Lessons Learned

10 Things I’ve Learned Pastoring 10 Years and Finally Breaking the 500 Barrier

As of this past August I have officially been a senior pastor for 10 years. Also, around the same time, our church surpassed 500 in attendance (on a “normal” Sunday) for the first time. I don’t think those two milestones coinciding is a coincidence, but I’ll talk more about that later.

Due to reaching a decade of senior-pastor ministry and the celebration of growing our church beyond a growth barrier, I’ve been feeling nostalgic and reflective lately, so I wanted to share the best things I’ve learned along with way. These lessons learned are what has helped our church to grow and allowed us to keep going during the toughest seasons of ministry.

I genuinely admire so many pastors who have been pastoring much longer than I have, and I’m not presenting this list as “rules” as much as I’m trying to share what practices and mindsets have risen to the surface after most of my fads and gimmicks have faded away.

1. Almost Everything I Think Is Important Is Unimportant

I am thankful for the “church growth” movement that swept the American church landscape over the last 2 decades. If nothing else, it reignited our passion for evangelism and outreach to our communities. But as with any great movement, I think we could all agree the pendulum may have swung a little too far in the “consumerism” direction. With that swing came an enormous amount of self-infflicted pressure for pastors to feel like their church has to provide a high-scale list of services to convince people to come and stay.

That’s not all bad because let’s be honest, church for a long time was really tacky, unorganized, and underwhelming, but while the opposite is more entertaining and enjoyable, it runs the risk of disguising spiritual health as public progress. Video announcements, website, graphic design, click tracks, loops, intelligent lights, haze machines, coffee, plexiglass podiums, helicopter egg drops, social media strategies, guest gifts, live-streaming, phone apps, the list goes on and on of all the things it feels like it takes to lead your church. So what do you do when you feel like your church needs to do more to keep up? You try to do more than God has resourced or called you to do, and you usually try to do them yourself. You stop being a Pastor and you start being a technician.

Anyone who knows me knows I love gadgets, and strategies, and anything that will help reach people who don’t know Jesus, but after 10 years of pastoring, I’ve come to the conclusion almost everything is unimportant. Will offering better services bring more people to your church? Probably. But any gimmick that works feels like it has to be sustained or improved out of fear of people leaving.

The best advice I could give a new pastor just getting started is this: If you have to do something because no one in your church is willing to do it, God is probably not calling you to do it. (yet) Maybe you’re at the wrong church, or perhaps you’re trying to do something too soon before God wants you to do it, but 80% of your church’s effectiveness comes from 20% of the actions. Focus on the 20%.

2. The Most Critical Factor to A Pastor’s Long-Term Success is Their Circle of Friends

I love conferences, podcasts, and books. I devour all the resources I can get my hands own, but after a decade in ministry, I believe what’s more important than all those resources is being connected to life-giving pastors and friends. I’ll admit it can be harder to find life-giving pastors than it should. Unfortunately, we can be some of the most jaded, negative, cynical people. (I wrote more about how pastors lose heart in my book Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart.) I understand why, the longer you pastor, the easier it is to be discouraged, but I am determined to talk on the phone every week to friends who will celebrate, challenge, and encourage me. The size of their church is not important. My friends’ churches have a wide range of attendance, what is important is that they believe in me, they love my family, and they know how to laugh.

I began to notice something over the years, during seasons where my church was growing, their church was growing. The more good ideas they had, the more great ideas I had. The more services they started, the more services I started. Without even trying, we spur one another on. Iron sharpening iron. The tragic reality for so many pastors is that they either don’t have anyone to call, or they do have a tribe of friends they belong to, but the conversation is negative, filled with excuses, and a victim mentality. If you don’t have anyone to call, you can call me. My number is 502-762-2295. If I don’t answer, leave a message, I’ll call you back. I would love to encourage you (but I’ll probably challenge you too.)

3. People Need to Leave Your Church

I could write for hours on this lesson alone. When I started pastoring, I assumed the path to church growth was adding additional families, but I was wrong. The path to church growth involves addition and subtraction. There is probably no greater emotional challenge for a pastor than watching families leave the church, it’s personal, and it’s painful, but over the last decade, I have learned this important truth: the only thing worse than someone leaving my church is someone staying who needs to leave.

I wrote a lot more about the emotional challenges of church turnover in this post, but if I could give one piece of advice to a new pastor just starting out, I would give this: Every painful ending is a new beginning.

