5 Reasons a Church or Organization Stops Growing

Typical Rural Icelandic Church under a blue summer sky

I was talking with a church recently that had explosive growth, but things have slowed. They wanted to know why they were not growing any longer.

Honestly, I do t know. There are probably different reasons for every church that stops growing.

But, this church is seeking answers. So, I decided to share Some thoughts to consider. And, I’m sharing them here.

Obviously, God is ultimately in charge of a churches growth. There are times where God is giving a season of rest and preparation for a church for something to come. In some situations, God may have even taken His hand from the church.

God is into church growth, however. I’m convinced He likes it when a church grows.

It’s our mission as believers to produce disciples and our model example of the first century church was a growing church, so outside the God factor, there are usually reasons for stagnation in a church. Because the church is an organization made up of people, these reasons are often similar to those you may find true as to why growth stalls in the life of an organization also.

In my experience, the are some common variables when growth stalls.

Here are 5 suggestions:

You get comfortable

It’s okay to be comfortable, but when you hang out there too long, it can be dangerous, because you stop trying new things to spur growth and excitement.

You quit dreaming

Dreams inspire, challenge, and grow people and organizations. What could the church accomplish to reach its community? You’ll never dream bigger than the dreams God has for you or your church.

You stop taking risks

You can’t succeed at anything without a measure of risk. Playing it safe never grows anything. The call of God always involves risk-taking.

You start maintaining

When you fall into the mode of protecting what you have, you’ll be less likely to encourage growth for fear of losing ground.

You fail to walk by faith.

Especially for the church — we are a faith-based organization. If you aren’t walking by faith in what you are doing it is impossible to please God. (That’s Biblical. Look it up!)

Those are my quick thoughts.

Obviously, there is so much more to this issue and to each one of these answers. These are general responses and there are specific issues with every church or organization. Hopefully thinking through each of these as a paradigm for brainstorming may help trigger thoughts towards actions which can spur future growth.

But, I’ve also learned that activity leads to activity. Maybe just having the discussions will begin to stir new momentum. Pray hard and ask God to stir big.

What would you add?

5 Gifts You Can Give Your Pastor

Small gift box

In this post, I want to share some gifts you can give your pastor.

How’s that for a self-serving post?

Those from the church where I serve as pastor should read this post knowing I minister to hundreds of pastors every month. In my latest blog survey, over 50% of my readers are in vocational ministry. But, even more important, only about 10% of my readers actually know me personally. So, this is not a personal plea. It’s written for the hopeful benefit of others. Thanks for being the kind of church that — for the most part — protects the pastor.

Most churches love to bless their pastor. I get asked frequently how the church can help me. But, that don’t know how.

To be a pastor of a local church is a privilege and a high honor. But, it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done.

Here are 5 gifts you can give your pastor:

Your understanding of time

Acts 6:1-2, Ephesians 5:31 (applies to the pastor’s marriage too.)

The pastor needs time away from the ministerial responsibilities and activities of the church so that he can commit time to his family and to the ministry of the Word of God. Every activity done in the church is important, according to God’s Word, but the primary responsibility of the pastor is to teach God’s Word. I have witnessed so many pastors who burn out because too many demands are placed upon them. If there is a social or an activity in the church or among its people, most people expect the pastor to always be there. There is often little consideration to the fact that the pastor needs time with his family; and certainly time to prepare the message of God’s Word.

If you want your pastor to be prepared to deliver God’s message of the week to you and, if you want his family to be strong enough that he can model family life for you, then give him time alone with God during the week. Make sure he has time to study and for his family. Too many demands on his time will make a very stressed out pastor!

Your financial partnership

1 Corinthians 9:11-12

Your pastor needs to be personally supported financially and needs your partnership in funding the mission of the church.

I haven’t met any strong, Biblical pastors who don’t realize that the ministry is a sacrifice. Most pastors don’t expect to be wealthy. Most pastors know that the ministry is a life of faith, even in the area of finances. They shouldn’t, however, have to beg for support. The burden of support should be on those receiving the ministry.

Operating any size church takes resources. The stress of “fundraising” on a pastor usually is outside of their comfort zone and expertise. What a blessing it is to a pastor when people willingly sacrifice to fund the vision!

Your personal support

2 Timothy 4:16-17

Paul knew what it felt like to feel all alone. It’s a scary feeling. Many pastors today know that feeling. Of course, God is “our refuge and strength and ever present help in time of trouble”, but the pastor needs to know that he has the support of a few people. There needs to be some people he can always depend on to encourage him in his daily walk with the Lord.

