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7 Common Obstacles to Growth in Your Congregation

An intentional “clearing of the fields” is necessary in many congregations as part of the cultivation process that positions us for growth.

When preparing fields for planting, farmers notice when rocks, roots or any other impediments are lurking in the growing environment.

When noticed, they are removed as quickly as possible in order to enhance the soil’s receptivity.

When it comes to our growth in faith, practice, spirit, community engagement, witness and nearly everything else in line with our callings as churches, there are obstacles to recognize and remove.

Recognizing the following seven common growth obstacles will position us for clearing the fields.

1. When leaders hear a litany of “buts” when suggesting adaptive change.

“Yes, we could make that change, but…” When these kinds of statements are spoken in enough meetings and conversations to become a theme, this congregation is not ready for much change at all.

Perhaps they perceive change as too difficult, or beyond them, or just inconvenient. A litany of “buts” indicates an obstacle to growth is present in the congregational growing environment.

2. When leaders hear a strong emphasis on how good things are currently.

When we are so proud of our way of being church that we don’t see any need for change, then the congregational growing environment is not fertile ground for growth.

The lyrics below this music are, “We are content with the way things are and have little interest in growth.” Excessive contentment with the status quo is an impediment to growth.

3. When we see symptoms of “Post-Traumatic Conflict Disorder.”

Church conflict makes most of us run for the hills. Nobody wants to experience that again.

At the same time, if we don’t process the pain and learn our lessons, then the highly charged emotion lurks in the background.

Then, when we start cultivating the growing environment, the residual and unfinished business from conflict introduces toxicity into the soil. This contaminates the good seed when it’s planted.

4. When the congregation is paralyzed by institutional threats.

Threats to our congregational strength, or even existence, do arise in congregational life.

This, in itself, is not an obstacle to growth; giving into the fear surrounding these threats becomes the obstacle.

Proactively acknowledging and addressing threats lowers this anxiety.

When we pretend real threats are not there, ignoring them the best we can, we nearly guarantee the related anxiety will be an obstacle in the growing environment.

5. When participation levels dip below what’s needed to maintain our current way of being church.

This development in itself is not the obstacle. The congregation’s viewpoint on this development can become an obstacle.

Certainly, there is concern when this occurs, yet it can also be an opportunity for imaginative exploration of what it means to be church in the current context.

If the congregation continues to interpret these declines as negative over time, they will act in a self-fulfilling-prophecy kind of way.

6. When ministries and programs are just good enough.

Over time, these run their course and live out their life cycle. Yet, ministries and programs grow beloved with time, leading to strong emotional attachments.

Even after they are barely strong enough to survive, they often continue onward, draining our energy for more fruitful efforts.

One or more of these existing in the life of the church may serve as obstacles to growth.

7. When the congregation baptizes the status quo.

Subtly, over time, we slip into the belief that the way we do church is the way to do church.

We come to see how we do church not only as our preference, but also as the best, most spiritual way to do church.

The result is strong resistance to changing or growing. After all, when the best ever is in place, why would we want to change anything (even when the results are diminishing before our eyes)?

So, where do we go from here?

Repeatedly, Scripture encourages us to be strong and courageous when it comes to engaging our reality.

When we know and trust the one who is not afraid, we are not afraid either.

When we trust God’s sustaining power, we develop the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

May your fields become rich, fertile growing environments with few obstacles to growth this year.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on his personal blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on Pinnacle’s blog.