The truth is, some of the unhealthiest churches in America have no turnover. The same people have been in the church their whole lives. No one new comes in, and no one leaves. If you are making progress, some people will get left behind. I don’t mean left behind like they are incapable of moving forward (even though some are) or left behind like they are bad people (even though some are), or left behind like they cause problems (even though some do) they are left behind because new places require new faces; new gifts, new voices, and new leadership (sometimes the senior pastor). In my opinion, it’s the biggest reason why 85% of churches never grow beyond 75 people, because the pastor is unwilling to endure the pain of transition. I wrote about that topic in this post.

To be clear, we’ve lost people from our church because I mishandled situations, mismanaged leadership, and sometimes I was just outright rude. Every exit wasn’t God’s leading, but even in my failures, God has orchestrated people coming and going to build a beautiful congregation of people moving forward. If you plan on pastoring your church for decades, accept this reality now; most of the people with you now will not finish with you. If God blesses you, like David, with a few mighty men and women who go the whole distance with you, give them a big bear hug, and thank God every day.

4. People Who Come from Another Church Usually Go to Another Church

Every pastor and church leader will tell you they don’t want transfer growth, and that they only pursue “lost” people. While our intentions are noble, the truth is people switching churches is inevitable, especially if word spreads that your church has momentum. When people start showing up saved, trained, and tithing, it can feel exhilarating, because it feels like progress, and it is, but in almost every case there is a shelf life to the tenure of your new church member because people who come to you from another church usually leave to go to another church.

Yes, some are “church hoppers,” but most are not. They have every intention of being with you for the long haul, they really do love your church, but the reality is people who leave churches leave churches. If you can accept that God sends people for different seasons and different reasons, you can enjoy your ministry season together, but not have unrealistic expectations for their future. I’m not advocating an abandonment mindset where you assume the worst about people, I’m talking about a strategic and grateful mindset to commit to pastoring people and using their gifts as long as you have them.

*Bonus Tip – In my experience, the people who will grow and stay with you the longest are the people who get saved under your ministry. People have a built-in loyalty to the minister who leads them to the Lord. Take more risk, empower and develop “homegrown” new converts.

5. Fight for Optimism

If you asked me what one change made the most significant difference in our church over the last 10 years, my answer would be optimism. I became a senior pastor at 24 and was the stereotypical young leader who thought cynicism and sarcasm was cool. It took me a few years to finally learn people don’t want a contrarian for a pastor, they want a hope-filled, caring, visionary. In my experience, the most significant barrier in a church’s growth is the mindset of the pastor. No one will care more than you, dream more than you, be more excited or passionate than you.

For our church to see good things happen, I had to start believing good things were going to happen. I’m not talking about hype or hyperbole. I didn’t post, “Sunday is going to be the greatest service ever” on social media every week. The changes were more subtle and personal. I started telling people, “I’m proud of you, and I’m praying for you.” I started hugging people. I started saying things like, “I can’t wait to see what God does in your life.” Instead of preaching the contrarian’s point of view on topics like giving and prayer, I spoke to the majority and encouraged them to imagine what God could do in the life of a prayerful giver. A funny thing began to happen, as I started to expect and believe for more, so did everyone else.

Also related to this season of change for me was making sure the people closest to me were optimistic too. (My friend Kyle wrote about the importance of having optimistic leaders in this post.) I recognize that every church is not structured in a way that allows the pastor to select their governing boards, but we began to make sure the staff and elders were generally optimistic in nature. I don’t mean “yes men” who agree to everything, I mean people whose first reaction isn’t to tell you why an idea won’t work. We started empowering people whose first reaction is to say, “God can do it.” We embraced the motto, “It may not work, but let’s try it anyway.” The attitude shift began to change things. Since then, I’ve noticed in all the great churches I visit that generally the pastor and the people closest to them are generally happy, healthy people.

*Bonus Tip: The Book Circle Maker by Mark Batterson was an essential book for our team. It allowed us to talk about optimism in terms of faith. To this day it is a staple book for our church that new leaders read because we want them to dream big and pray big.

6. The Things You Want to Reject Are Probably the Things You Need to Accept

Without a doubt, the biggest challenge over the last decade has been leading myself. The hardest person to lead is the guy staring in the mirror every morning. When I first started pastoring, I knew everything, after I failed, I knew nothing. Neither of those beliefs is true. I’m not as smart as I feel on my smartest days or as dumb as I feel on my dumbest days, but a fairly consistent pattern over 10 years of leadership has been my propensity to resist the advice, changes, or conversations I needed the most. I heard Craig Groeschel say one time, “Whenever I hear a leader who is ahead of me, say something I want to reject, I’ve most likely identified where I need to grow.” I can attest to the accuracy of that quote in my life.

