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Article by Dan Reiland

"Priorities" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

Sermons to write, people to marry, meetings to attend, lessons to teach, people to connect with, problems to solve, budgets to approve, buildings to build, strategies to design…the list goes on. We merge all that with the weight of responsibility involved in leading well at home – attempting to, as a wise man once said to me, “Save energy for the people you love the most.” There are days when the pressure mounts so high that pastors are ready for the funny farm. (Some pastors tell me their church is a funny farm!).

My desire in this article is to keep you out of the funny farm. To do that, I will outline the top five priorities of a Pastor. This set of priorities comes from years of experience and observation of Senior Pastors who lead well, and those who don’t. If you invest your time wisely in these areas your ministry will be more productive and hopefully you will increase the margin in your life that increases the quality of your life.

The transition from doing 27 things to doing 5 will take much time, and the growth of your church is a significant factor in the process. While it seems easy enough to write this list, I’m well aware of the grenades just waiting to go off if this isn’t handled properly. Do not take this list and announce to your board, or worse, congregation: “From now on, this is the limit of what I will do! This list is for pastors; mature pastors who understand their calling. For now, let’s hit the list:

1. Primary Leadership and Vision-Casting

Pray and think.

It all begins here for you as the lead pastor. Your number one responsibility above all others is to invest time on your knees before God seeking His vision, guidance and blessing for your church. If you find yourself too busy to pray, you are too busy, and your church is on shaky ground. Immediately connected with your responsibility to pray is your responsibility to think. I love asking Senior Pastors: “When do you think?” The most common response is: “Well, I think all the time.” To which I say: “I don’t think so.” I’m not being mean, just honest. None of us think all the time. We are more often on autopilot, and in a hurry at that. Think time needs to be in your schedule or you are robbing yourself and your church of the quality of leadership that is needed.

Create a positive atmosphere and faith-deepening environment.

Devote yourself to being the chief encourager and positive thinker in the church. This isn’t a surface-level “hype” thing. But I am asking that you evaluate your leadership persona to make sure that you possess a positive, energy-filled, approach to life and you are purposeful about letting it spill over into the church.

A spiritual gift that is very common, (almost 100%) among Senior Pastors is faith. This sets the stage for your passion to challenge the church to deepen their faith and walk in obedience to God’s Word. Your faith also prepares the way for you to be able to cast vision for your church.

Cast vision!

I have spent considerable time around successful Senior Pastors and there are two things I know for sure. First, they all have a vision, and second you couldn’t stop them from talking about it if you wanted to. Don’t be bashful about telling the vision over and over again. Let your people see and catch your dream to build a great church. Make sure they understand that they are a part of the dream coming true!

2. Principal Communicator of the Word of God

Establish a biblical culture.

Paul said in I Corinthians 9:16, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” As the Senior Pastor, it is your charge to build a biblical church, one based on the truth in God’s Word. Teach people to love the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word, and most importantly live by the Word.

Set your aim on transformation.

You and I both know churches that are based more on information than transformation. The scriptures carry authority on their own, but without a teacher to guide people in their understanding and challenge them to a daily application, we have missed the mark. Evaluate your communication skills not on how many people tell you that you preach well, but on how many people demonstrate a changed life.

3. Leadership Development.

Identify new leaders.

So much has been written and said on this topic of developing leaders, and yet so little is done. Look for potential leaders. Take a risk. Give people a chance. I agree that it’s important to give relationships time to prove their stability as well as test for a servant’s heart. But at some point you must take a chance on some new people, even if you’re not sure.

Train new and existing leaders.

Pull potential leaders and existing leaders under your wing for training and guidance. Small group environments are best, but larger classes work well, too. Teach leadership and provide opportunities for people to discuss and practice what they are learning. If you would like help on how to develop leaders, John Maxwell has enough top quality material to keep you busy for years. If you are new at this, I recommend that you start with his book and materials on Developing the Leader Within You. After that, study all the material on The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

4. Stewardship Development.

Take ownership of the church finances.

It’s interesting to observe the numerous approaches to handling money in the church. The extremes range from pastors who have nothing to do with the budget or finances in any way (the finance committee does it all) to others who are in complete control and even sign every check. Neither extreme is recommended – a balance is probably the wisest approach. That being said, I strongly believe that the senior leader must take responsibility for the finances in the church. This includes raising the money and being a good steward of it. I’m not suggesting that you as the Senior Pastor get involved in the minutiae of accounting, but you need to know the general patterns of giving and financial strength of the church.

