It takes a different set of skills to lead a church through the 200 barrier

Breaking the 200 barrier looks like the typical pastor’s nemesis.

It’s probably the most difficult challenge because it’s different than growing a church from 40 to 125. Doubling or tripling the attendance of the “family church” takes hard work, but breaking that barrier is all about the pastor doing more of the same: more evangelism, more outreach, more visitation, more follow-up, more leadership.

Breaking the magic 200 barrier is qualitatively different. Doing more of the same won’t get the job done. And in most cases, it’s not possible because the pastor is already maxed out – or close to it.

A fundamental shift in how everyone thinks about what it means to “be a pastor” is in order. In smaller churches the pastor is the hired hand; he’s the paid religious functionary. If anything is going to get done, the pastor has to do it. This has to be replaced with another model: the pastor leads people who do the work.

The pastor has to stop being the hired laborer and start acting like the crew chief.

It takes a different set of skills to lead a church through the 200 barrier.

Learning, mastering, and polishing these new skills can lead to an existential crisis because the pastor will have to lay aside things that he loves doing and learn new ways of showing up as a pastor that may feel uncomfortable.

Keep the destination in mind

The first and most important skill pastors must polish to move past this intractable barrier is to cast relentless focus on the church’s mission, vision, and long-term strategy.

Easum and Tenney-Brittian put it plainly.1

There is no skill more important than having the ability to perceive and effectively communicate a church’s vision.

If a pastor cannot show a congregation the future and motivate them to move in that direction, nothing else the pastor does will make much difference.2 But when a pastor can and does show a church what the destination looks like, several things happen.

  1. The pastor leads ministry alignment: everything the church does advances mission and vision.
  2. The pastor holds volunteer staff accountable for ensuring that their ministry contributes to the mission.
  3. The pastor recruits leaders to replace managers as ministry heads. They become visionary leaders capable of recruiting, training, and motivating people to serve in their ministries.
  4. The pastor insists on After Action Review to ensure that precious resources and ministry activity lead to fulfillment of the mission and vision.3

Cull your “Friends” list

I’m guessing some cringed when they read the previous section. Hearing that a pastor must become a leader is like fingernails on a chalkboard. You’re tired of hearing it.

That is the response of pastors with inordinately high social service interest scores. Most pastors have higher interest in providing care than the general population. But some pastors, for various personal reasons, have exceptionally high interest in hands-on care. This prevents them from leading through the 200 barrier. 4

Learning to live with the pain of distant relationships with church members is a crucial skill. This allows them to take steps to clear that 200 barrier:

  1. Refocus their relationship from the whole church to an inner circle of people who will help carry the mission forward.
  2. Training others to do hospital visitation, counseling, benevolence, and provide care for the emotional and spiritual needs of others.
  3. Manage their schedules so that they can focus on the things that will result in reaching more people with the gospel, discipling new believers, and training Christians how to serve more effectively.

Broadcast information to the right people, at the right time, in the right way

Yes, the grapevine works in a small church. When the right people know, everyone else who should know will.

But communications for a church of 50 are ineffective for a church that wants to grow through the 200 barrier.

What that strategy looks like will vary from church to church, and it is heavily dependent upon the local culture. But an effective communications strategy should at least include:

  • What gets put in the printed program or announced from the platform
  • When and where platform announcements will be made – if at all
  • How far in advance requests for inclusion in the program is required
  • A strategy to leverage the use of social media to communicate with the congregation
  • Training people to be responsible for staying informed
  • How requests for facilities, scheduling, finances, personnel and other resources will be submitted
  • Remedial training for volunteer ministry leaders who go off the path or cut across someone else’s territory
  1. Bill Easum and Bill Tenney-Britain, Effective Staffing for Vital Churches, 104.
  2. There are exceptions to the rule. Occasionally a church will suddenly find itself in a prime location because the community has built in its direction. The church grows because it happens to be in the right place at the right time – in spite of the pastor’s failure to cast vision and lead. But these churches experience transfer growth, not conversion growth.
  3. An After Action Review is a process of asking several evaluation questions of the church’s various activities and events: (1) Did this achieve its goal of contributing to the mission? If so, how? (2) What went well? (3) What could have gone better? How will we correct for this next time around? (4) What did we fail to do that needs doing?
  4. For further information, see our book Pastor Unique, pp. 96-98.

Photo by Dillon Winspear on Unsplash