Competence Isn't Always Your Friend

I was surprised recently by statistics by the Barna Group that showed that only 4% of churches in the US have an attendance of over 500 people.

In the United States today, here’s how churches break down according to size:

  • Very small churches (1-50 attenders) – 26%
  • Small churches (51-100 attenders) 35%
  • Medium churches (101-200 attenders) – 24%
  • Large churches (201-499 attenders) – 11%
  • Very large churches (501+ attenders) – 4%

While Canadian statistics are hard to find, older stats show that only 4% of Canadian churches have attendances of over 350 people.

I’ve led churches that had a total attendance of six right through to the ‘very large church’ category (although it still feels small to us).  It made me reflect on the difference between leading a small church and leading a larger one.  And I realized an important shift happened along the way:

When the church was small, I did almost everything.  Now that I lead Connexus, I do almost nothing.

When we were under a hundred people, I visited, wrote the bulletin, printed the bulletin, led the bible studies, saw people in hospital. As we grew, I gave more and more of that leadership away to people and set up systems to help people be reached and cared for.  We also stopped doing things we used to do.

The tension I felt was that I was actually competent at much of what I did.  Not great, but somewhat competent.  At least in my own mind.

One of the main challenges a leader faces is deciding what he’s going to stop doing so others who are great at it can start doing it.  Even if you’re competent at it and like it, your community will only grow as large as what you release to others.

Although I joke about doing nothing today, the truth is I’ve learned to focus almost all of my energy and time on leading, casting vision, speaking and building into key staff and leaders.  My best guess is that over 90% of the day to day ministry at Connexus happens without my direct input.  In fact, I actually couldn’t do a good chunk of what happens.  I simply don’t know how to.  We’ve hired a lot of competent, knowledgable people who are so much better than I am at what we do.  And we have hundreds of volunteers bringing their skill and heart into fulfilling our mission.

As I think about what’s holding back churches from reaching more people, I wonder how much of that growth might not be related to prayer, devotion or even having a great ministry.  I wonder how much might be related to what leaders insist on doing themselves.

What are you learning in this area?  What are you releasing?  What are you hanging onto that you could release?


  1. Jeremy on January 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Great posting! We’ve always heard that 10% of the church does 90% of the work! However, ownership of the ministry is worth striving towards! Prayers for your ministry!!! I’m praying our staff joins this journey, too!

    • Carey on January 13, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks Jeremy and Zach. The 90/10 split is often so true. Sometimes I wonder if those of us in leadership perpetuate that. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Zach on January 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    “One of the main challenges a leader faces is deciding what he’s going to stop doing so others who are great at it can start doing it.”

    Great point. If only we’d embrace that idea!

  3. Elaine on January 12, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    I have just finished reading the book Ùpside Down Leadership`by Stacy Rinehart, and as I read your comments Cary, the following quote came to my mind, “The significant players in the New Testament church were not superstars…they were men and women who were gifted by the Holy Spirit…They were non-experts who God used in powerful ways.“ I think a powerful sign of a good leader, practicing solid biblical leadership, is a leader who is willing to take a step back so that others who are gifted can come forward to take the lead, even for just a while. I find this a refreshing idea, and one that is evident at Connexus. Thanks for that.

    • Carey on January 12, 2011 at 11:27 pm

      Elaine…great point. So true….no one God used was ‘qualified’. If you see this principle at work at Connexus, I’m grateful. I hope its even more true a few years from now.

  4. Dr. G. on January 12, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for communicating this leadership principle so clearly. Wish you could have been at a elder board meeting I attended last night.

    The most common frustration I hear among friends looking for a new church is that they crave the opportunity to use their gifts and talents in support of the church’s mission, but the “professional Christians” are reluctant to give them the opportunity. Imagine what could be accomplished if the folks on staff with seminary degrees or unique ministry experience could focus on the components of ministry they’ve been uniquely equipped for and let the people of the church do the rest!

    • Carey on January 12, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      Oh man, I hear you. I could certainly get better at releasing things (I’m still learning). Thanks for your reply Dr. G!

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