I want you to know that being a pastor is sometimes a lonely place to be. God has given us human relationships in order that we might provide physical strength and encouragement to each other to help us along life’s journey. The pastor often feels left out of this plan. Please don’t let that happen to your pastor!

If your pastor has an idea for the church, support him unless you have a better idea or what the pastor is proposing is un-Biblical. Be willing to not only voice your support, but provide physical, financial, and moral support to the pastor’s plan. Be a physical encourager by complimenting the pastor, praying for him, sending him an occasional note or email, and simply putting an arm around him and saying “thanks”. Don’t forget to encourage his family as well.

Our pastors need our support. They need to know we care. They need encouragement. There has never been a more stressful time to be a pastor than in the world today. Tell yours you care about him (or her) today!

Your unconditional love

Philemon 7

Your pastor needs you to love him…even when he makes mistakes.

Do you love your pastor? Do you thank God for the person God has sent to lead your church? Here’s a more important question: Does your pastor know of your love?

By the way, that will be evidenced by your actions more than your words.

I can tell you that there are many pastors today that wonder if anyone cares for them. Most pastors hear far more complaints than they hear encouragement. Everyone always shares burdens with the pastor, but few people stop just to share love with their pastor.

Have you figured out yet that your pastor is not perfect? Your pastor is a flawed individual, just like you are, that God has appointed to shepherd your church. Many times they didn’t even ask God for the assignment, but are simply trying to be obedient to God’s call upon their life. Can’t you just love a person like that? They may have put their career objectives on hold, just so they could do God’s will and minister to you! Have you ever thought about it like that?

Why not think of how you can show your love for your pastor today?

Your growth spiritually

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

The greatest compliment you can give to your pastor is to personally be growing spiritually. If you want to really get your pastor excited, let them see you excited about your relationship with Christ.

The pastor’s job is to help you become more like Jesus. A pastor is assigned by God to shepherd the church, equipping the saints to do the work of the church. The pastor is not the doer as much as the the equipper. (If that’s not a word let’s make it one.) The pastor should be building people who are doing God’s work in the church, the community, and around the world.

That’s the pastor’s part, but how is the pastor successful in their work?

When people are doing their part; growing in the Lord, doing the work of the church. The catch is this. The pastor can’t make you do your part. They can’t force you to be molded into the image of Christ. They can’t demand that you obey the Word of God. They can only encourage, teach, pray and lead by example, but you’ll never be made to do what you are not willing to do.

Give your pastor a great gift. Grow in your Christian walk!

Pastors, any other gifts come to mind?

5 Examples of Leading Outside the Norm

Yellow chair in the middle of several purple chairs

Leadership is so much different today than when I first started leading over 30 years ago. To lead today we must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership.

Much has been written about the informal aspects of leadership being as important as the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to a set of systems and structures — for a leader to be successful today — leaders must engage a team. We must build team spirit. Energize. Motivate. Engage. Even sympathize. Those have always been important, but these days they may trump some of our policies and procedures.

In informal leadership environments, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. Again, that may have always been important, but now it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

Adapting leadership to followers individual needs and expectations.

No more cookie-cutter leadership is allowed. Leaders must be wiling to individualize their leadership based on the current setting, economy and individualism of team members. We must know our teams uniquely and lead according to a person’s individual strengths and abilities.

Raising new leaders.

Those on the team with the propensity or desire to lead, must be given opportunity to help lead the organization. That’s not an option. Not only is this good for the organization by creating future leaders, it is key to keeping the best people on the team.

Balancing kindness or friendship with authority.

John Maxwell’s axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” has never been more true. People follow leaders they can trust. They follow leaders who believe in them and will invest in them. While leaders sometimes must make difficult and unpopular decisions, authoritarian leadership is not well received by today’s workforce.

Giving others ownership in the vision.

People want and need to be stockholders — knowing they are making a difference with their work. To do that means they must have ownership in the vision and decision-making. Allowing a team to help shape the agenda helps assure their heart buys into completing the mission of the organization.

Creating for the greater good.

Great leaders think beyond themselves. Even beyond their own team or the vision, goals and objectives of the organization. Today’s leaders must understand they play a part in a more global sense. We are much more connected these days through social media and online instant connections. The way an organization treats it’s employees, the environment and customers is considered important — and if it’s not done well — the world will know about it quickly.

