9 Bad Habits that Limit a Church's Ministry Capacity
It’s not about church growth. Or working harder. It’s about doing smarter ministry with our church’s current resources.

The church I pastor has reached our capacity. Not our seating capacity. Our ministry capacity.

We can't do any more ministry than we are currently doing. Unless we change the way we do it.

Last Saturday I spent the day with our church's key leaders and we reached one simple conclusion.

We can't work harder. We have to work smarter.

Our church has to restructure in a way that allows for greater ministry capacity.

Our church has to restructure in a way that allows for greater ministry capacity.

This is not about church growth. Although that might happen, and we'll welcome it if it does. It's about ministry growth. Equipping disciples better so they can do more effective ministry.

A lot of good ideas came from that meeting. I won't go into those details, because most of them are specific to us. But our conversation has led me to think about the bad habits many churches (including ours) get caught in that put a lid on the amount of ministry we're able to do.

Here are nine attitudes that will limit a church's ministry capacity. No matter how big or small the church is.

1. Concentrating On Attendance Numbers More than Ministry

Church growth is a positive thing. As long as there is one person in our community who doesn’t know Jesus, our church isn’t done growing.

But more people in church doesn’t always mean more ministry is being done. If all we’re doing is growing the size of the audience, tending to their needs will limit our ministry capacity rather than adding to it.

2. Hiring More Staff Instead of Training More Disciples

When you reach your ministry capacity you should hire more staff and get a bigger building, right? Wrong.

With the high cost of living where I live and minister that is not good stewardship. But even if you can afford it, that’s not the best option. At least not the best first option.

Bigger buildings and staff may seem like they increase your church’s ministry capacity, but they come at a price. The cost of maintaining those salaries and mortgages for the long term. Usually at the expense of doing better ministry.

Instead, we need to train more disciples. Increase the capacity of church members to do ministry, instead of paying others to do ministry for them. Training disciples doesn’t make you top-heavy. It makes you more kingdom-minded.

3. Putting More Focus on Sunday Stage Shows than On Making Disciples

In two previous posts (here and here) I wrote about my growing frustration with how much time, energy and money we pour into our Sunday morning stage shows.

It’s not that we shouldn’t create a great worship experience. But when we’re more concerned with the worship leader’s stage presence than the Holy Spirit’s presence, Houston we have a problem.

Like the staff and buildings in the previous point, those stage theatrics cost a lot to build and maintain. And they tend to create an environment of passive audience members instead of active disciples.

When the minimum skill level for Sunday morning ministry is too high, we reinforce the idea that ministry is just for the professionals. And it creates yet another bottleneck that limits our ministry capacity.

4. Only Supporting Ministry that's Done In or Through the Church

Recently I had a phone conversation with a fellow pastor who was frustrated that his members weren’t helping more around the church. Instead, they were volunteering at the local high school, food bank, senior center and more. My suggestion? Ask them how the church could support their efforts and do more outside-the-church ministry with them. He nearly hung up in anger.

Many pastors don’t see it as ministry unless it’s initiated by them and conducted inside the church building. Talk about limiting our ministry capacity!

When we do ministry from the church, not just in the church we lift the lid off our ministry capacity.

When we do ministry from the church, not just in the church we lift the lid off our ministry capacity. Sometimes that means supporting ministry that church members are already doing on their own.

5. Not Having a Clear Vision

Every church needs a sense of direction. We need to know what we’re called to do. And not do.

I’ve met too many pastors who say they do ministry “as the Lord leads.” In almost every one of those circumstances, those pastors seem to serve a schizophrenic God with no sense of direction at all.

Obviously, that’s not God’s fault. We serve a God of order. Plans matter. Vision is essential.

With it, we can focus our limited resources for maximum impact. Without it, we wander and waste.

For more info on how to streamline your vision-casting process, especially in a smaller church, check out Why No One Cares About Your Mission Statement – And Neither Should You.

6. Having Too Narrow a Vision

Similar to the bottleneck created in point #4, some pastors are so controlling of the vision that they miss great opportunities to stretch, innovate and grow beyond their preconceived ideas.

A great vision always allows room to grow and stretch as God leads and needs change.

7. Punishing Innovators When They Make Mistakes

I want to work with the most creative people I can find. That means they’ll do things differently than I would do them. It also means their mistakes can be as spectacular as their successes.

When people are afraid to try something new for fear of reprisal if it goes bad, they stop innovating. And when they stop innovating, ministry capacity is capped.

Don’t punish people for failing, celebrate them for trying.

Great church leaders let people know failure isn’t fatal. Many times, it contains the seeds of eventual greatness. Don’t punish people for failing, celebrate them for trying.

8. Responding to Problems Instead of Preventing Them

Leaders lead. They don’t wait for problems to become so big that everyone sees them. They see them before most others do.

As I related in my recent post, 7 Steps to Help Your Church Change Before They Know They Need To, that happened recently in our church.

It’s not easy. But every leader can learn, not just to see problems early, but to prevent many of them before they happen.

A church that prevents problems instead of constantly putting out fires is a church with more capacity for ministry.

9. Putting Programs Before Prayer

Programs and systems matter. Not having good ones in place is like pouring water into a leaky bucket.

But ministry is more than programs. It requires prayer, passion and the power of the Holy Spirit.

As pastors, we’re not running a corporation. We’re shepherding a church. Christ’s church, not ours.

We will reach the end of our ideas, our plans and our ministry capacity very quickly. But we will never reach the end of Christ’s ability to do ministry in, for and through us.

Christ’s ideas for his church always bring bigger and greater ministry than anything we could have planned or imagined.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

May 16, 2016 at 6:47 AM

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