Skip to content
Need some Easter Sermon inspiration? Check out our Easter Sermon Collection Learn more
Go back


Are You Holding Back Your Church?

Are You Holding Back Your Church?

Is your church growing like you believe it ought to be?

Churches face many different growth barriers, including small facilities that cannot accommodate a growing congregation, an ineffective strategy to mobilize members for ministry, and unresolved conflict.

Do you ever wonder why growth just isn’t happening in your church?

As a church grows, the pastor’s role must grow, too.

If your role never changes, your church will reach a certain point and never move beyond it. If you are unwilling to change, you will become a barrier to growth in your church.

A pastor must make many changes, but the most common barrier to growth is when a pastor believes they must be the one person to shepherd everyone the church reaches.

For your church to grow, your role must change. To grow, you won’t be able to shepherd everyone your church reaches. You’ll need to learn to shepherd the shepherds. You’ll need to become a rancher.

In fact, your role will change multiple times as your church grows. For example:

  • In a single-cell church of 150 people or fewer, you’re an owner-operator or an entrepreneur. You do most of the work yourself. You preach the sermon, print the bulletin, unlock the church, and sweep up. You minister to everyone your church reaches.
  • The multiple-cell church has approximately 150 to 400 people. You have several “cells” in the church: Sunday school classes, small groups, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, and so on. In this setting, you’ll need to make the shift from a shepherd to a rancher because you’re no longer doing most of the ministry yourself. You’re managing others who do it.
  • In the multiple-congregation church, you must transition to the role of an executive. You’ll probably have ministries the size of small churches. You’re fully in rancher mode in your role now. You’re no longer doing the hands-on work of managing. (Because at this point, you’ve likely hired another leader to manage the staff.) Typically, an executive does three things at a church: preach, evaluate, and make decisions.

Very rarely do you find a person skilled or passionate about the work at all three levels. Usually, either you prefer to be completely hands-on or you prefer to work through other people and focus on the church’s vision.

Each level requires a different skill set. For example, Saddleback Church got stuck at the middle level because I’m a terrible manager. Making the shift from a shepherd to a rancher was difficult for me because I work best when I’m doing it all or when I’m completely out of the picture.

But here’s the problem: If you’re pastoring in a manner consistent with a single-cell church, you’ll hit a growth barrier. You can’t be an owner-operator and grow a multiple-cell church. You can’t be a manager and grow a multi-congregation church. You’ll become the bottleneck in either case.

Even if you can make the shift to the next stage, you’ll likely hit roadblocks within the congregation. When you become the pastor of a church with under 150 people, they’re not hiring you to be a manager. They don’t want you to be a leader. They’re hiring you to be their chaplain. They want you to marry, bury, and serve the Lord’s Supper. When you start to lead, they’ll push back. However, as long as you’re doing all the ministry, your church won’t grow.

You and your church must be willing to pay the price if you’re going to grow. You won’t be able to personally minister to everyone your church reaches. If you personally minister to every person in your congregation, it can’t grow beyond your own energy level.

If you’re in a single-cell church that has hit a growth barrier, ask yourself this question: “Would I be happy as a rancher?” God loves shepherds. Most of the pastors in the world have a shepherd’s heart. If you don’t want to make the shift, you’ll need to grow by starting new churches. You won’t be able to grow by growing your church larger.

If you want to make the transition to become a rancher, you’ll need to outlast your critics because they will come. Remember, they probably hired you to be more of a chaplain than a leader.

You’ll also need to let others do the ministry of your church. If you insist on doing everything, you’ll become the bottleneck.

You also may need some more training. Many of the skills you need as a rancher weren’t taught in seminary or Bible college. Change up your reading habits and look for some good books on management. Talk to effective managers you know (in ministry and outside of it). Find a conference or two that teaches the skills pastors need at growing churches.

You can become a rancher, but only you can decide whether you’ll make that transition.

Related Posts

Subscribe to Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox

Weekly Email for Pastors and Church Leaders

    We care about your data. Read our privacy policy.

    Pastor Rick Warren smiling