Why Small Churches Get Stuck: Valuing Busyness Over Relationships


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I grew up in the 1970’s attending a typical Southern Baptist Church in upstate South Carolina. My home church was the epicenter of our lives. Basically, everything revolved around church activities.

Here’s how our family spent a normal week…

  • Sunday included Sunday School, the morning worship service, youth choir in the afternoon, Training Union and the evening worship service.
  • Visitation was on Monday.
  • Various leadership meetings as well as basketball in the gym on Tuesday.
  • Wednesday consisted of RA’s and GA’s (boy’s and girl’s clubs), prayer meeting and choir practice for the adults.
  • Thursdays often included practice for either baseball, softball or basketball, depending on the season. Youth Bible studies happened at someone’s home on Thursday.
  • Friday night was free!
  • Saturdays featured various sporting events for the church throughout the day. There were youth rallies from time to time throughout the year on Saturday evenings, too.

What an exhausting schedule. Of course, it starts over again on Sunday!

The major flaw in our ministry model was that we provided so many different opportunities for the family that no one had any time to spend with the family — or with anyone else for that matter. It becomes easy to justify the lack of effort in reaching the community when your family doesn’t even have time to enjoy a meal together.

Yet, there was this prevailing expectation within our church community that you should be at all of these events if you were really committed to Jesus. Along with that expectation was the uncomfortable guilt you felt for missing something.

The activities may be different today, but the majority of smaller churches we meet are still operating with a similar mindset.


Here are a few reasons churches tend to stay busy:

1) Busyness can create perceived friendships.  

Spending a lot of time together doing church activities can have the appearance of creating community. However, this is not necessarily the case. Busyness can actually be a distraction from connecting with each other. Real lasting relationships come from intentional efforts to get to know each other through active listening and heartfelt communication.


2) “Busyness is artificial significance.”

Bill Johnson said that. It’s possible to allow ourselves to think the programs we have created are bringing success due to the energy they create. However, upon deeper inspection, we may discover the main outcome of our efforts is simply exhaustion.


3) Busyness becomes a defense mechanism to help us avoid dealing with some glaring issues.

One such issue is avoiding the reality that our church isn’t growing. No one really wants to talk about it. So it becomes easier to avoid honest evaluation if you always stay at full-throttle. Another issue we avoid through busyness is confronting the giants that are defying our progress.

I have found it’s much easier to walk around picking up stones for the fight than it is to actually engage in battle with the giant! I can avoid the fight if I’m always busy preparing for the fight.


4) As the leader of a ministry, staying busy protects me from exposure.

My experience as the lead pastor of a small church for over twelve years allows me to speak to this issue with integrity. I spent a great deal of energy trying to cover up my shortcomings.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not necessarily addressing moral issues. Instead, the exposure we avoid is the insecurity we feel because our ministry is not growing and we do not know what to do. The result of our insecurity leads to micro-management and the misconception that, “If I want something done right, I have to do it myself.”

This usually leads to the false illusion that my importance as a leader comes from doing tasks instead of training others.

Activity apart from strategy eventually leads to a flawed philosophy.


With this in mind, here are three views that will help your church move from activity to developing a healthy relational plan to reach your community:

Look Upward – Relating to God.

What was God’s purpose, or cause, for raising up your church in the community in the first place? In John 18:37(b), Jesus said,

For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Your church has a unique cause that defines what you are intended to accomplish in His plan.


Look Inward – Relating to the Church.

Slow down and take the time do an honest evaluation of the health of your church. Acts 2:42 tells us after the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost,

“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

I am sure these newly energized believers wanted to go immediately and change the world. However, they allowed time for introspection, instruction and collaboration. Take advantage of this season to develop avenues for your congregation to grow together into a healthy community with a proper perspective of who you are.


Look Outward – Relating to the World.

In the Great Commission, Jesus said,

“Go and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matthew 28:19).

We must become intentional about building relationships “outside” of our four walls. This can be done by developing opportunities for those in the community to have an easy on-ramp to get involved in the body life of your church. Put in the effort to understand your surroundings through focusing on where you are.


My hope for your church is that you will develop a God-breathed strategy that will connect your congregation to the community. If you think you could use some help, check out The Unstuck Group’s 4-Phase Planning Process. We right-size it for any congregation. 

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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