It is shocking over the years how often I have passionately defended ideas that weren’t working and written off ideas that were. I’m learning now to listen to the voice of resistance. I’m not talking about going against your convictions or violating your conscience, I’m talking about the stubborn pride that keeps you from changing styles, service times, fighting a pointless battle, or assuming something that has worked for others would never work for you. It’s amazing how many things started to go right after I learned how to admit to myself that I could be wrong.

*Bonus Tip – I’m training myself to pay attention to how often I use the phrase, “That would never work here.” It’s my natural response when something I need to do requires more work than I want to do, or I’m looking for an idea or advice that won’t require me to lead outside of my comfort zone.

7. Always Make the Staff Addition/Change Sooner Rather Than Later

Let’s talk about hiring first. Over the last 10 years I have come to terms with the fact that I need to be slightly ahead of schedule with hiring new staff, or I could say, feel slightly stretched with the amount of money spent of salaries. The tendency is to wait until you have the need and all the money to hire the staff person, but in my experience, growth requires being proactive. “Slightly stretch” is relative so you will have to determine how many knots your stomach can take, but the right hire changes the culture, teams, and results of a church.

The challenge of hiring staff is knowing when, who, and what to hire first. In my experience, you need to hire in the opposite order of the pastor’s strengths. Don’t use the traditional, “worship, student, associate” hiring pattern if that’s not what serves the best interest of the pastor and the church. Hire someone who can cut the pastor’s workload in half. Then your next hire needs to reduce the pastor’s remaining workload in half, and so on and so on until eventually the pastor’s left spending most of their time in their calling and sweet spot. If you’re hiring people but you’re workload is not decreasing you are hiring the wrong people or the wrong positions.

Now let’s talk about firing. It’s never easy, but in church, it feels more challenging than in the business world because so many relationships are interconnected. The hard truth is that if you are thinking about firing someone, you are having those thoughts for a reason. You may be right, or you may be wrong, but in my experience, it’s extremely rare for your attitude about an employee that has soured to turn around. Pastors typically wait too long to make a change and in the process damage the culture and unity of the leadership. My brother Jeremy wrote about how to fire an employee in this great post.

*Bonus Tip – I’m willing to bet if you’re frustrated and have been feeling like a change needs to be made for a long time, the other person is feeling it as well. I’m always amazed at how God prepares hearts and paths when we will pray through about our motives and attitude before we have the hard conversation.

8. Hire People Who Love Jesus, Love you, and are Good at Their Job; In That Order.

One of the biggest temptations in staffing is to hire the cheapest/most talented person you can find. Sometimes it’s a buddy from college, or sometimes it’s a recommendation from another pastor, but hands down, the best hires over the last 10 years for me were the hires who loved Jesus, loved me, and were good at their job, in that order.

If you spent more than a few days around my team you would hear this phrase several times, “will they stand in front of a tank for Hope City Church?” If the answer is yes we will find them a spot, if the answer is no, no matter how good they are what they do, we will find someone else, because their loyalty will be challenged way more than there competency during their leadership. For that reason, almost all of our hires have been from within. There is no substitute for a team with the right culture. My friend Brandon Stewart gave me great advice one time, “Don’t hire anyone who wouldn’t do it for free.” Naturally, I responded, “That would never work here.”

*Bonus Tip – If you consistently underpay people, they will consistently underperform. You’ll never have enough money to pay everyone what they’re worth, but don’t be surprised if you keep offering the bottom end of salaries and get the bottom end of candidates.

9. There Is No Substitute For Longevity

It was never my intention when I moved to Louisville 14 years ago to pastor one church for the rest of my life. I moved around a lot as a kid and always assumed I would do the same as an adult, but God had different plans, and if he answers my prayer, I will only pastor one church for the rest of my ministry.

I had a friend who has pastored his church for almost 30 years tell me, “years 10-12 will be when your church experiences the most progress.” I can’t speak for the future, but that has definitely been true up to this point. The sad reality is, with so many moral failures and pastors quitting, if you just avoid a scandal and love people in your community for the next 25 years, your church’s influence and impact will be more significant than you can imagine. For us, longevity has most affected areas of giving, culture, and unity. Once the congregation believed I was staying put, the buy-in went through the roof.

I want to be careful not to imply that every pastor is called to pastor one church for their entire ministry. The Apostle Paul didn’t. Some guys stay too long certainly, but in those instances where you can put down roots in a community for a few decades, there is no telling what God can do.

