Almost a decade ago, I led a major study on churches that had reversed negative trends and become positive breakout churches. I established the criterion that the breakout had to take place without changing pastors. I knew from previous research that most breakout churches had new pastors. I wanted to see if it was likely for a church to turnaround without getting a new pastor.
My beginning database was 52,333 churches in the United States. Without boring you with all the details of my data screening and research (You can read about it in Appendix B of my book,Breakout Churches.), I was only able to identify 13 true breakout churches. For the interested statistical nerds like me, that’s only two 100ths of one percent (.0002).
That extremely low number has bothered me for years. As a result, I have attempted to discern what the primary hindrances are. Why is it so unlikely for a declining church to become a growing church? Surprisingly, demographics have little to do with the turnaround. So far, I’ve been able to identify four simple reasons breakout is hindered in most churches.
- Lack of leadership development. Most pastors have little training or background in leadership. But they are expected to lead a church. Some may have extensive theological and biblical training, but they are weak in leadership. Jethro had to tell Moses that his leadership approach was all wrong. Moses was headed for a leadership disaster. Many of our churches have leaders who have few leadership skills.
- Unbiblical understanding of church membership. I have written quite a bit on this topic lately, including my new book I Am a Church Member. Basically, an unbiblical understanding of church membership is one that is self-centered. Members have an attitude that the church exists for “me” and “my” preferences. If I don’t get my way, I’m either going to cause conflict or leave the church.
- Unclear purpose. Though it may seem counterintuitive, many church members do not know the clear purpose or purposes of their church. The purpose is the guiding statement that points members to all that they should do in the church. Without a clear and biblical purpose, members either fail to make meaningful contributions or they exit the church.
- Lack of outward focus. In the American church, over 95% of all money and time resources go toward the members instead of those outside the church. Until a church gains a clear outward mindset, it will have little opportunity to be a true breakout church.
The four simple reasons are not mutually exclusive. Typically when a church begins to change in one or more of the four areas, the other areas tend to improve as well. The result can be a breakout church, a congregation that has moved from stagnation or decline to healthy growth.