May 10, 2023

7 Reasons Why Mid-Size Churches Get Stuck – Episode 295 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

7 reasons why midsize churches get stuck

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Breaking Through Church Growth Barriers (Part 2)

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We want all churches, regardless of their size today, to be healthy and to experience growth.

That’s why in this series, we’re discussing how to break common growth barriers for churches of four different sizes: small, mid-size, large, and very large.

Different churches wrestle with different issues, and many times those challenges are a reflection of the church’s size. Our purpose for putting churches in these categories is to help you determine what your priority focus needs to look like at each phase of growth.


This week, we’ll discuss breaking the 1,000 barrier by exploring what challenges get many mid-size churches stuck and providing practical wisdom for moving forward. (For this conversation, we’ll assume that mid-size churches are between 200 and 800 in attendance.)

Join in as we unpack:

  • Fixing your governance issues
  • The importance of children’s ministry
  • The “one hour” concept for weekend services
  • Hiring leaders and giving ministry away

"Church Growth Barriers" Webinar

How to Break Through the 4 Most Common Plateaus

At this free webinar, you’ll learn to address the growth barriers you may be feeling now, as well as how to recognize the warning signs of future barriers that may be ahead as your church continues to grow.

Mid-size churches need to define their mission (why they exist), their vision (where are they going in the future), and their ministry strategy (how they'll get there). [episode 295] #unstuckchurch Share on X The priority for mid-size churches who want to keep growing needs to be finding staff leaders who can build volunteer teams, build healthy ministries, and build a strategy to reach new people. [episode 295] #unstuckchurch Share on X Hiring leaders vs. doers can be the difference between whether your church remains healthy and continues to grow or becomes stunted by the leadership capacity of your staff. [episode 295] #unstuckchurch Share on X Unless churches give their best to children’s ministry, they’ll never reach their parents. [episode 295] #unstuckchurch Share on X
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This Episode is Sponsored by BELAY:

As church leaders, we can often think that if we aren’t doing everything, we aren’t doing anything.  But that’s very far from the truth. No one accomplishes anything great alone. Great leaders delegate to the right person. There’s often people who can do some of your workload even better than you can! Your focus should always be on those things only you can do: leading your ministry and growing your congregation.

If you feel like you’re overwhelmed trying to do it all, BELAY can help. BELAY, a modern church staffing organization with fractional, U.S.-based Accounting and Virtual Assistant services, has helped busy church leaders do just that for more than a decade. To help you figure out where to start, BELAY is offering a free resource to guide you through what tasks you should delegate. Get back to your mission and your people. Delegate to a virtual assistant today and get out of the administrative weeds, and back to growing your organization with BELAY.

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We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. For churches that grow beyond 200 in attendance, they often experience another key barrier as they reach 1000. And this barrier carries an entirely new set of challenges that require a shift in how the church has done ministry in the past. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on how to become a church that’s both healthy and growing by looking at some of the common growth barriers with some practical ideas on how to approach them. If you are new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, we invite you to head over to and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you subscribe, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide. Again, that’s to subscribe. Now, before this week’s episode, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (01:00):

As church leaders, we get adjusted to the ever-growing list of to-dos and often want to get everything done ourselves. But that’s a recipe for burnout. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to give that next task to somebody else. No one accomplishes anything great alone. We need a trusted team to make sure the church thrives. Great leaders delegate, and great church leaders focus on their ministry and leave the administrative and bookkeeping tasks to other qualified people. If you feel like you are overwhelmed trying to do it all, that’s where our friends at Belay can help. Belay, a modern church staffing organization with fractional US-based accounting and virtual assistant services, has helped busy church leaders do just that for more than a decade. To help you learn what you can start delegating today, Belay is offering a free resource for our audience. It’s “The Top 25 Tasks a Pastor can Delegate” to an assistant. Just text “unstuck,” that’s u-n-s-t-u-c-k to 55123 to get back to growing your church with Belay.

Amy (02:15):

Well, happy Wednesday everyone, and welcome back to another episode of The Unstuck Church Podcast. We’re currently on part two of a series on breaking church growth barriers. Last week we kicked off the series by talking about breaking the 200 barrier and looking at some key factors that get small churches stuck.