*Bonus Tip – Whatever you think will be easier at the next church, there will also be things that are more difficult. There is no such thing as a perfect church. Don’t trade short-term benefits for long-term influence.

10. You Will Grow As Fast As You Get People Serving On A Team

Every pastor has heard about the importance of empowering people to serve. The challenge is we assume people won’t or don’t want to serve because we asked them one time and they didn’t respond. I’m sure there are a few churches somewhere who have been able to grow in spite of a lack of volunteers, I just don’t know of any. In my experience, your church will grow as fast as you get people serving on a team.

A significant change for me was how I talked about serving. I used to use the traditional “beg and hope” approach until I realized one day that I was underselling the value of serving. The truth is, they need to serve more than I need them to serve. Once you believe that, it changes the way you recruit. We recently had a new family start attending our church, and over lunch, I said to them, “We would love to have your family at the church, we do need you, but honestly you need us more than we need you. Your family needs a place to grow, and you need a place to serve. If you don’t get connected to a great church, you’ll bounce around for the next 10 years.” Once I started believing that you need to do this more than I need you to do this, ironically more people wanted to serve, and the more people began serving, the more people started coming. Nothing is as crucial to the numerical growth of your church than assimilating guests onto a volunteer team.

*Bonus Tip – When it comes to finding leaders to lead and build volunteer teams the number one qualification, in my opinion, is the ability to recruit. It’s more important than organization and talent. In the early days of the church, the most important thing they can do is grow their team. Eventually you will need to put a seasoned leader in charge but in the beginning, look for energy.

Church Growth

5 Habits To Lead Healthy in 2019

Happy New Year. I love the rush of setting new goals and starting fresh, and I hope 2019 is your best year of leadership yet.

I was reading 1 Kings 19 last week, you know the story, Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal, and Jezebel threatens to kill him. As I read it, I thought about being a healthier leader in 2019. I can’t promise your ministry will grow this year, but I can promise that you can grow. The best thing you can do for your family and church is lead with a healthy heart. The results will take care of themselves. I talk more about focusing on health instead of results in Toxic Soul: A Pastor’s Guide To Leading Without Losing Heart.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah was freaking out, burnt out, depressed and anxious, and God uses 5 things to get him healthy. I believe these 5 things are the same things you and I need in 2019 to lead healthy. Let me give them to you.

If you would rather listen to this on the podcast than read it, click here.

1. Sleep/Rest

“Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree…” (v. 5)

It doesn’t sound spiritual, but the first thing God used to get Elijah healthy wasn’t a sermon, a book, a conference or an altar call, it was a nap. I can almost guarantee you need more sleep more than you need more meetings, sermon prep, bible study, or church services. Sleep more in 2019.

2. Good Food

“But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” (v. 5)

Good food is relative, but specifically I mean food that is nourishing. What you put in your body affects how you feel, think, and act. The food Elijah ate gave him the strength to travel 40 days. Is the food you’re eating giving you strength or making you more tired? You carry spiritual weight better with less physical weight… that’s a fact.

3. More Sleep/Rest

“So he ate and drank and lay down again.” (v. 6)

Sleeping is so essential to our health that God gave Elijah back to back naps. Are you getting the point yet? Research shows that people who get at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep are twice as likely to solve puzzles and problems as those who don’t. Our brains actually create new neural connections while we sleep. Go figure!

4. Experiences with God

“And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 12-13)

If all you do is rest and eat more healthy, you will feel better, but that’s not enough to be a healthy spiritual leader. Spiritual leaders need fresh spiritual experiences; times where you hear the gentle whisper of God’s voice. Truthfully you probably don’t need more revival services, conferences, earthquakes, winds and fires, you need to hear God’s voice.

5. Friendship

“So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field.” (v. 19)

Elisha told God he was done, but God told Elijah he wasn’t done until he invested in the next generation of leadership. Elisha gave Elijah a second wind. Friendship is a must in ministry. Find people who give you a second wind, make you laugh, encourage you, and cheer you on.

These are the 5 things God did for Elijah to get him healthy, and I believe these same 5 habits will help us lead healthy in 2019: Rest, Good Food, More Rest, Experiences with God, and Friendship.