Finding the right balance between a formal style of leadership where everything is clearly spelled out for people to follow and an informal style where a team helps to shape the course of action is critical to an organization’s success. In many ways, after 30 plus years of leadership, I’m from an “old school”. I’m still learning – and re-learning.

But, I know this. Leaders today must continually strive to find that balance.

10 Problems with Doing the Best You Know How To Do

Confused charming woman holding up her hands

Years ago in a company I owned, there was a young man who worked for me who had tremendous potential. I believed in him so much that I personally invested in him and paid special attention to him. I thought his future with our company was worth the extra time. Sadly, he never measured up to my expectations and we ended up having to part ways.

Every time I would meet with him to “encourage” him, he would say the same thing.

I’m doing the best I know how to do.”

I have come to realize over the years that this response was actually his primary problem. He was doing the best he KNEW HOW to do.

But, here’s the reality I know:

The best you know how to do is never the best you can do!

It’s not. I wish I was, because that would make things much easier. But, there’s so much more. That’s just an excuse. And excuses never get you where you say you want to go.

Here are 10 problems when you do the best you know how to do:

  • You leave out a critical thinking…
  • You quit learning new things…
  • You fail to be stretched…
  • You never develop personally…
  • You quit asking questions…
  • You resist change…
  • You dismiss new ideas…
  • You stop growing in your field of expertise…
  • You never become an expert…
  • You fail to allow God to work through you…

There is a huge difference in doing the best you know how to do and doing the best YOU CAN DO. The best you can do is to continue to get better. The times you are being stretched beyond what you know how to do may prove to be the best times of your personal development.

Never settle for the best you know how to do. It seldom will take you to the places you really want to go!

Here’s a challenge question: What are you currently doing to produce future personal growth? 

Join Me At Exponential 2015

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson5

I hope you’ll join me at Exponential conference, where I’ll be teaching on church revitalization. Honestly, this is one of the most “hands-on” conference experiences of which I’ve ever been a part. The speakers are practitioners. We learn from you. And, there’s lots of time for great networking. Join me!

Go to the site HERE and register as well as pick up a free e-book.

It’s going to be a Kingdom-building blast.

Expo 2015 Precon Booklet Ron Edmondson2

12 Tips to Run Your First Long-Distance Race

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe. woman fitness sunri

I am a runner.

Running is some of the best thinking and down time I have in my life. It’s the one time where I’m the most removed from all the pressures of the world and able to clear my mind and concentrate.

As a leader, I’ve found it to be a huge part in my leadership development. I think when I run.

Just to give you a point of reference — a good week for me would be to run about 30-40 miles total. My favorite distance is about 5 to 7 miles. I run at a moderate pace — somewhere between 9 and 9:30 minute miles. I have completed 1 full marathon and more half marathons than I can count. My goal is to do one more full. I’ve intended to the last few years and schedules haven’t allowed it, but hopefully I can still plan in this direction. I don’t run a lot in really cold weather, but my goal is to remain fairly trained for a half. (I’m told if I can run 8 miles comfortably I can run a half. And, I’ve found that to be true.)

What some who know I run don’t know is that I was a previous anti-runner. I ran years ago, but then in my 30’s I had even made the statement, “I hate running. I’m a good walker.”

I continue to encounter people who are where I was. They think they are “too old” or past the running days. So many times I hear — “You wouldn’t catch me running unless I was being chased.” We”ve got to get you guys some new lines. :)

But, most of the time those people are just like me. They never really got into the habit of running. And, that’s what it is. You don’t start by running a half. It is a gradual build before you are inspired to enter to run a longer race. You might set a goal to run a 5K — or even a 1 mile fun run. No shame. Start where you can.

So here are some suggestions — just to consider. I can’t oversell the benefits to me of a discipline of running. I miss it during the harsh winter. Maybe it’s something you should consider.

Keep in mind these are an amateur’s perspective. You should obviously check with your doctor and the experts. And, believe me, there are lot of experts.

Here are 12 tips to prepare to run a race:

Training makes all the difference. I did finish my marathon, but I wasn’t adequately prepared. I won’t do another one until I’m sure my schedule will allow me to complete all of it. Don’t race if you aren’t prepared. Period. It’s not good for your body or your mindset towards running.

As a side note, running for me is down time, so I run alone. You may need to run with a group. Find a friend or a group and encourage them to join you if you need this support.

Follow a training schedule that matches your schedule. The Internet is full of online schedules. Research until you find the right one for you. I have consistently used Hal Higdon’s and they fit well with my weekly schedule.

