Four More Barriers That Hinder Small Group Growth (Part 2)

By Rick Warren

Last week we talked about six common barriers that keep churches from growing. These are barriers you will have to address, particularly if you want your church to continue to grow after doing a campaign, such as 40 Days in the Word.

Remember that a church becomes healthy by removing the barriers and balancing the purposes. This week I want to talk about four more barriers that hinder church growth, but I also want to circle back to some of last week’s points to answers a few questions from you.

There are 10 common barriers that keep our churches from growing. They are:

1) Members won’t bring their friends to church;

2) People fear that growth will ruin the fellowship; and

3) Churches are driven by tradition rather than the purposes of God.

(Read about these in part 1 of this article.)

4) Churches are trying to appeal to everybody. If you ask the typical church, “Who are you trying to reach?” they will answer “everybody.” That sounds good, and it’s biblical, but the fact is, no church can be everything to everybody. The moment you determine what style of church you’re going to be, you determine whom you’re best going to reach. Can you imagine a radio station that played techno one minute and classical the next? What kind of audience would they have? None! You have to define your target. Start by asking three questions:

Who is like me? You can best reach people like you. What’s the likelihood of farmers reaching a group of scientists? Or a community of military personnel reaching a community of peacekeepers? The first question people ask when they visit your church is not a theological one. The first question they ask is, “Is there anyone else here like me?”

Who is already in our church? Whoever you want to reach, you need to put those kinds of people onstage in your service. If you want to reach families, make children visible.

Who makes up the community around us? If you find that people in your church are not like those in your community, you have two options: Keep doing what you’re doing, but do it better. There is still a possibility for limited growth. Or, you might look at relocating. I once helped three or four churches make a move at the same time, one African-American, one Hispanic, one Asian, and one Anglo. In one weekend, to better reach their changing communities, they all switched buildings! At Saddleback, we speak over 70 languages among us. But we didn’t get there overnight; we built it one target at a time.

5) Churches are program-oriented rather than process-oriented. Program-oriented means you build your church on a Sunday School program, a women’s program, a children’s program, a singles program, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with programs, but you don’t build your church on programs. You build it on the process of bringing people in (evangelism), building them up in Christ (discipleship), teaching them how to do service (ministry), sending them out (mission), and all for the glory of God (worship). Saddleback has been doing this for 32 years; the process has never changed.

When someone asks, “What are you going to do next year?” I don’t wonder what program we’re going to do or not going to do. We look first at our process and ask how we can better bring people in, build them up, teach them how to serve, send them out, and all for the glory of God. We use a baseball diamond as a visual, and, using it, everyone in our church can explain our process. If people don’t have a track to run on, they don’t feel like they’re making progress. Once you have a process, then you build your programs around it.

6) Churches focus on meetings rather than ministry. Jesus didn’t say, “I have come that you might have meetings.” When you measure your church solely on attendance, you know that you’re making this mistake. Attendance is an important qualifier, but it’s not the most important one. Focusing on meetings creates a passive church. We don’t need more meetings; we need to meet more needs. I believe a lot of churches can cut half their meetings, and they will be healthier for it. If I have a sharp individual who comes to church, the last thing I want to do is stick him on a committee and turn him into a bureaucrat. I want him serving in ministry.

The difference between meetings and ministry is that meetings discuss what other people should be doing, and ministry just goes out and does it. You have to turn every member into a minister.

7) Churches have teaching without application. Interpretation without application is abortion. You are aborting the text, because the Bible was not given to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives. Focus on obedience in your message. Take the Word and make it come alive.

8) The congregation doesn’t trust their leaders. Everything you do as a leader is built on trust. If you lose their trust, you may as well resign. It takes years to build trust, but you can lose it in an instant. You must build credibility to earn the right to lead. When you go to a bank to ask for a loan, the first thing they do is check your credit. If you are creditable, then you are worthy of the bank’s trust. People are doing a credit check on your leadership every second of your life. You build trust by loving people and liking people. How do you get people to like you? Like them!

The more you trust your people and show your vulnerability, the more they’re going to trust you. We actually help people more through our weaknesses than our strengths. If I share my strengths with you, it doesn’t help people. But if I share my weaknesses and how God came through in spite of them, it encourages people to keep going. You get people to trust you more by authentic and humble leadership.

9) The Church is being killed by legalism. Many churches are more interested in keeping rules rather than relationships. Jesus always chose relationships over rules. People mattered more than keeping the Sabbath. There is a difference between acceptance and approval. Jesus accepts me completely, but he doesn’t approve of everything I do. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, but it does mean love.

10) Churches are structured for control rather than growth. This is a big issue, one that we’ll have to come back to next week.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.