This is the conclusion of a series of articles on why churches of various sizes get stuck. This article is on the very large church. For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll be focusing on churches 3,000 and larger. This category reflects less than half of one percent of all the churches in the country. For the three people in my audience in churches that large, I hope you enjoy this article. :-)
The team at The Unstuck Group actually has quite a bit of experience in churches in this category. By my count, 13 of the 19 people on our team either serve or have served on staff teams of very large churches. We’ve also been fortunate to provide coaching and consulting to many other churches that reach well into the thousands. Needless to say, churches this large have some unique opportunities and obstacles. Here are some of the common challenges we find in these churches:
1. They are typically personality-driven.
By the way, it’s not a sin to have a big personality with lots of charisma. If God’s given you that unique wiring, you should leverage it for Kingdom purposes. The challenge, though, is that if everything revolves around the personality of the senior pastor, it makes it very difficult to engage people in next steps beyond the weekend service. One key to turning the corner is to develop a teaching team to model what team-based leadership and ministry looks like.
2. The leadership culture is top-down and authoritarian.
There are many examples of very large churches, on the contrary, that have a collaborative, team-based approach to leadership. One way to begin this culture shift is to develop a strong senior leadership team. That’s a topic that I covered at some length in Take the Lid Off Your Church. This team-based approach to leadership needs to be reflected throughout the ministry. As the church grows, leadership needs to be less focused on execution of details and more focused on empowering leaders to use their gifts to engage a clear vision and strategy.
3. There’s not an intentional strategy for leadership development.
This challenge becomes pronounced as very large churches launch multisite locations. As the number of locations increases, the amount of leaders required, both staff and volunteer, increases dramatically. An if-we-build-it-they-will-come-approach may work to get new people to attend your church, but I’ve never seen that strategy work to increase the number of leaders. Very large churches need to be proactive in helping future leaders develop spiritually, relationally and in the required competencies to lead well.
4. They hold on to new traditions.
Very large churches typically have experienced some run of growth in the recent past. The challenge is that not everything a church did in the past will necessarily lead to future health. Many times it’s the very large churches that have the biggest challenge re-embracing new. They become too big and lose their ability to be nimble and welcome change. They get predictable. It may take a new set of voices either inside or outside the team to bring new perspective.
5. They haven’t developed a sustainable financial model.
Growing churches tend to spend every dime they take in to keep up with the growth. This challenge is compounded if the church is really reaching people outside the faith or people who have recently accepted Christ. There’s generally a lag between giving and spiritual maturity. With that in mind, very large churches need to establish new financial discipline where they regularly spend a percentage less than they anticipate receiving in offerings. This may necessitate a one-time adjustment in staffing, typically where the biggest financial investment occurs, in order to create margin. With financial margin, though you create flexibility to fund future vision expansion.
6. They don’t deal with the complexity creep.
As the number of people increases, the complexity of ministry programming, calendaring and communications also grows. The challenge, of course, is that you can’t develop a focused communications strategy unless you begin with focused ministry programming and calendaring. The reality is that very large churches need to become more adept at saying no to good opportunities that will pull for mission priorities.
7. Ministry silos begin to develop.
A natural outgrowth of the increased number of people and ministry programs is a tendency toward silos. Rather than focusing on the overall health and growth of the church, ministries become very protective of their own programs. They begin competing with other ministries for leaders, volunteers, finances and attention. The only way to combat this is to embrace a collaborative effort to develop unified vision and strategy.
I hope you’ve enjoyed and been challenged by this series. You can read about the key challenges that churches of different sizes face by following these links:
- 7 Reasons Why Small Churches Get Stuck
- 7 Reasons Why Mid-Size Churches Get Stuck
- 7 Reasons Why Large Churches Get Stuck
Churches get stuck — for lots of different reasons. But we recently analyzed our data and we found 12 core issues responsible for getting most churches stuck—large churches, like you, too.
So, we put together lessons, exercises and discussions around these issues.
We dive into leadership, developing a discipleship path, establishing healthy finances and many other issues we see in large churches.
This and more is discussed in our Leading An Unstuck Church Course.
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