Create an atmosphere of generous and worshipful giving.

You set the tone for generosity and worship as it relates to giving of finances. Your own personal beliefs and attitudes, even if you don’t express them, have a huge impact on your congregation. If you trust God with your finances, your people will pick up on it. If you are generous, your people will catch that spirit. If you are full of faith, believing that God will keep His promises to provide, your congregation will follow your lead.

5. Personal Evangelism.

Cultivate relationships with people who are spiritually unresolved.

I’m not going to preach at you, and let’s not even start on who does and doesn’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism. The bottom line is if you don’t share your faith with people who are disconnected from God and not attending church it is highly unlikely that your church will embrace a culture of evangelism. The days of knocking on doors may be over, but the days of cultivating relationships with people who are part of your everyday life like your neighbor and your kids’ soccer coach will never be over. When is the last time you invited someone to church? When is the last time you shared the plan of salvation with someone? When is the last time you took the initiative to reach out and befriend someone outside your circle? Pastor, this is the core of what we do and why we do it. If you want to focus on the right things, start with evangelism. This is exactly where will pick up in the next The Pastor’s Coach article.

You might be thinking, “Man I’d love to focus on those things, but I seem to spend my time on stuff like marrying, burying, and visitation.” Changing what you do is not an overnight process. In fact, it takes years. That is one of the reasons many pastors give up and revert back to “preaching and visiting” and that is why most of the churches in America are under 200 in attendance. There is nothing wrong with a small church, but I believe God wants your church to grow. Use the five-point plan I’ve given you as a guideline and make it happen!


5 Barriers to Church Growth

Are you stuck? Has your church growth leveled off or even started declining? I can relate.

When we launched our Church in 2002 with 110 people, I was ecstatic. What a great number for a brand-new church in the middle of New York City!

Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long. The next week, only 55 of our 110 attendees returned. Not too bad, I reasoned—we’d kept half. Yet, over the next five months, with my dynamic leadership and powerful preaching, I “grew” the church down to 35 … in a city of 8 million.

Something was definitely wrong.

Without knowing it, I was already bumping up against growth barriers—the issues we all face at various points in ministry that stop or reverse our church’s growth. But I slowly learned to identify and break through these barriers that were standing in our way.

In five years, with God’s blessing and a clearly defined system for dealing with growth barriers, The Journey had become a multicultural, multisite community of more than 1,200.

Most churches seem to face growth barriers at five key points: when attendance reaches 65, 125, 250, 500 and 1,000.

In training pastors throughout the country, I’ve discovered we all deal with the same inevitable barriers, so remember you’re not alone. However, by becoming proactive in learning to identify and break through these barriers, we can keep our momentum and continue growing for God’s glory.

First and foremost, as a pastor looking to grow your church, make sure you’re always asking yourself the right question about growth.

The Wrong Question: How do I get my church to grow?

Your job is not to force growth. When you think growth is your responsibility, you will inevitably make bad decisions. Church growth is ultimately not about what we can do in our own power; it’s about God’s power and His choice to work through us. Refuse to settle for anything less than God’s vision for your church.

The Right Question: What is keeping my church from growing?

Healthy organisms grow. If you feel stagnation setting in, barriers are inhibiting your growth. Implement a plan to remove them.

Now that you’re asking the right question, I encourage you to make two affirmative decisions.

Decision No. 1: I believe God wants to grow my church.

Second Peter 3:9 (NLT) tells us: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about His promise to return, as some people think. No, He is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” Your church is part of that redemptive plan. Of course, God wants it to grow. Growth signals repentance and life change.

Decision No. 2: I want to see my church grow.

Does thinking about the next barrier you’re facing scare you into inactivity? Don’t get discouraged. God never gives us a vision without supplying what we need to fulfill it.

When you’re asking the right question, and you know in your core that both you and God want your church to grow, nothing can stop you—but growth barriers can definitely slow you down.

So whether you are growing a small church in the suburbs or a megachurch in a big city, you need to be able to recognize the top five growth barriers and know how to meet them head-on.

Growth Barrier No. 1: Space

Space is the most fundamental barrier we all face—and the easiest to overlook.

As church leaders, we love full rooms, so we say, “Pack ’em in, there’s still a few seats!” But the truth is that when a room reaches 70 percent of its seating capacity, it’s full.


Here is a four-step exercise to perform frequently as your church grows:

Step 1: Determine how many seats you have in your main worship space.

Step 2: Multiply that number by 0.7 (70 percent).

Step 3: Determine how many people you averaged in attendance over the last month.