Tony (02:32):

Yeah. Before we jump into today’s topic, I just wanted to highlight. I just got back from Oklahoma City. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Oklahoma City. Hanging out with a phenomenal church, Victory Family Church. They’re in four locations. I think the original location, I guess, was in Norman, Oklahoma, not too far from Oklahoma City. And Amy, we’ve talked, we’ve mentioned this in recent weeks, there are churches now that are outpacing where the church was as far as the number of people that they’re reaching. They are stronger today than they were even pre-pandemic and wrestling with some of these growth issues that we’re talking through in this series. So, shout out to Pastor Adam and the team at Victory Family Church. I mean, they’re doing a great work and so it was a fun couple of days to hang out with them and just help them kind of think about their next steps for how they’re reaching people in the Oklahoma City region.

Amy (03:33):

And I think you get a week off the road. Don’t you have some sort of big family event happening this week?

Tony (03:38):

I have another daughter getting married, Amy.

Amy (03:40):

You don’t wanna mention it?

Tony (03:41):

Yeah. So, we’ll have 50% of the Morgans married off after this week.

Amy (03:49):

Well played. All right. Well, we should probably get back to the podcast. What growth barrier are we gonna talk about today, Tony?

Tony (03:56):

Amy, today we’re going to discuss breaking through the 1000 barrier by exploring what challenges get some of the, they’re actually large churches, but for the sake of this series, we’re calling you mid-size churches because we’re gonna be talking about large and very large churches in the next couple of episodes. But for those churches that are in the hundreds, but now kind of bumping up against a thousand barrier, this conversation’s gonna be for you today.

Amy (04:25):

And just a note for everyone listening, even before the pandemic, 60% of churches in America were already under 100 people in attendance. So churches in this mid-size range are in reality, relatively large churches.

Tony (04:41):

That’s right, Amy. So today we’ll be looking at churches of this size and asking what distinguishes them from the churches in the next kind of step up in growth. What barriers do they need to overcome to reach the next level of growth? And just like our first episode, we’ll walk through kind of seven of these factors that these churches need to be considering.

Amy (05:06):

Sounds good. I’m excited to talk about this one, because I don’t know what you think, Tony, but I often find that climb to breach the thousand mark is one of the toughest climbs for church leaders, so what’s the first challenge churches need to overcome to go from being a mid-size to a large church?

Tony (05:23):

So, the first challenge I wanna unpack today is that they’re governed by large boards and too many committees. And as an example, we once worked with a mid-size church that had more than 50 people on their board, and they had more than a dozen different committees. Needless to say, their structure for decision making was so complex that they even had a committee for finding people to serve on other committees. And our recommendation in this area is that churches shift to only one board, one unified board, that includes probably five to nine people. And the goal is to get everyone else serving someplace else in the ministry, doing ministry on a ministry team, rather than participating in committee meetings or board meetings. In other words, we’re mobilizing people into ministry rather than sitting in meetings talking about how to do ministry.

Amy (06:21):

Yeah, we absolutely see this as a huge issues for churches we work with. I mean, just last year we did a whole series and a webinar on how to get your church governance unstuck. Governance just is one of those unexpected factors that can really stunt church growth. You wouldn’t think it, but it really can stunt the growth. What’s the next challenge, Tony?

Tony (06:41):

The second challenge is that mid-size churches don’t leverage volunteers. And honestly, this is a challenge for churches of all different sizes, but it really seems to impact churches in this season of growth even more so, Amy. So the first goal is to get staff leading ministry teams rather than reporting to committees. So that refers to the conversation that we just had about the first challenge. But once that shift happens, the next goal is to get staff to start building volunteer teams and encouraging those teams to be doing the ministry of the church. And it’s not unusual, though, for staff to hold on to doing all the ministry themselves in mid-size churches. And, you know, we could think through several examples here, but think about your kid’s ministry. Think about areas of pastoral care, and I don’t wanna sound like a broken record here, but our staff need to equip God’s people to do this ministry and not do all of that work themselves. So, it’s really about mobilizing people, using their spiritual gifts, to actually do the ministry of the church.

Amy (07:52):

Yeah. This is something we talk about a lot here on the podcast, but that’s for a good reason. If your church staff isn’t able to move from doing the ministry themselves to empowering others and leading ministry teams, then your church simply won’t grow unless you add more staff and more staff. And we know that’s just not sustainable long term.

Tony (08:12):

Yeah, you’re right. It is possible that volunteers aren’t being leveraged because the staff is still doing all the ministry, but it’s also possible that our discipleship path or our path to serving is too complex or it’s not being communicated well. So that’s another factor to consider as you’re thinking about how do we mobilize more people into serving opportunities. The next reason that mid-size churches might get stuck is because they’re unwilling to address facility constraints. And sometimes these constraints happen because of limited seating for adults, but more oftentimes, the constraints aren’t as visible because they impact guests more than they do people who are already connected to the church. Those hidden constraints may include a lack of sufficient parking, welcoming and obvious entrances to the church, children’s ministry space that makes it look like we’re actually trying to minister to young families with young kids. Adequate lobby space. That was one of the issues I was talking with a mid-size church about even recently. Clear directional signage. That’s a common problem we see in churches of this size. And the key question here for churches should be, how is the guest experience impacted by the condition of our facility today?