Church Growth

5 Signs of Church Health That Matter More Than The Quality of Your Sunday Service (and Facility)

When I started pastoring a decade ago, church health wasn’t really on my mind. I was convinced the ingredients required to grow a church were simple: good music and good preaching. I grew up in a preacher’s home, and my background/skill set is in production-related areas, so I was determined to lead a church with the best artwork, lights, sound, talent, and sermons. I just knew if we were able to master those categories our church would grow into the vision I saw in my head. Relatively speaking we accomplished those things, our talent and presentation far exceeded the norm of a church our size, so I was dumbfounded when our church wasn’t growing, it was actually getting smaller, huh?

I still care about those things, but 10 years later I’ve learned that nobody else really does, at least not the people in my community we’re trying to reach with the gospel. Other pastors care about them, and church hopping musicians and singers care about them, but “John” and “Sarah” who live in the neighborhood across the street from my church have never heard of Hillsong, Steven Furtick, or Church of the Highlands. They don’t follow the churches Instagram account, and they scroll right past my preaching clips on Facebook. The best thing I can do for all of the people in my community who haven’t shown up yet, is focus on church health.

Is a spirit of excellence important, you better believe it, but is high caliber worship/preaching/ and facilities the key to churches under 500 in attendance breaking through a growth barrier, no. As churches grow, and guest expectations change, there’s an argument to be made that production quality must increase, but that’s a different conversation for a different time, this blog is about the characteristics of church health that are more important for the long-term health of your church than the quality of the worship, preaching, and your facility.

DISCLAIMER: When I say “things that matter more than worship and preaching” I don’t mean in the spiritual sense. Of course, nothing is more important than the presentation of the gospel. A church without worship and Bible teaching are doomed to fail. I’m talking about worship and preaching strategically.

Let me give you 5 signs of church health that matter to the long-term growth and health of your church more than the quality of the preaching, worship, and facility:

1. The Pastor’s Friends

I don’t know who said it first, but someone famous said, “Show me your 5 closest friends and I’ll show you your future.” As pastors, we preach this principle to our congregation all the time, but it’s also true for our lives. As I look back on the seasons of growth and progress in my ministry, every single time, those growth seasons corresponded with a new relationship God brought into my life. Jesus said, “you can’t put new wine into old wineskins.” I’m not saying you shouldn’t have lifelong friends, as a matter of fact, I believe lifelong friends are incredibly beneficial for your life and ministry, they provide stability when ministry is emotionally unstable. But I am challenging you to assess if you are surrounding yourself with other pastors who are trying to accomplish a similar dream God has put in your heart. As you assess your current circle of pastor friends are they cynical and jaded. Are they negative, gossiping, or rebellious? Do they encourage you? Are they dreaming new dreams? Are you speaking the same language? In my experience, when you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church, you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: When you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches. @jasonisaacs” quote=”When you find a pastor of a growing, healthy church you will find a pastor who is connected to a circle of other pastors of growing, healthy churches.”]

2. Volunteer Morale

I know you know this, but I’m going to say it anyway, you can’t pastor your church by yourself; it takes a team. Moses, in Exodus 18, learned this lesson from his father in law Jethro, and it’s timeless principle that still applies today. The more leaders you recruit, train, and empower, the more people you will be able to reach with the gospel. Can you imagine the exponential growth your church could experience if you had volunteer depth? If you had volunteers and leaders in reserve? That’s never going to happen if your current volunteers don’t’ feel encouraged, equipped, and empowered. If the people on the front lines aren’t excited about what God is doing in your church, it’s going to be hard to get the congregation excited. When volunteer morale is low, you end up replacing people because new passion give a jolt to the process, but eventually you have an endless cycle of new volunteers that never go the distance. At some point, you have to figure out how to have sustained passion, and the best way to sustain passion is by keeping morale up through appreciation, encouragement, and vision. In my experience when you find a growing church with momentum, you find a church with high volunteer morale and people who have been serving over an extended time in the church.

3. Unity

This is a no-brainer, the more unified your church, the more progress you will make, but I’m not just talking about the kind of unity where everyone is on the “same page.” That is a form of unity, but I’m talking about a deeper level of unity based on trust. A unified church embraces the mindset, “I may not agree with you, but I trust you.” Specifically in areas of vision or new ideas, “I may not agree with you, but I trust you are making best, most prayerful decision you can make.”

I’m always surprised at how many pastors I talk to who are trying to plow ahead with vision even though they haven’t been able to get the congregation or leaders to buy in, especially a pastor who just arrived at a new church. A lack of unity will kill any vision or momentum you have because, by definition, division means two visions. It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility if you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. In my experience, unity requires time, prayer, patience, and subtraction (people leaving the church.) When you find a growing church with momentum, you find a church completely unified on their purpose and style. There will always be people on the fringes trying to decide if they want to commit, but the more you grow the unified core, the more the church will grow.