Step 4: Is the number in Step 3 greater than the number in Step 2? If the answer is yes, you’ve got to open up more seats or find a larger location—fast.

At The Journey, I learned this lesson the hard way. Our first location in Manhattan was at a small comedy club-type theater. At capacity, the space could hold 110 people.

Seven months after our launch, we were averaging close to 80 people each week; we would bump up to 100 every now and then, but our number would always return to below 80.

Why? It’s because we were full. We just didn’t want to admit it.

People stopped inviting their friends because they perceived there was no more room. Some regular attendees stopped coming because it was hard to find a seat. Eventually, we caught on and moved to a space that was three times bigger—and our church began growing again.

I’ve seen many pastors of churches with fewer than 250 attendees start second services in an effort to circumvent this barrier. Starting a second service too early usually does more damage than good, so don’t think of it as an easy fix.

For example, let’s say a church of 120 decides to start a second service. Inevitably, one service will have 100 people and the other one will have 20—it’s impossible to equally divide two services, although careful choice of service times does play a part. Over time, the 20 people will be disappointed with the small crowds and filter back into the larger service.

The better choice for a church of 120 is to find a larger space and grow to 300 or 400 before starting a second service. I encourage churches to be willing to move.

Growth Barrier No. 2: Self-Development

Growing churches are led by growing leaders. So, if you’ve stopped progressing personally, your church is not far behind.

Jimmy Britt, pastor of Rocky River Community Church in Concord, N.C., recently realized the power of this truth.

Jimmy had grown his church to 150 when he got stuck. After learning about the barrier of self-development, he set up a personal growth plan for himself, focusing on leadership ability and spiritual maturity.

Sure enough, when he started growing as an individual, his church started growing again. An organization can never outpace the inherent qualities of its leader.

When a pastor isn’t growing:

  • The sermons are stale.
  • The congregation’s passion for ministry wanes.
  • The staff stops growing.
  • The church stops growing.

An intentional reading plan is the single best avenue for personal growth.

Set a reading goal that will stretch you—perhaps a book a month—and spend focused time in the areas of theology, church history and philosophy, in addition to reading your Bible.

Also, schedule time to attend key conferences and plan opportunities to seek out and meet with mentors. Personal development is essential not only for your own health and balance, but also for the growth of your church.

Growth Barrier No. 3: Sharing

Churches stop growing when they become inwardly (instead of outwardly) focused.

If you notice a decline in your number of first-time guests and an increase in discussion of inwardly focused programs, beware! You are about to fall victim to the sharing barrier.

In my experience, healthy growing churches will have a ratio of five first-time guests to every 100 regular attendees. So, if you are averaging 200 people per week, you should average 10 first-time guests per week.

Watch this ratio carefully, and take its waning as a warning sign.

When this barrier starts blocking your growth, here are some ways you can break through it:

  • Teach on relational evangelism.
  • Set an example by telling stories of how you’ve invited people to church.
  • Do servant evangelism outreach.
  • Challenge staff, volunteers and attendees to invite friends.
  • Read an evangelism or church growth book with your staff and key volunteers.
  • Ask someone who has experienced life change to share his or her testimony.

Growth Barrier No. 4: Worship Service & Preaching

Your weekly worship service is the front door through which people are introduced to your church. If not done correctly, it can become a big barrier.

To keep your service strong, always try to look like a church twice your size. If you are a church of 100 people, intentionally create a worship service that looks like it’s for 200 people. Take your preaching up a notch. Energize your worship time. Create the excitement that would be present in a bigger crowd. Moreover, it’s essential to get in the habit of looking at your service through the eyes of your guests and regular attendees. What kind of impression are you giving them?

Improve the quality of your service in the following ways:

  • Tweak your transitions.
  • Set up feedback and develop evaluation mechanisms.
  • Visit larger, growing churches and benchmark against what they are doing.
  • Attend cutting-edge seminars and leadership conferences.

Growth Barrier No. 5: Staff

If your congregation suddenly doubled in size, would you have the necessary staff members to serve them?

To keep your church moving forward, you will need to hire people on faith, so you’ll be prepared to receive the harvest God wants to send you.

Hiring staff is truly a faith issue. Many pastors want to put off staff hires until they have the money in place to support the positions. Sounds like a practical plan, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work. You will never have enough money in advance to hire the staff you need.

To overcome this barrier, change your perspective on what it takes to hire a new staff person. Say you need to fill a position that would require a $48,000 salary. Don’t look at it as a yearlong position.

