How to Overcome Church Planting Barriers

What kind of barriers do you face as a church planter?
What kind of barriers do you face as a church planter? (Flickr )

I have yet to meet a church planter who hasn't faced a growth barrier. I also haven't met a church planter who is OK with that barrier holding them back from what God has placed in their heart.

This is why I'm excited about the Breaking Barriers pre-conference event at Exponential East this year. Church planters bump up against a number of different growth barriers (volunteer base, small group development, weekend attendance, finances, adding service & sites, multiplying plants, etc).

After coming to Christ in college, I ended up at a church plant that was all about planting more churches. There's no doubt that God used this time not only to grow in my walk with Him but also forming my call to church planting.

After finishing college and seminary, my wife and I loaded up the U-haul and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to plant epikos church in 2005. We started in our living room, but even after one year post launch we were under 80 attendees, our annual offering was $40,000, and we were desperate for volunteers. There were amazing stories of people coming to Christ and experiencing great life transformation. There were also times of discouragement and questioning whether epikos could be able to sustain itself long term. 

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I specifically remember one summer Sunday when only about 30 people were in attendance, we had half a worship team and my sermon reflected the amount of time I put into it. I was angry at the launch team, I was frustrated with the lack of commitment of attendees, and most of all disappointed with my own ability to lead this church.

My wife was certain that when I came home from service that Sunday that I would suggest bringing the church plant to a close and get a "real job" somewhere else (I didn't know she was thinking this at the time—she told me five years later!) As discouraged as I was, I actually wasn't thinking of quitting at all. I firmly believed that God had called me to plant this church and that greater impact was still possible. I just needed some help to turn some things around.

My Converge church-planting coaches were a tremendous help to, first of all, identify those things that were tripping me up, and then, secondly offering different ways to grow through the challenges. Ten years later we are now 2,000 in attendance, have over a $1.5 million dollar yearly budget, have a thriving small group network, and get to help plant churches in Milwaukee.

The Breaking Barriers pre-conference will discuss a spectrum of solutions and strategies to prepare for and overcome growth barriers. It's been through coaching, and the growth of our plant that I've recognized some groupings of growth barriers that I will share.

Tactical: These are often the very practical things that can be done to help break certain barriers. Especially early on as a planter there are a number of small things that will make a big difference in growth. For example, I remember one of my Converge coaches advising me on something so basic that I almost dismissed him for exaggerating its importance. When I followed through on his simple recommendation, our yearly giving almost doubled.

Structural: You can pretty much count on having to reorganize every time you break a certain barrier. There are no permanent fixes because the structure is set up only to take you to the next level and once you hit that level you must readjust. As a planter you are probably wired to adjust leading growth through an organization requires understanding some basic principles of change management theory and organizational scalability.

Personal: One of the biggest barriers to the church's growth is the planter's own self-leadership. This is the most difficult, and unfortunately doesn't come in an A+B+C formula. But it's also not so elusive and mysterious that one can't be intentional about working on it.

This category deals with our relationship with God, our calling, our giftedness, and our identity in Christ. Growth doesn't happen organically, and if the leader isn't constantly growing the church will have difficulty too. This requires being honest and exploring some of the shadow sides of leadership.

As we talk about growth barriers we'll also discuss how these pertain to becoming a Level 5 Multiplying Church. We will caution against superficial growth so as to focus on growth that produces true disciples and multiplies healthy churches. Todd Wilson talks in his book (Becoming Five) about going from scarcity, to addition, to multiplication. 

Many of the principals from this pre-conference will position church planters to become Level 5 churches. Multiple church planters will be contributing to this discussion to give a wide range of experience towards breaking growth barriers, and we look forward to engaging anyone who wants to hit that next level!

Click here for more information and on how to register for the Exponential East 2016 Conference.

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