whether they get the credit than they do that the mission is moving forward.

After growing frustrated, they’ll just grow quiet. They don’t want to cause problems. Maybe they’ll step back from the board or take a break from staff, but they won’t necessarily leave the church.

But eventually, if change doesn’t happen, they’ll leave.

They won’t cause a ruckus or a split. They’ll just slip away and find someone who will lead them.

Why? Because if you shut down a visionary, they’ll eventually find someone who won’t.

3. Your organizational speed is slower

Every organization or church slows down a bit as it grows, but too many slow down unnecessarily.

Taking a long time to make a decision, to implement change, or to get things done is a sure sign you’ll eventually stall out.

One good way to check your organizational speed is to think back to how long it would have taken you to make the same decision 5 years ago. If the answer is “less time,” find out why.

Fast moving people never last in slow moving organizations. And if you want to keep making progress, you’ll need some fast moving people in leadership.

4. You keep adding layers of bureaucracy

One of the things that slows down any organization is complexity.

And in organizational life complexity always happens when you add layers of bureaucracy.

Again, as you grow, some layers of administration are necessary. But it’s so critical to stay as lean as possible.

Complexity is never a friend of either effectiveness or progress.

5. You’re not subtracting

Usually when an organization stalls out, one of the reasons is it has become bloated.

Bloating happens prior to the stall out because leaders add but never have the courage to subtract.

It’s much harder to cut than than it is to add when it comes to programs, staff and initiatives.

Focused organizations and churches use the mission to filter all the decisions they make. And just as often it means cutting as it means adding.

I’m not talking about costs nearly as much as I’m talking about programs and even team.

Subtracting takes more courage than adding. And leaders who lose effectiveness often do so because they’ve lost courage.

6. You’re more interested in preserving what you have than innovating something new

When you’re starting out or in a new season, you’re willing to risk what you have to gain what you don’t.

But the more you have, the more afraid you become.

Success makes you conservative.

As a result, the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.

Leaders who succumb to this always defer to the status quo because they’re afraid to lose what they’ve already built.

7. The average age of your team is creeping up

I’ve been in the same place for 22 years.

There’s a natural tendency of a church or organization to grow old with its leaders.

While you want to honor and keep the people who have been with you, you also need to renew your circles. Effective leaders do this by also surrounding themselves with young leaders with fresh ideas and perspectives.

The ideas that impact the next generation rarely come from the current generation.

8. You start justifying slower progress

Even before an organization completely stalls out, attendance and other indicators will start to slow down.

One of two things happen here.

Either the leader seizes on that or tries to solve the problem, or he or she begins to justify their lack of progress.

The #1 ways leaders justify their lack of progress? Excuse-making.

As in “well, every church is struggling” or “we had a hard winter/beautiful summer/warm fall” or “culture has changed.” (Here are 8 excuses church leaders make).

Well, you can make excuses or you can make progress. But you can’t make both.

9.You’ve changed the marker of success to make you feel like you’re winning

When clear markers of progress (such as numbers of baptisms, number of people in groups, number of new guests, weekend attendance and givings) start to lag, leaders who don’t want to make progress will often start arguing over metrics.

They’ll argue that historic indicators aren’t reliable anymore, or that they don’t really indicate true progress.

Sometimes, they’ll move to quantitative analysis (it’s not how many people are here, it’s what their experience is like).

There’s a lot to be said for measuring quality as well as quantity, but if you keep moving the markers, there’s probably a deeper issue at work.

Leaders who argue that numbers don’t matter are usually masking the fact that they know they do.

What Do You Think?

These are some indicators I’ve seen that indicated a church is about to stall out.

What do have you seen?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Comments

  1. […] published in CareyNieuwhof.com March 16, […]

  2. Steve Latham on March 18, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I’d like to talk you one to one someday. I dont tuink we will however. You sound like a success-oriented leader. But after reading most of your posts I feel like a losee. You had me this time until points 8 & 9. Then I crumpled. Why not write something for the strugglers among us?

  3. Mabel Hudson on March 18, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Very good content; I always enjoy the “Nieuwhof News.” I am wondering if the design/layout
    of this site could be “printer friendly”? Perhaps a PDF selection to print from or be able to
    open in the browser to print more efficiently. I use these columns quite often that requires
    my printing them, but it takes many pages to complete the printing task because of the wide
    spacing, large font, boxed quotes, etc. Could this be condensed as another option to your
    traditional presentation?
    Thank you, again, for all the wisdom!

  4. Teddy A. Jones on March 18, 2017 at 6:42 am

    I concur with this whole list and it resonated deeply.

  5. Christoph Koebel on March 17, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Yes right on

  6. Dave Mathieu on March 16, 2017 at 10:12 pm

    Pastor Carey, I fully agree with these whole heartedly. As a church planter for the past 23yrs every church has its cycles of growth cycles. To see continued growth we as leaders must be willing to look at the issues and face the hard facts to continue to be effective in reaching our communities with the Gospel. One I would add to your list would be unwillingness of the leader to admit they may be the bottleneck and be ready to embrace others who have the same kinds of outside the lines ideas they had in the early days. Let’s believe for leaders and churches across our nation who will be willing to make radical changes if necessary if it means continuing to change lives for eternity!

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