What Makes Good Churches Stall?

Thinking about the factors that cause churches to stall. It clearly isn't just "bad" churches that stall, ones with little vision, no outreach, poor attention to the Bible and cringy worship. Most churches are not like that when they start. Ipso facto at some point they were a good church that stalled for some reason.

One possible factor is when things are going sufficiently well that the temptation arises to move into maintenance mode. Which has all kinds of attractions:

  • It allows to consolidate and firm up existing good activities
  • What needs to be done is concrete, visible and now rather than nebulous and future
  • It is much less scary and emotionally draining than always living looking at what's next

But the downsides are formidable. Sooner or later it means swapping daring passion for the Lord for comfort, going from being outward looking to being inward looking and from a frontier missions mindset to a homely-rearranging-the-furniture mindset.

It seems to me that the most likely point for this to happen in a flourishing church is when the initial vision is met. It is very easy to enjoy the buzz of having got there and then move into maintaining what has already been built rather than asking what the next step of faith should be. Everyone likes where we have got to, why risk overstretching when we already have a good thing? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Because if we deny the possibility of future growth we are denying that God wants any more people saved through our church, that's why. And that is to betray both the original vision of the church and the gospel. When buying shoes for children you need to get a size ahead if their feet aren't to end up stunted and deformed. In the same way structures that don't assume future growth not only won't see future growth, but will cause even a vibrant church to stall eventually.

At my church we are at the absolute outside limit of our buildings because the Lord has been bringing people in. Its great! But the temptation is ever with us to say "let's stop now because growing any more will face us with discomfort, disorientation and expense. Let's do everything we can to minimise change." If we fall for that temptation not only will we never find ways past the ceiling set by our seating capacity, eventually we will stall. 

Gospel vision is not limited by seating capacity. Churches can't let seating capacity be the measure of what we want to do. Buildings and seats are a tool for kingdom building. They must never be confused with the kingdom (church = the building) or become the way we measure the maximum amount of kingdom building we can do.