[clickToTweet tweet=”It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility is. If you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: It doesn’t matter how high the quality of the worship, preaching, or facility is. If you have factions of your church who don’t trust each other or trust the pastor you will not be able to reach your God-given potential. “]

4. The Pastor’s Council/Leadership Team

Every church does it a little differently, but you probably have some type of leadership structure at your church. Whether it’s a council, elders, or deacons, the leadership structure has the potential to bring your church to a standstill or push you forward with momentum. My friend Kyle wrote a great post about the importance of having optimistic people around the pastor, in this post.

Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.” I’m not suggesting “yes men” who blindly agree to any dangerous idea, but I am suggesting a posture of support instead of suspicion. Brian Houston says it best about his team, “I don’t need you to support my vision, I need my vision to be your vision. In my experience, when I meet a pastor or visit a church that is experiencing momentum, life change, and growth, the leadership team is almost always filled with God loving, passionate, optimistic people.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.” @jasonisaacs” quote=”Nothing kills the dreams in a pastors heart than a leadership team who views their role as “protector of the past” or “guardian of the current.””]

5. Giving Units

This is the least “sexy” factor on the list, but it may be the most important because it speaks to all the others. It takes money to do ministry, that’s a fact, and giving speaks to church health; unity, buy-in, morale, and discipleship. There are different metrics you can use to define what healthy giving looks like in your church, but you better have people who are being discipled and believe in the vision of the church enough to prioritize tithing and giving. If not, the future of your church will solely depend on hope many people show up from another church where another pastor taught them to give.

This can be a touchy subject because we want to give people time to grow. We don’t want to be pushy, and we don’t want to offend anyone, but at the end of the day, if a large majority of your church isn’t tithing, you don’t have a tithing problem you have a vision/discipleship problem. The only way to fix it is to be a courageous leader who leads by example and has hard conversations. Jesus said, “where your treasure is where your heart will be” which means if the people who attend your church don’t give any of their treasure to the church there heart is not with the church. That stings, I understand, but it’s true. I wrote a lot more about creating a generous culture in your church in this post.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: If you refuse to teach on giving, your plan for increased giving is people coming to your church from another church where the pastor taught them to give. That’s a terrible plan! @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: If you refuse to teach on giving, your plan for increased giving is people coming to your church from another church where the pastor taught them to give. That’s a terrible plan!”]


5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of A Yearly Preaching Calendar

I started using a yearly preaching calendar in 2013. I was desperate for a way to plan ahead for my sermon series and ideas. Most weeks I was up late on Saturday night after my family was in bed trying to finish a sermon, or even worse, sometimes I was trying to come up with a sermon idea.

Over the years, I’ve used a few different layouts and resources, but what has worked best for me is a simple one-page spreadsheet that allows me to view the year at a glance and preach my best sermons at the best times.

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of an annual preaching calendar:

1. Start With Prayer and Fasting

As with most strategies and tools to help a pastor be a better leader, preaching calendars aren’t controversy-free. Some feel it is less spiritual to plan ahead, or that somehow God doesn’t inspire us in advance. My experience has been the opposite. My best sermons have come from months and months of time to think. Kind of like giving your sermons a chance to “marinate.” Any planning, dreaming, and scheduling has to begin with a time of prayer and fasting. You need God to inspire you with content beyond your ability. You need discernment to gauge the season of your church. You need God to burden you with the material. Preaching is a supernatural activity and requires supernatural intervention. Planning isn’t an absence of prayer and prayer better not be an absence of planning. You need both.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Planning isn’t an absence of prayer and prayer better not be an absence of planning. You need both.’  @jasonisaacs” quote=”Planning isn’t an absence of prayer and prayer better not be an absence of planning. You need both. “]

2. Use broad strokes

Often, when I talk to pastors about using a preaching calendar or planning your year, the response is “I could never have my sermons ready that early in advance.” I agree. To be clear, I don’t have my sermons ready that early in advance either; I have my ideas prepared in advance. For example, next year we’re taking 12 weeks leading up to Easter to preach through the Gospel of John. I know that for sure. What I don’t know is what 12 stories were using from John. After reading John a few times, I made some notes.  I know one week I’m going to preach on John 2 where Jesus made a whip and cleared the temple and the very next story he turned water into wine. Some people need to know Jesus makes whips and some people to know Jesus goes to parties. That’s all I know. I’ve written it down, and I will revisit it a few weeks before I preach, make sense? You don’t have to know specifics about your sermons right now, but you can know topics or themes you want to address. Don’t get caught up in the details.

