Over the years I’ve noticed that a good number of church plants grow for two or three years, plateau, and then decline. It’s not unusual for a church to grow to 150-200 over a three-year period and then go nowhere. In my experience, there have been two causes of this failure to continue to grow.

Why So Many Churches Plateau

  1. The pastor changes his or her focus from getting butts in seats to taking care of the membership, tinkering with organization, and formalizing leadership.  This shift seems to be due to a couple of things: one, the laity begin to whine about not being taken care of; and two, it is easier to work with participants than to continue bringing butts into the seats.  I’ve found that until the church reaches 500 in worship, the pastor’s main focus should be on getting butts in the seats.
  2. As the church grows, the pastor fails to hand off ministry as soon as possible.  Often the pastor enjoys ministry so much that he or she hoards all the good ministry and robs the laity of the joy of serving. The more the pastor continues to do, the more self-centered the laity become and the cycle continues to deepen.

So what’s the solution?  Keep your focus on getting butts in the seats and handing off ministry like crazy. And as you hand it off, watch and see how well people function – your future leadership may well come out of a simple hand-off.

Now if you have a need to be needed and just can’t hand off ministry, you shouldn’t have planted a church – you shouldn’t be a pastor either of any kind of church.  Remember Eph. 4:11-12? It’s the role of the pastor to equip the saints.

I teach these truths with football images. Pastors, like coaches, don’t play they game; they coach the players (laity).  Pastors, like coaches, are also scouts or have scouts who recruit, looking for future players.  The key is to scout, recruit, and coach people into becoming all God intended them to be. That’s the gist of Eph. 4:11-12.

Question: What are other possible causes of church plants’ plateauing? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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