Usually, churches get stuck because what was working stopped working,
When that happens, leaders aren’t sure what to do.
While figuring that out is complex (and a frequent subject of many posts on this blog), trying to find a solution is difficult if you’re looking in the wrong place.
It’s easy to think that churches are prone to get stuck in the past. And that’s true. If there’s a trend, it’s almost always toward the past in many churches.
After all, the past has a nostalgia the future never does.
And yet, some churches also get stuck in the present, and in the future (as strange as that sounds). That may be exactly where your church is stuck, without you realizing it.
Here are three dynamics that all leaders have to wrestle down when their church (or any organization for that matter) is stuck.
The older your church is, or the more successful your church was at some point, the more likely it is some of your leaders will get stuck in the past.
When a church gets stuck in the past, you hear voice after voice saying let’s go back to the way it was.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t go back to the way it was. The past died long ago.
What worked then worked because the conditions were right then. And those conditions changed some time ago.
This isn’t just a traditional church thing. Church plants that have hit a plateau or decline will long for the good old days too. Remember 2016, when everything was up and to the right?
There’s a world of difference between learning from the past and living in the past.
It’s great to isolate the principles from the past that worked and try to apply them (or abandon them) in light of today’s conditions.
But it’s foolish to keep trying to re-create the past. It’s gone.
If God wanted you to keep ministering in 1995 or 2016, he would have left you there.
But he didn’t. So move on.
Churches that live in the past never have much of a future.
Stuck in the future? I know, that doesn’t even sound possible, but it is.
Here’s how it happens.
You get stuck in the future when a visionary leader tries to move forward without any clear, coherent or cogent plan.
It happens innocently enough.
Many leaders get excited about what could be. Maybe he read five new books. Or she listens to podcasts about organizations that have crushed their goals. Or he’s been to so many conferences he’s lost count.
The talk is always about what could be, what should be and what might be, but there’s zero plan to get anyone there.
A vision without a plan isn’t a dream. It’s a nightmare.
The vision eventually dangles in front of people so often that no one believes it anymore.
As a leader, you eventually become the parent who constantly promises the kids a trip to Disney but never takes them.
Focusing on the future becomes a way to avoid dealing with the present. Which is why many leaders love to live in the future; then they don’t have to deal with anything.
Just like you can get stuck in the past and in the future, you can also get stuck in the present.
How does that happen?
It’s not that difficult.
Leaders who get stuck in the present usually have no learnings from the past or vision for the future.
One sure sign you’re stuck in the present is that there are no next steps to move you forward.
You’re not trying anything, not experimenting. You’re probably not even diagnosing.
You just are.
As a result, week after week you do the same thing only to discover diminishing returns.
And you don’t even take the time to discuss why it’s not working anymore, why the mission is dying on your watch.
That’s how you get stuck in the present.
So how do you get past stuck?
Learn from the past. Imagine a better future. And create a plan.
It’s easier to say than to do, but almost all effective leadership hinges on doing those three well.
Most organizations will tilt toward being stuck in the past or living in the future, but on their own, neither is healthy.
So glean lessons from the past, envision a better future, and make a plan to get there.
That will help you get past stuck.
If you want some deeper insight into how to help your church grow and move into the future, my book Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow may help.
I also created a Lasting Impact Team Edition video series to help pastors and their teams walk through the issues that are keeping a lot of churches from healthy growth. It’s a companion to the book, and I walk your team through all the key concepts in the book in eight 25 minute sessions. The book and Team Edition come complete with discussion questions. It’s a done-for-you-resource.