Amy (09:33):

That’s such a great point, Tony. This one may not seem as important as the others, but it could be that upgrading your facility, expanding your facility, or even just adding another service could be the key to that next level of growth. And that’s why we actually give churches a report, right? On the factors you mentioned: signage, lobby, space, parking. When we do our in-person health assessments, we do, we call it a secret shopper. It’s just one of those areas that can lead to some relatively easy, quick wins for our church. And like you said, a lot of us who are on the church staff or regulars, we get to church early. We don’t sit in the parking lot. We don’t experience church like our guests do. So having that fresh perspective and taking action on it for guests can be a game changer. Okay. What’s the fourth challenge for mid-size churches?

Tony (10:21):

It’s about children’s ministry and the fact that children’s ministry isn’t the priority it should be. And ironically, churches tend to hire a student pastor before they hire a children’s ministry pastor. And part of the reason why is that they’re really only focused on babysitting kids rather than providing ministry to kids and then equipping parents to encourage their kids to take their next steps in their spiritual journey. And while better spaces and the strong leaders are dedicated to adults in student ministry, we’re neglecting the resources and the leadership we’re offering to kids and the parents of those kids. The challenge here is that unless churches give their best to children’s ministry, they’ll never reach their parents. And that’s one of the reasons why some churches have a gap of young adults. In other words, they have some boomers. They have folks in my generation, gen X, but when it comes to millennials, there’s a gap there. And one of the reasons is they aren’t thinking about the fact that those young adults are starting to have kids, and we need to be ministering to that whole family, not just to the adults. So if you’re not offering a safe and fun experience for your children, they’re gonna go to a church that can, or they’re simply stop gonna stop going to church altogether.

Amy (11:45):

Yeah. This is such a huge issue for reaching young families. I remember not too long ago, Tony, we did a webinar and had Pastor Chris Hodges from Church of the Highlands with us, and he said that coming out of the pandemic, their church noticed that parents were really struggling with their kids and students. And after months of research and making some really intentional changes in this area, they’ve seen huge results. And that’s why I think how Chris said it. He said he believes that “one of the best things that we can do right now to reach people is to lean into the needs of children and students.”

Tony (12:17):

Yeah. That was a key takeaway from the webinar for sure. And he added this thought, “If you want to grow your church, take care of families right now.” Now that’s probably always been true, but it might be even more important in this season. Alright, let’s keep going. The fifth challenge for mid-size churches is they haven’t identified their primary purpose and distinctives, and it’s that second word, the distinctives that I want to key in on here. Once you start reaching hundreds of people, it’s very easy to just continue adding programming, adding more ministry programming, adding more events. And before you know it, things become very complex with multiple ministries competing for volunteers, competing for leadership, money, space, promotions, and so on. And that’s why mid-size churches really need to define their mission: why they exist, their vision: where are they going in the future, and their ministry strategy. And it’s better to get focused here because that will help you focus resources on the areas of ministry that truly define who you are as a church. In other words, you don’t have to keep on adding ministries to be like the church down the road. You need to focus on those areas of ministry that are helping you reach more people and helping more people become followers of Jesus.

Amy (13:40):

Yeah. That just goes back to the strategic alignment pyramid, right? I mean, the clear focus around the foundational level of our ministry helps create a filter for leaders to say no more often, allowing them to increase ministry effectiveness and leverage resources for a much greater impact.

Tony (13:55):

That’s exactly right, Amy. Without this clarity, churches fall into more and more complexity, which ultimately keeps them from growing and moving forward. Well, I know you’re going to have some thoughts on this next challenge, Amy. And it’s because it’s around the quality of weakened environments and mid-size churches, it’s like there needs to be an elevated focus on the quality and excellence. I’m gonna go ahead and use that word around the weekend experience. For good or bad, as the size of the environment grows, so do the quality expectations. Of course, the primary place this will be felt is the worship service itself, the environments for adults. But the same principle will apply in every ministry environment, including children’s ministry, student’s ministry, guest experiences, classes, and so on. With worship, though, there really does need to be more intentionality around planning, preparation, and execution. And that includes not only the teaching, but everything else that happens during the service.