If you have to skip training one day, don’t skip the long runs. You need the long day every week. These days are vital to stretching you for the final big day. You’d be better to push your schedule back, in my opinion, than to miss this day. If you have to alter the long run to another day — do that — but don’t skip it.

You may gain weight initially while training. This was surprising to me. And, frankly disappointing at first. You will have an appetite like never before. If you aren’t careful, you will justify eating much more because you are running so much. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need to have a plan for what you eat too.(The good news is you WILL get to eat more!)

Keep running. In the beginning, before you are truly committed, run even if you don’t feel like it. That’s hard, but you have to do it. Even if you don’t run as far as the schedule calls for that day — just run. You must push through the desire to quit. The joy of running will come. This is one of those “you just have to experience it to believe it” things. Keep at it until it sticks.

Remember it’s a “marathon not a sprint”. Even if it’s for a shorter run, don’t frustrate at where you are today. You’re not going for speed at this point. Pace yourself. A lot of times you’ll feel like you can run faster, but you can’t just yet. Don’t be afraid to start slow and build. You’re going for distance and to build the discipline of running. Keep pushing forward and you’ll increase over time. Celebrate each step of progress.

Shoes matter. I’m tight with money when it comes to spending on me, but I have discovered that having the right shoes and replacing them often is a key to lessen injuries. This is a place where I learned the hard way to invest. Even best is a good run shop where they can analyze your running pattern and help you find the right shoe.

Learn to stretch. I’ll get some push back on this one, because there are so many opinions. But, for me, I stretch the first mile of a long run. I may do a few stretches, but I am ready to get started. I just start slower until I’m ready to run my normal speed. Many say the best stretching is after you run. And, I’m not the best at this either, but I keep working at it.

The rest periods in your schedule are important. Once you start to enjoy running — and that will come — you will be tempted to run even when the schedule gives you an off day. Don’t do it! Your body needs the rest to prepare for the longer runs. Again, trust me on this. These are good days to do something different. I like to use weights or ride my bicycle on these days.

Run a shorter race first. >If you are training for a full marathon, try to do a half-marathon first. If a half is your goal, try a 5K. It will help if you’ve experienced the adrenaline of a race.

Don’t let your head play tricks with you. Running for long periods of time is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Fight through the mind games. Listen to your body — of course. Check with a doctor — all those things. But, don’t let your mind be your enemy.

Prepare to celebrate. Once you cross the finish line, no one can take that feeling away from you!

You can do this! Obviously some reading this post are not able to run a longer race — or run at all. But, some of you have just been making excuses. I’m encouraging you to go for it! Run. Run for life!

10 Leadership Statements That Often Come From A Heart Of Pride

Businessman taking a selfie

“Pride goes before destruction…” Proverbs 16:18

We are all capable of pride. Some of us more than others.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the years — mostly from my own personal growth and experience —

Many times what may appear to us — or we may label as — a leadership style or personality is actually a leader’s personal battle — and sin — of pride.

And, pride is very dangerous.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 26:12

Here are 10 leadership statements that often come from a heart of pride:

“I need to know everything that is happening around here.”

“If I don’t do it — it won’t be done right.”

“Look what I’ve accomplished.”

“I know all there is to know about this.”

“They’ll do what I say or else.”

“If I left all this would fall apart.”

“Did you hear about what I said/did?”

“I don’t need anyone looking over my shoulder.”

“It wasn’t my fault.”

“I don’t need anyone else’s opinion. I know I’m right.”

So, what can we do leaders?

How do we battle a pride pastors?

We above all else — guard our heart. (Proverbs 4:23)

We let people in — we value others. (Romans 12:16, Philippians 2:3)

We recognize who we are and who God is. (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

We remember that we are created for His glory — not our own. (Isaiah 43:7)

It’s a constant battle.

As leaders, we’ve been given a platform. We have the opportunity to build a name. We value our work done for the good of others. And, God can use the voice we develop for His good. He does it everyday.

No denying that.

But, we must be careful not to let pride be the motivation in building our seat of influence. Or in taking credit that belongs to Him — and should be shared with others.

Someone said humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less. (And, others more.)

That should become a discipline of our life.

Thankfully God gives “grace to the humble”. (James 4:6)

And, wisdom.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2

I’m in the battle with you. To His glory, let’s lead well.

Tortoise and Hare Principle in Organizational Leadership

tortoise-hare

A few years ago I was running in Philadelphia. It is one of my favorite cities in which to run. I love the Fairmount Park System, because I can run for miles in new territory.

