- Many Senior Pastors feel that having led a church to the 400-700 range is “enough” to prove they have been successful in ministry. They feel like they can retire knowing that while they would have liked to grow more, they are content not having done so.
- The pay is pretty good in a 400-700 size congregation, and the subconscious drive by some Senior Pastors to fuel growth in order to be paid more, no longer exists like it did in the 50-350 range.
- The average attender in a church in the 400-700 range doesn’t complain because the church can afford a quality Senior Pastor who preaches and leads well, and a Children’s and Youth Pastor to provide great programs for their kids. Things are done well and everyone in their family is cared for.
- Despite liking the quality of programs a larger church can afford, the average attender in a church in the 400-700 range resents being shown less attention by the Senior Pastor. In their mind, the church is already large enough, so you won’t find the average attender making vocal demands about reaching others, except internationally. More people = less access to the Senior Pastor and staff.
- Finally, there’s an immense personal price that must be paid to lead a congregation to break through 400-700, and most Senior Pastors aren’t willing to pay that. Richard Fenman said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Senior Pastors in this size range easily convince themselves that there are too many factors conspiring to keep them at their current size. In reality, the only real limiting factor keeping the church at their current size exists in the Senior Pastor’s head. Unfortunately, for most leaders in this attendance range, their days of dreaming and taking risks are over.
This is why, in my experience, 600 is the easiest attendance threshold to attain, but the hardest to maintain.
I tell Senior Pastors that I coach that very few churches stay right near 600. They either break through into the 700 range, or they fall back down in the 500’s, and even 400’s.
HOW TO MOVE FROM “LARGE SMALL CHURCH” TO “SMALL LARGE CHURCH”
Trying to break the 600 barrier is like trying to run up an icy slope. No matter how much they try, churches find themselves in a constant up and down attendance pattern. Up to 460, back to 420. Up to 575, back to 510. Up to 610, back to 500. On and on it goes.
The reason this keeps happening is because the Senior Pastor hasn’t mastered the 5 moves necessary to transition from being a “large small church” to being a “small large church.”
Here, in no certain order, are the moves necessary for you to break free of the gravitational pull of the 400-700 vortex:
1. The Senior Pastor Must Borrow Another Senior Pastor’s Faith
After being stuck for a long time, we Senior Pastors stop believing our churches can grow, primarily because we’ve long stopped believing in ourselves.
What most Senior Pastors don’t realize is that faith is always borrowed from someone else. Every Senior Pastor, and I mean every single one, reaches a point when they stop thinking they have what it takes to lead their church to the next level.
When that happens you need to find people who have done what you need to do and spend time letting their faith inspire you.
This has happened to me recently.
When I became a Christian, God put a dream on my heart to move to a major unchurched metro area, start a new church that would grow to 5000, and plant 20 large daughter churches throughout the region.
Right now we’re stuck at the 1600-1700 mark. I’ve tried everything that worked in the past to move us evangelistically to reach 500-700 new people, but we’re treading water.
Know what I did in the last three months?
I’ve set up meetings with Senior Pastors across the country who have led their churches through the 1600 barrier, and I’ve hired a coach who led his church through the 5000 barrier.
I will be asking questions to figure out what I need to change, and what our church needs to change, to hit that next level. But I’m mainly doing this to let the gift of faith evident in these pastors to infiltrate my spirit. I want to borrow their faith.
You need to do the same.
Please don’t dismiss this advice. If it is true that we become like the top 5 people we surround ourselves with most often, who do you need to add to your circle that will so radically challenge you to depend on God that you can’t help but change?
Do you have those people in your life now? Those kind of people that scare you a bit with their faith?
Become like them.
2. The Senior Pastor Must Ensure the “Big Five” Tasks to Break the 400 Barrier are Already in Place
If you can’t break 600, more than likely it’s because you still don’t have in place the people, policies, and systems that should have been put in place when you were at 400.
At 400+, there are 5 keys things that must be in place before you can grow further:
- A clear but simple assimilation process for taking people from seeking attender to fully devoted follower of Jesus.
- Paid, full-time staff members over children, students, and worship, in addition to the Senior Pastor.
- By-laws that allow the staff to lead the church, accompanied by healthy systems needed to keep the staff on track and the governing board from undermining their leadership.
- A generosity growth plan that seeks to increase the financial giving of the congregation 5-10% minimum year after year.
- A leadership development process that ensures that leaders are raised up, and that every volunteer position in the church is paired with an apprentice.
If you currently have all five of these in place, you will blow through 600.
If you’re stuck at 600, more than likely you can trace your lack of growth back to one of these five areas.
Simply put, you will not grow beyond 400-600 without paid staff to cover the core ministries of your church, an expanding financial and leadership base, and the systems in place that safeguard the leadership of the paid staff from becoming undermined by well intentioned, but ill-equipped governing board members and key volunteers.