Instead, think in three-month blocks. If you approach the new position as a three-month, $12,000 risk instead of a $48,000 risk, you will be more comfortable filling it. Then, if the staff person you hire is good, the position will begin paying for itself after three months.

When you approach staffing with a faithful heart, you’ll be much more prepared to handle the growth God brings you.

All Grown Up

In our journey from 35 to 1,200, our church had to break through every one of these barriers—most of them more than once.

Thanks to that process, I have come to understand that staying ahead of growth barriers is the most effective way of dealing with them. When we cooperate with God by taking action for His church, He will bless our efforts.

As you learn to identify and diffuse growth barriers before they get you stuck, you’ll be able to keep your momentum and effectively expand God’s kingdom for His glory.

Preachers: 7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Tomorrow

Fellow pastors and teachers and leaders: I know the frenzy of Saturday night when you’re scrambling to get your sermon just right. After you got your three points, consulted all the commentaries and fit in your illustrations, here are a few checks to consider that have helped immensely.

1. Is God big?

People can tell if your God is small. If you quickly browse through your sermon, either He’s big or you are. Either He is in total control, the supreme authority and highest glory—or something else is. In my first year, I made the mistake of referencing myself too much while skimming the surface of God’s nature. I randomly plugged Him in to “baptize” the sermon. But people want to know that God is sovereign, powerful, wise and loving. They want to climb the mountain of Isaiah 40 with you. God is the point of your sermon.

2. Is Jesus sufficient? 

Psychology is great, but not the answer. Stories will help, but are not sufficient. Doctrine is essential, but not enough. Jesus alone is the King of the Universe, the sustainer of galaxies and orbits and atoms, the fulfiller of biblical prophecy—but he’s also close to the heart of struggling believers, the single moms, the suicidal teenagers, the confused college student, the rebellious pagan. Your Jesus must have his feet to the earth. He is a person and not a concept. He must be for us, and more importantly, glorious in himself.

3. Is the cross visible? 

If there is no Gospel, you’re not preaching a Christian sermon. Period. There is Good News, which is the truth, or Good Advice, which is moralism. We do need Advice, but it must be built on the foundation of the News. Don’t be afraid to say words like sin, salvation, wrath, repentance, crucifixion, resurrection and rapture.

4. What’s my one sentence?

In seminary, we called this the 3 a.m. test. It’s when someone were to wake you up at 3 a.m. and ask, “What’s your sermon in one sentence?” If you’re not sure, try putting your sermon into a single question and answer. For example: “What does God say about my anger?” or “How do I know God loves me?”

5. Simplify.

This is the hardest part for me. I always overwrite. I try to cram all my findings and statistics and stories into one sermon. But over time, I’ve learned that this can kill the momentum of the message. While I still tend to fatten a sermon, I’ve been learning to cut anything that does not support the main point of the message. There is always next week. I don’t have to say everything on one Sunday. I also place all the deleted parts of a sermon in an “edit” file to save for later. As they say in the writer’s world: Be willing to kill your darlings. Make every word count.

6. Do I love my people?

As I prepare a message, I pray over the people. I think of their faces, their struggles, hopes, ambitions, hurts and dreams. I ask God for a heart of grace and patience for them. If I don’t love my people, Apostle Paul says nothing I do matters anyway (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). There are plenty of preachers who deliver dynamic truth without loving a single person in the congregation. Instead of looking for a tweetable one-liner, pray for a heart of love toward your people. I pray for God to soften my heart so I remember who I’m talking to, and to remember they are like me: a sinner in need of mercy, thirsty for the Word.

7. Praise God after you’re done.

I know the neurotic moment after a sermon when you regret all the things you’ve missed and all the awkward stuff that came out of your mouth. I know how it hurts to see people not listening to the fantastic truth of the Bible. I know the feeling of inadequacy and limitation and weakness, thinking, “I’ll never be as good as these megachurch preachers”—which is exactly what megachurch preachers think too. My friend: You won’t get this preaching thing right every time. You will make mistakes. You will have missed opportunities. You will never preach a perfect sermon (only one did). But praise God for the mighty privilege to share God’s Word with your people. Praise God that a group of fellow human beings would even give you the time of day.

And prepare better for next time.

  • Pray up.
  • Read more.
  • Listen to good sermons.
  • Sharpen your craft.
  • Love your people.

It’s OK to evaluate yourself, but don’t stay down. Even if you don’t see the fruit of your preaching, it’s not about that. It’s none of our business to know how God is working in people anyway. Preaching is for His glory, regardless of outcome.