On this particular day, I set out to explore a several mile loop around a portion of the park. Shortly into my run, I entered the park in front of a young college-aged girl running at the same pace with me. (I assumed her identity based on the college sweatshirt she was wearing — and the proximity to a local college.)

We had been running at the same pace for about a half-mile when she apparently became impatient with my pace and decided to run faster. She gave me a look that seemed to speak “get out of my way old man” and quickly disappeared from my sight. I continued my steady pace through the park and encountered her again a couple miles later. She had looped around the park and was heading back, still continuing at her faster pace. We smiled at one another as we passed.

And, then the story took a change in my favor.

After 3 or 4 miles I returned to the place we had originally met and who did I see? My college “friend” was walking, out of breath, holding her stomach and in obvious pain. She couldn’t finish the track.

I realize some people are sprinters and some are long-distance runners, but I have to be honest. As the old guy, I got a boost in my adrenaline when I was still running with plenty of fuel in my tank.

Now, before you think I’m awful, the reason I share is that it reminded me of an important leadership principle.

It’s the tortoise and the hare principle.

There are certainly times an organization needs to sprint. Run like a hare.

Organizations need times of stretching to take leaps forward. Healthy organizations continue to grow. That requires fast decisions at times — the ability to adapt quickly. Momentum is built when energy and excitement combine and things are running at full speed ahead. Every organization should continually have periods of sprinting.

But, that can’t be the only pace of a healthy organization.

There are also times the organization needs to slow the pace down to tortoise speed.

It may sound boring to a driven leader, but long-term, sustainable health of an organization depends on establishing systems and strategies. And, as much as we may resist it — even structure. Yes, structure.

Take a church plant, for example. In the initial days, it seems like a sprint. Everything is new. Exciting. Fast-paced.

But, over time, to continue as a healthy church, at some point there becomes a need for structure. Systems need to be implemented. There may even be a need for a few rules. Yes, rules.

The fact is most of us would rather sprint. I wished I could that day in Philadelphia. It can almost become “cool” to be sprinting — so much so that we never really attain a healthy foundation upon which to build long-term, sustainable growth. And, hopefully all of us ultimately want to finish well. Go the distance. That requires that we learn to pace ourselves — like a tortoise.

You can’t sprint forever.

Be honest.

What pace is needed most right now in your world — tortoise or hare?

7 Things I’ve Learned About Successfully Leading Change

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Bottom line: Every organization — whether a church, business or nonprofit– needs change in order to continue to grow and remain healthy.

But here’s the thing about change. If you’ve ever been in leadership you know this.

Change is hard. Very hard.

And, it’s especially hard for some people. In fact, in my experience, the most common reaction to change — at least initially– is rejection or rebellion.

And, that’s what makes change difficult to lead.

Learning to lead change successfully may be the single most important challenge of any leader.

I’m not an expert. But, I’ve led some change. Some successfully. Some not.

And, along the way I’ve learned a few things.

Here are 7 principles that can help you successfully lead change:

Establish trust.You can best lead change from a pre-established trust in your leadership. New leaders should be careful not to implement a lot of major change early unless that change is vital to the organization. Major change will be easier if the leader has established some credibility.

Introduce change early. This is where “early” comes into the process. People need time to warm up to the change that is coming. The less you surprise people the greater your chance for success can be. Change always comes with an emotion attached and giving ample notice allows people a chance to acclimate those emotions.

Communicate often. Inform people along the way by keeping them updated with the progress during a period of change. Include the good news and the bad news in these updates. Hold nothing back. I’m not sure you can over-communicate. And, use different means of communication to make sure you catch everyone and every style of listener.

Widen the distribution. Get buy-in from as many people as possible. Sometimes leaders have to lead alone. People can’t understand where you’re taking them that they need to go, but may not even know yet or want to go. But, those times of loneliness should be rare. Wherever possible, include others in decisions concerning change.

Follow through on commitments made. The quickest way to lose trust is to say one thing and do another. Likewise, do not make commitments you cannot keep. Be true to your word.

Be consistent. You will keep people’s trust through the change if it is easier to figure out where you are as a leader, what you are thinking, and why you are making the decisions you make. And, pay attention to the word “why” — it’s critically important. People need to learn you and seeing a consistency in you over time and testing and they more they understand why the more accepting they will be of change.

Change continuance. Do not make change a rare occurrence. Build a culture of healthy change so that it will be more naturally accepted when it comes. That takes time. And experience. You need some wins so people learn to trust you when you are trying to lead change.

There are a few things I’ve learned about leading change. What have you learned?