3. The Senior Pastor Must Streamline Communication
Every church in the 400-600 range struggles with communication. I know we did at this size.
In the 50-400 range all communication is done from the stage, and is driven by the Senior Pastor. Have an event? Just get the Senior Pastor to announce it from stage. That works in smaller churches.
The problem is in larger churches, you have so many programs that you can’t possibly give “air time” to them all to help make them a success.
In the 600+ range you can only announce 2-3 things from the stage, and they have to primarily be things that help the new visitor take their next steps.
The best way I know how to help you streamline your communication is to take the following actions:
- Stop personally announcing all the “big stuff” yourself from the stage. Let other staff members and key volunteers develop credibility in the eyes of the congregation. You are inadvertently creating dependency on you to make all your programs successful.
- If you give out a paper bulletin on Sunday morning with stats, announcements, etc., make it one sheet maximum. Nobody reads any more than that. Just ask them.
- Acquire a great church database like Church Community Builder that will allow you to segment your communication via email. Not everyone in the church needs to hear every announcement. Segment all email communication.
- Instead of sending random church-wide emails at different times to announce different things, create one email that comes from you at the same time every week. Sign up here to get my email that comes out to my CCV family every Friday morning. Keep it casual and relational.
- Having a church Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and possibly a Snapchat, will go a long way to reach an audience that won’t pay attention to the other channels.
- Realize that if you are having trouble communicating, it could be because you have activities and ministries that you need to kill. Read my article about The Three Buckets for thoughts on this.
4. The Senior Pastor Must Learn How to More Effectively Lead a Multi-Staff Meeting
Your church’s future growth will live and die based on the performance of your other full-time staff members. This is why learning how to create an environment for staff to flourish is critical.
Unfortunately, many church staffs that lead churches that can’t break the 600 barrier still operate with the same old behaviors and practices they had in place when the church they were leading was 150 in size. They just don’t realize it.
The key at this stage is to begin with your staff meetings. The staff meeting is but a small piece of effective multi-staff leadership, but it is, what Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit calls the “keystone habit” – the one, if done well, that will raise the level of all the others.
This is where most Senior Pastors stuck at 400-600 pay the least amount of attention.
Lead well from the staff meeting, and you’ll lead well everywhere else.
Here are some of the things you have to have in place to move forward:
- Hold staff meetings on Wednesdays. Many Senior Pastors will hold staff meetings on Monday or Tuesday. Bad idea. You will unintentionally start leading your church through the staff meeting (instead of leading the church through your staff – big difference), trying to create and fix weekend service issues, etc.. What you need to do is utilize your meetings to facilitate communication, decision making at the highest level, team-bonding, and force ALL departmental decision-making DOWN to the individual staff member and his or her department of volunteers and part-time staff.
- Keep staff meetings from turning into your own support group therapy sessions. That was a temptation for me at this size. Watch how frequently you unload on the staff about issues, people, and problems. Do that elsewhere. This is so easy to do because it is at this size when you start to feel really isolated, and have fewer people who understand the issues you’re facing.
- Get all “staff rules” out of your head and onto paper. Feel free to steal our CCV Staff Policy Manual. The less time you have to spend covering administrative details the better.
- Allow equal amounts of blowing off steam, vision-casting, decision-making, and prayer in your meetings. Since the 400 range at CCV, we’ve always met for staff meetings on Wednesdays from 12:00-1:30pm. We commit to rarely going past 1:30pm. We also commit to set all our phones down, and not check email, etc. (with limited success). Here’s a pretty consistent outline of what happens:
12:00-12:20pm Eat and talk about random stupid stuff
12:20-12:45pm Vision casting by discussing a video or article
12:45-1:20pm Communication and decision-making
5. The Senior Pastor Must Streamline Volunteer Recruitment
What happens when you pass the 400 mark is that you, your staff, your leadership team, and all your key volunteers already have all the people in your relational circles volunteering. You are all “tapped out” relationally.
In order to grow and expand beyond where you are, you have to reach into new relational circles, and you’re not going to do that by walking down hallways talking to people, and doing recruiting pushes from stage.
Churches that recruit well beyond 600 do two things well:
- They are adequately staffed, which means they have the ability to adequately care for their volunteers.
- They do a great job of recognizing and celebrating their volunteers. The best recruiters for new volunteer positions are friends of the people currently volunteering. If they are cared for, they will become your biggest advocates.
Everything beyond that is window dressing.
Focus on those two aspects of volunteer recruitment and everything else will take care of itself.
I could go on and on, but those are most of the top issues that come up in conversations with Senior Pastors in the 400-700 size range.
Anything else you’d add?
Here is a copy of CCV By-Laws for reference.