10 Obstacles to Church Growth

Recently, I was asked about the greatest obstacles to church growth I see in evangelical churches. Based on my consultations and studies, here are some of the primary ones I’ve seen:

  1. A worn-out pastor. When the shepherd is exhausted—and often hurting because of conflict—it’s tough to have an outward, evangelistic focus.
  2. Inward focus. No church naturally defaults into an outward focus; instead, they turn inward to meet internal needs unless they intentionally fight against that trend.
  3. Bad preaching. Sometimes it’s not as biblically sound as it should be. At other times, it’s less than exciting. Either way, it doesn’t lead to growth.
  4. Evangelistic apathy. This, too, often starts at the top. A church that’s lost its fire for evangelism usually settles into maintenance mode.
  5. No growth strategy. The church assumes that just because they gather and enjoy it, others will come automatically. Meanwhile, the enemy who is a strategist (Eph. 6:10-12) works his plans to keep people away from the gospel.
  6. Turf wars. It’s tough to reach outside the church when everybody’s fighting to keep his power inside church. Plus, non-believers aren’t interested in stepping into a battleground.
  7. Prayerlessness. I know this one sounds like a “super-spiritual” reason, but I’m not shocked by the correlation between churches that don’t pray much and churches that don’t grow much.
  8. Space issues. This reason’s at least a positive one: the congregation has outgrown its parking and/or facility space. The crowd won’t come where the crowd won’t fit.
  9. Poor discipleship. When baby believers remain babies after years of being believers, they tend to become whiners – and churches let that happen when they have no strategy to help babies grow.
  10. Retreat mentality. I’ve said for years that the church has become a place to retreat from the battles rather than a place to get re-armed for the war. The church in retreat won’t grow.  

Which of these obstacles most marks churches you know? What would you add to the list? 


  • John W Carlton says:

    The bivo pastor is very susceptible to the “Worn Out” syndrome, especially if he has a demanding secular job. I remember one time when I was pastoring at a church about 30 miles away from my home. A faithful church member’s husband was dying. I had sat with the family for quite a while the night before, getting to bed late. I went to work as a door to door insurance agent the next day which was a Wednesday. They had moved the man to another hospital about 70 miles from the church. I called my wife and told her that if he was in the last phase of life I was going to go to be with the family. She replied, “John, you can’t do that. You are physically exhausted.” I called the family and they assured me that he was holding on and had take a turn for the better. God was so good to let me go home and get some well needed rest.

    Pastors, you can only do so much. Listen to your wife and ask for her input.

  • Robin Jordan says:

    11. The church lacks “visibility.” The church building may be on a well-traveled street and may be visible from the street but ask around the community and no one has heard of the church. It has not established a presence, or footprint, in the community.

    12.The way that the church is accustomed to worshiping on Sunday or whenever it meets is experienced by guests as peculiar, overly-long, and wearisome. Church members are not able to put themselves in guests’ shoes and are puzzled when guests make a quick exist when the service is over, not even staying for a cup of coffee and a slice of Matha’s red velvet cake. They sense something is wrong but they cannot put their finger on it.

  • Allen Raynor says:

    The town I pastor in has seen a changing demographic in recent decades. We have had some success reaching the people, but sadly many members are in denial about the reality of the type of people that now make up the town. They are cold to many of the new people and sometimes just plain ugly towards them and as months go by they end up dropping out. Some of the things that have been reprted back to me are heart breaking. Addressing the issues through writing, the pulpit, and one on one conversations has sadly done little measurable good. These people want to grow, but have a very narrow vision of what that growth should look like.

  • Eric Fannin says:

    Dr. Lawless, do you have any suggestions or resources for growth strategies? Thank you!
    In Jesus,
    Eric Fannin

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