Smaller Churches Can Get “Un-Stuck”

As a leader you want to create and capture momentum. If your church is slowly growing, struggling or just plain stuck, there is a process that can help you get moving and get growing.

Here’s a process you can adapt for you and your church. This doesn’t take months of study and meetings to get started. A few weeks of prayer, honest conversation and planning and you are off and running. It’s not a race, but it does have an intentional start line.


Steps to gain momentum in 2016:

What is your heart’s desire?

It’s easy for pastors and other churches to be inwardly conflicted about their true dreams and desires. The church is a difficult place to lead because nearly everyone thinks they are in charge or should be. It’s a difficult place for a pastor to live. Fishbowl living, with everyone watching, brings pressures others don’t experience. Yet when your heart’s desires are aligned with God’s heart and desires, (Psalm 37:4), it’s all worth it and then some.

The practical application is to be honest with yourself and God about what you really want for your church. In a quiet hour or so with God, a cup of coffee and your journal to write, you can gain clarity. The reality of who we are and what we want as leaders is not a mystery; the mystery is why we don’t get honest about it. What do you want as a leader and for your church?

Have a candid talk with your board.

Our founding and senior pastor, Kevin Myers, has led 12Stone® Church for 28 years. Some pastors might be ready to slow down, maybe even coast a little. But “PK”, as we call him, is more fired-up than ever! He wants to reach lost people now more than ever!! He was honest with himself and God, and honest with the board… he is all in!

This is the significant question, is your board and staff all in with you? No matter how fired-up and committed you are, you can’t lead without the enthusiastic support of your key leaders. In fact, it’s more than “support.” The idea is not, “Wow, look at pastor go!” It’s, “We’re all in this together!” The top leadership must demonstrate full buy-in with their time, personal resources, their words and actions.

Don’t let “insanity” be your church model.

You know the unofficial definition of insanity don’t you? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. The “crazy” thing is, if that’s true I know lots of “insane” churches.

Change is required. Not change for the sake of change, but wise and strategic change that will make a difference. Change isn’t comfortable. People will resist it, including the leaders. The truth is, if you make a change and nobody gets upset, you just changed something that doesn’t matter! If you are going to get unstuck and get going, change is non-negotiable.

A couple of great books that will be helpful for you:

  1. Leading Change, by John Kotter
  2. Managing Transitions – Making the most of change, by William Bridges

Make a plan for change, keep it simple, write it down and do it.

Establish several quick wins.

Quick wins may be connected to your larger big picture plan or may be separate. Either way, the key is to create momentum that helps your congregation believe that achieving vision is possible.

For example, let’s say you have 90 people attending your church on a regular basis, and evangelism is the core idea of your big picture “get un-stuck” plan. A quick win could be to create a plan for a special Sunday that would gather 10 visitors, maybe more, and you celebrate having over 100 people! Very doable!

You would not use that same kind of plan for your longer term, more in-depth strategy, but it’s great for a one Sunday “quick win”! It’s a great morale boost for your people. The begin to believe it’s possible to grow!

For a slightly different approach, let’s say we keep the same big picture strategy that in some way relates to evangelism, but rather than a quick win that is outreach oriented, do something connected to local compassion ministry. For example, you could do a food drive for a local food co-op. You could easily gather several hundred canned goods and other food supplies to feed the hungry and your congregation feels encouraged for pleasing God, helping people and being successful! All in one weekend!

Do one or two of these things a month as your bigger plan catches traction.

Never lose sight of God’s Kingdom plan.

Your big picture plan for change doesn’t need to be elaborate. In fact, it should be simple. You should be able to describe it with crystal clear clarity in a few sentences to anyone who asks.

Even more important, your strategy (plan) must always be easily and obviously connected to the Great Commission – God’s plan — found in Matthew 28:18-20. When these two remain integrated, (your plan and God’s plan), Psalm 37:4 (see point above), real power is found and it will come alive.

Now what?

Work the plan.