3. Be strategic

If I’ve learned anything pastoring the same for 10 years, I’ve learned that church has a rhythm to it. If you go back and look at your stats and trends, you’ll probably find certain months where attendance is up or down, giving is up or down, group and volunteer participation is up and down. You can feel it instinctually, but if you keep records, you can verify with numbers. Whatever the rhythm of your church is, plan your sermons accordingly. When do you need to preach sermons about spiritual growth as opposed to outreach and evangelism? The right sermon series at the right season of your church can have a drastic difference.

[clickToTweet tweet=”The right sermon series at the right season of your church can have a drastic difference. @jasonisaacs” quote=”The right sermon series at the right season of your church can have a drastic difference.”]

For what it’s worth, your family has a rhythm too. There are seasons where life is more stressful or times that are better to leave town. Use the preaching calendar to maximize your families rhythm.

4. Think themes

Similar to seasons in your church, a yearly calendar has natural themes; capitalize on them. A few examples might be:

  • Talk about relationships in February
  • Family in November
  • Change in January
  • Outreach in August/March/December

It’s not an exact science, but there a few seasons where topics resonate more than other seasons. Over the years our thematic calendar has changed some. That’s why it’s important to start with prayer and fasting. For several years our relationship series in February was one of most significant, most impactful series, but we began to notice after 3 years that it wasn’t as effective, so we changed it up for a few years, and then brought it back in 2018. Don’t be predictable, dress up consistent themes with creative ideas and fresh content, and when it’s necessary to shake it up.

5. Get creative

Planning far enough out gives you the chance to involve others in the process, and gives you time to get the creative juices flowing. Find videos, write dramas, or plan special songs. For example, I have a playlist on Spotify called, “Creative Openers” that I put songs in any time I think they might be something our team could use to maximize the message. My worship pastor has that playlist on her phone as well. Your team will thank you for the advanced heads up. Also, as you read magazines or blogs, save articles or research that might be helpful because you know you’re preaching about that topic soon. Every creative piece of art, story, or data, adds a level of depth to your message that cannot be accomplished through last-minute planning.

If you haven’t downloaded the free 2019 one-page preaching calendar, provide your email address below and I will send it to you, along with my 2018 preaching calendar as an example you can use.

Also, be sure to read, “4 Reasons Every Pastor Should Use A Preaching Calendar.”


4 Reasons Every Pastor Should Use A Preaching Calendar

We’ve all done it; it’s Friday or Saturday, and you need a message for the weekend. As communicators, the biggest challenge we face is creating relevant and creative messages 52 weeks a year. And sometimes the inspiration or preparation is lacking.

Chances are you pulled it off, but how amazing would it feel to get ahead— to know what you were going to preach in 2 weeks, 6 weeks, or 6 months? What if you were able to be strategic about what you communicated and when you communicated it? What if you took Sundays off at the right times, and preached your best sermons on your biggest weekends? It’s possible!

I started using a preaching calendar in 2013 after years of frustration trying to create fresh content. We have fine-tuned our schedule and strategy over the years, and now it’s one our best tools for planning impactful services. I’ve downloaded a lot of other preaching calendars, and they all were helpful in different ways, but over the years I’ve found I really just needed a simple one-page spreadsheet to help me plan.

I’ve provided a free 2019 Preaching Calendar download at the end of this blog, but first, let me tell you why you should use one.

Using a preaching calendar has allowed me to do 4 things:

1. Preach a thematic calendar

That’s just a fancy way of saying I’m able to plan the topics I want to preach at the most strategic times. Don’t overthink it. January = Fresh starts, February/March = Relationships, April = Gospel, etc. Themes don’t have to be based on holidays; maybe you want to launch a church initiative, using a calendar would allow you to be strategic about the content you present before and after the initiative. A preaching calendar helps you think “seasons” instead of weeks.

2. Plan for rest

As I put together our preaching calendar the first thing I do is mark the weekends with the most potential impact. The second thing I do is mark the weeks I will not preach. There are several factors to why I don’t preach on a particular Sunday: high vacation season/low attendance, the conclusion of a series, a vacation with my family, just to name a few. By using a preaching calendar I know before the year starts what Sundays I will have off, and my goal is to have 10-16 Sundays off per year. I will still be in attendance most of those days or preach at another church, but I can be strategic about when and why by looking at the year as a whole instead of week to week.

