Last week I addressed the reasons why small churches get stuck. Today, I want to focus on mid-size churches. We’ll assume for this discussion that these are churches between 200 and 800 in attendance. By the way, 60% of churches in America are under 100 in attendance, so these churches are actually relatively very large. That said, their challenges still look different than the churches we’ll talk about in the future that are reaching thousands.
Just as a reminder, I’m not suggesting that all churches between 200 and 800 in attendance are stuck. I just acknowledged that these churches are actually reaching far more people than the vast majority of churches in the country. “Stuck” means different things for different churches. Some are not seeing new people, particularly young adults. Some are not seeing people accept Christ and begin their faith journey. Some are not seeing disciples become disciple-makers. Some are not experiencing growth as expected.
Though every church is unique, these are some of the common challenges we see in mid-size churches:
They are governed by large boards and many committees.
As an example, we recently worked with a mid-size church that had over 50 people on its board and more than a dozen different committees. Their structure for decision-making was so complex that they had a committee for finding people to serve on committees. We try to help churches move to only one board with seven to nine people. The goal is to get everyone else serving on a ministry team rather than participating in committee meetings.
They don’t leverage volunteers.
The first goal is to get staff leading ministry teams rather than reporting to committees (see above). Once that shift happens, the next goal is get staff to start building volunteer teams to do the ministry. It’s not unusual, though, for staff to hold on to doing all the ministry in mid-size churches. Think children’s ministry. Think pastoral care. Staff need to begin equipping God’s people to do the work of God.
They’re unwilling to address facility constraints.
Sometimes those constraints happen because of limited seating for adults. More oftentimes, though, the constraints aren’t as visible because they impact guests more than they do people who are already connected to the church. Those hidden constraints may include lack of parking, welcoming and obvious entrances, children’s ministry space, adequate lobby space, clear directional signage and so on. The key question is to consider how is the guest experience impacted by our facility?
Children’s ministry doesn’t become a priority.
Ironically, churches tend to hire a youth pastor before they hire a children’s ministry pastor. Part of the reason why is that they’re really only focused on babysitting kids. The better space and the stronger leaders are focused on adults and students. The challenge is that unless churches give their best to children’s ministry, they’ll never reach their parents. That’s one of the reasons why some churches have a chasm of missing 25 to 35-year-old adults. By the way, if you offer adult classes on Sunday morning, your best leaders will always choose to attend worship and a class on Sundays, and children’s ministry will get the leftovers.
They haven’t identified their primary purpose and distinctives.
Here’s the challenge. Once you start reaching hundreds of people, it’s very easy to continue adding programming. Before you know it, things become very complex with multiple ministries competing for volunteers, leaders, money, space, promotions, etc. Mid-size churches need to define their mission, vision and strategy. By doing this, they’ll be in a better position to begin focusing resources on the areas of ministry that define who they are as a church. It will create a filter for leaders to begin saying no more often. That focus will increase ministry effectiveness and leverage resources for greater impact.
The quality of weekend environments doesn’t reflect the size of the church.
For good or bad, as the size of the environment grows, so do quality expectations. Of course, the primary place this will be felt is with the worship service environment for adults, but the same principle will apply in every environment including children’s ministry, students, guest experiences, classes and so on. With worship, though, there needs to be more intentionality around planning, preparation and execution. That includes not only the teaching but everything else that happens during the service.
They don’t hire leaders.
I alluded to this earlier, but many times churches don’t staff proactively. At this stage, it becomes more and more important that churches begin to hire leaders rather than doers. You’ll need to focus on staff who can grow ministries and reach more people. That mean support roles (assistants, custodian, bookkeepers, associate pastors, etc.) may have to wait. These become great opportunities for volunteer engagement or outsourcing. The priority needs to be finding staff leaders who can build volunteer teams, build healthy ministries and build a strategy to reach new people.
By the way, mid-size churches also need to begin looking back to the list we shared previously for small churches. Some of those challenges could still be factors that impact churches that are reaching several hundred in attendance. In the next article, we’ll focus on why large churches get stuck.