Nearly every failure that occurs in the local church is because the leaders gave up and quit working the plan, rather than the plan itself being flawed.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:9-10

7 thoughts on “Smaller Churches Can Get “Un-Stuck””

  1. Great thoughts Dan – so, so true. This is all about the skill of navigating change with those that either don’t want to change, or don’t know that they can change. Many leaders of small (established) churches don’t know that they’re “stuck” – so trying to “un-stuck” them is a real challenge. And that takes a real heart to lead by relationships with them. Thanks for your thoughts!
    And – too funny! I just read Geoff Surratt’s article about creating “sticky churches”! Ironic.

  2. Another great article – it provided me with some perspective and that allowed to pray over some situations today differently. It did leave me wondering about “staff/board buy-in” in that, what does the pastor do when the staff and board should have buy-in, and could (vision is clear, options are available) but they won’t buy-in? Is it time for that leader to make a transition? If the board isn’t going to be different and won’t buy-in, and would prefer the pastor to do it all – then what would be next for that pastor or that church? (See…this got me thinking about things I had not considered).

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience in this format. Much appreciated!

    1. Hey Nick. That’s always a tough call. Ultimately, if the board is not supportive and you sense a green light from God then a transition may be in order. But I always believe that’s the last resort. Influencing the board and key leaders to change is the tough road but the best option. I hope and pray that works for you.

  3. I pray this doesn’t sound like I’m offended, because I’m not. I just don’t understand the title of the post.

    I pastor a small church. I deal regularly with the assumption that small churches must be stuck doing something wrong. Do I want my church to grow? Yes. Every church should be growing in some way. But the title of this post could just have easily been…”Churches Can Get Unstuck”. Why add the adjective “smaller”? The impression is that smaller churches must be stuck or they wouldn’t be small.

    Please hear me…I’m not saying that is what you meant. I don’t believe that is what you meant. I’m saying it is the message small churches hear all the time. It is also the message leaders of larger churches see as they gloss over the title of a post they know doesn’t apply to them.

    Does it take different strategies perhaps to get a big church unstuck? I suppose. But there was nothing in the entire post that was only relevant to small churches (except that in the example of reaching more lost people the numbers used were 90 and 100).

    Are there small churches who are stuck because they lack buy-in, vision, etc.? You bet there are. But singling them out as small churches first doesn’t help.

    Might adding the word “small” to the title help pull the attention of small church leaders who wouldn’t be interested in reading another church growth model written for large churches? Perhaps, but not likely.

    Oh, for a small church leader and thinker who would be willing to write about small wins from a small church perspective. I’m not saying they don’t exist…I’m saying they are few and far between, and the slack is sometimes necessarily taken up by writers who unintentionally put down small church ministry…sometimes just by the word choice of the title to their posts.

    I don’t mean to sound upset…this post just happened to be the most recent of several that I’ve been mulling over. And today happened to be the day I had time to write my thoughts.

    Also, for the record, I heard “PK” and you both speak at events for The Wesleyan Church and have been immensely helped by both. For that reason I believe you are the kind of guy who would understand where I’m coming from.

    1. Hey Wesley, I think I do understand where you are coming from. Candidly, I did hope to catch the attention of pastors who lead smaller churches by that title. But in a much larger sense, I have a huge heart and passion to help smaller churches and their leaders. Part of the reason I intentionally use the word “smaller” is because I’m aware of the sensitivities, and the word “small” sounds like a declaration (something final) and the word “smaller” sounds like a general adjective that describes a range. I love smaller churches because they have heart and guts and do the hard work, often without much help. I love smaller churches because they have a chance to reach the millions of people who don’t like larger churches. Actually, I could make a really long list but suffice to say, I write specifics because most pastors of churches under maybe about 120 or under 100 (I don’t know what the definitive number is) seem to like articles just for them. They seem to feel valued and not tossed aside when someone takes the time to write something that is hopefully helpful. You are probably on to something however. I’ve noticed that when I write what I think is helpful to smaller churches, they rarely share (social media shares) with others. Larger churches hit social media shares in huge numbers. Maybe you are right, I may have chosen my title poorly. Thanks for your comments Wesley, I’m for you and your church. And if there is anything I can do to help, just email me. We’ll do what we can.

      1. I appreciate your response and insight. I may likely take you up on that email offer at some point. Blessings.

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