Amy (15:03):

Yeah, well, after leading that for over 12 years, I could talk for a full hour on this topic, but as you’re talking about it, Tony, I go back to, it’s an old book, but Nancy Beach wrote it a while ago called An Hour on Sunday. And what I love about that book and that concept is really new people are gonna give you one hour. Your regulars will give you lots of hours, but new people, they’ll give you one hour. And so we really have to think everything we’ve worked on all week long, a lot of that work culminates on the weekend. And are we spending that hour well? Will it be impactful? Will it be engaging? Will it create trust with new people? And will it challenge them? Will they hear God’s word in a way that applies to their life? And if we don’t dog that every week and keep raising that bar, I don’t know, you said the larger the church gets, the more quality that’s expected. People are not comparing that hour to what the church down the street is doing. They’re weighing that hour against all the other demands on their life. So ultimately the solution here is to design and implement an intentional creative planning process. And again, I could go on and on, but if you feel like this is an area your church is struggling with, I highly recommend you go back and listen to part one and two of our episodes on reaching new people through weekend services. And I think, Tony, that was episode 232 and 233 for reference. Okay, Tony, we’ve reached the end. What’s the seventh and final challenge that keeps mid-size churches stuck where they are?

Tony (16:35):

The final challenge, and this is a big one, is that mid-size churches don’t hire leaders. At this stage of growth, it becomes especially important for churches to hire leaders rather than doers. And that means you’ll need to focus on staff who can grow ministries and reach more people and support focused roles. Think about assistants, custodians, bookkeepers and associate pastors may have to wait. You may have to wait on those types of roles. In fact, those roles become great opportunities for volunteer engagement or outsourcing in this phase of growth for the church. The priority, though, for mid-size churches who want to keep growing needs to be finding staff leaders who can build volunteer teams like we mentioned earlier and then build healthy ministries and then build strategy to reach new people.

Amy (17:28):

Yeah. Tony, we see this time and time again in our work with churches, this leader versus doer distinction. It really can be the difference whether your church remains healthy and continues to grow or becomes stunted by the leadership capacity of your staff. You know, I do a lot of staffing and structures. This continues to be a headline issue and many of those churches, they’re going after it, but you’re gonna have to take a few steps back before you take a few forward.

Tony (17:52):

Yeah. And so I feel like I’m picking on kids’ ministry a little bit today, Amy, but, it’ll give a kind of a picture of what we can see sometimes in mid-size churches. You know, when a church is small, you wanna hire somebody initially to oversee your children’s ministry that absolutely loves kids and being with kids and shaping the spiritual direction, the next steps, that those kids are taking in their faith journey. That’s the person that you want to hire when you are a smaller church. But as the church grows and you start to reach more and more young families, more and more kids start to show up. And in reality, the type of person that you need to lead the children’s ministry also changes. And what you’re looking for as the church grows and as you have more kids is not the person who is most gifted being with children. What you want is the person that’s most gifted at raising up other teams of people, teams of leaders to pour into those children’s lives. And then to have somebody who can strategically be thinking about how do we engage not only kids, but their parents as well? And so kind of what you’re looking for in the children’s ministry, as far as leadership or staffing, it changes over time is that area of ministry grows. And I share that just as one example, but in actuality those same principles apply to every area of ministry, student ministry, groups ministry, women’s ministry, men’s ministry, worship ministry, on down the line. We need to move from people that are very good at doing the ministry themselves to finding leaders who can raise up other leaders that can think strategically about how we move each of these core ministry areas forward to help us accomplish the mission God has for our church.

Amy (19:56):

All right. Well, we’ve covered a lot of topics today. And as a reminder, if you’re a mid-size church listening today, it’s unlikely that all seven of these issues are getting you stuck. But within those seven areas, it might be helpful to take a step back and see what two or three areas might be holding your church back from future health and growth. And if you’re a church that’s smaller than mid-size, you can reflect on these seven challenges that might be ahead of you and to begin to consider now how you might address them. Tony, any other final thoughts as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (20:26):

As you mentioned, Amy, there are usually a handful of areas holding churches back from the next phase of growth. And in our upcoming webinar called Church Growth Barriers, How to Break Through the Four Most Common Plateaus, we will get the chance to dive deeper into a few of those most common barriers for churches at each size, and kind of touch on the solution side as well when we talk about some of these growth barrier issues. And you can register to join us for that free webinar on May 25th through the link in your show notes.

Sean (21:00):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Again, like Tony said, we’d love to have you join us for our upcoming webinar on May 25th on Breaking Church Growth Barriers. To register, just use the link included in your show notes, and if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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