3. Share the Platform

If I know when I’m preaching what I’m preaching, and why I’m preaching it, it’s much easier for me to decide the most strategic times to platform other communicators on my team. For example, by using a calendar and knowing all the holidays (major and minor) in advance, I know specific Sundays I won’t be speaking. With that knowledge, I can inform my team member months in advance, and they can know what sermons are being preached before and after them. They appreciate having extra time to prepare.

4. Collect research and stories

This is probably my favorite benefit of using a preaching calendar. Since I know the general topics I will be preaching over the upcoming months my antenna is up for any articles, videos, or stories that relate to my sermon. I keep an Evernote folder on my computer called “Stories/Illustrations, ” and when I find anything that could be helpful I save it to that folder with tags. Also, while I’m reading a book, I underline anything that could potentially be helpful, and after I finish the book, a volunteer in my church types the notes into Evernote for me. As I get closer to the sermon and begin to construct it, I have a lot of valuable resources to help me build a solid sermon with some extra elements.

Download a preaching calendar and sit down with your team, or just yourself, and think through all 52 weekends of 2019. Figure out the best way to communicate for the most impact throughout the year.

I have provided a one-page preaching calendar template I use so you can see the way we layout our year, but this is merely an example. Use your preaching calendar, however, meets the needs of your church best. You will find all the major holidays and events that affect Sundays. We’ve also broken up the year into a few different segments where the year has natural breaks. These are great times to start a new series. I encourage you to use this document and create more “breaks” of your own each time you start or stop a new series. Plan 2 or 3 big outreach series, plan a vision series, plan a money series, plan 2 spiritual disciplines series. The Holy Spirit can still inspire and guide your sermons; planning has never offended Him. Get ahead and enjoy your Saturdays.

Be sure to read, “5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of A Yearly Preaching Calendar” to get the maximum impact for your church.


The 7 Most Common Church Marketing Mistakes (and how To Fix Them)

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Every pastor wants to figure out how to get God’s message to more people in their community. If your church is anything like mine, you meet people all the time who say things like, “where is your church located, again?” Or “I’ve never heard of that church.” or “I’ve driven past that church a bunch of times, I never realized you guys were there.”

It’s not like we don’t want to reach more people, but we’re either unskilled in creative marketing, feel like we don’t have the resources, or we make simple church marketing mistakes. Week after week we hope more people will show up this week than last week, but we haven’t done anything different to increase the likelihood new people will walk through the doors. Don’t just hope more people will come next week, in the words of Jesus, “compel them to come.”

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: We hope more people will show up this week than last, but don’t do anything different to increase the chances someone new will walk through the door. Don’t just hope, in the words of Jesus, ‘compel them to come.’ @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: We hope more people will show up this week than last, but don’t do anything different to increase the chances someone new will walk through the door. Don’t just hope, in the words of Jesus, ‘compel them to come.’ “]

I can’t guarantee it, but I’m pretty confident if more people knew about your church, more people would come to your church, and more people would want to be a part of your church, so it only makes sense to maximize your marketing opportunities. But how?

The good news is that Jesus is building his church, so the success of God’s kingdom doesn’t rise and fall on the creativity of your Instagram posts, BUT God can and does use marketing as another touch point in people’s life. The more times your church has made an impression on a person’s brain, the more likely they will show up to your church when they are searching for God. So how can your church maximize your time and resources to get the most return on your marketing investment?

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Jesus is building his church, so the success of God’s kingdom doesn’t rise and fall on the creativity of your Instagram posts. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Jesus is building his church, so the success of God’s kingdom doesn’t rise and fall on the creativity of your Instagram posts.”]

There are lots of answers to that question. There isn’t just one way to market your church, but in the process of trying to discover the best ways to spread the word, you can waste lots of time and money, or even worse, send the wrong message about your church. So if you want to market your church effectively, be sure to avoid these 7 common church marketing mistakes.

1. Have No Plan

Most churches use a “spray and pray” strategy when it comes to church marketing; no schedule or strategy, just impulse/random social media posts. If you want to maximize your church marketing begin creating a plan by answering these questions:

Who is our target audience?

Yes, anyone is welcome at your church, but if you target everyone, you’re targeting no one. The number one question someone asks themselves when they are considering attending a church is, “Is there someone there like me?” The way you market your church can answer that question. Every marketing campaign your church performs needs a specific audience in mind.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: If you target everyone, you’re targeting no one. The number one question someone asks when considering your church is, “Is there someone there like me?” The way you market your church answers that question. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: If you target everyone, you’re targeting no one. The number one question someone asks when considering your church is, “Is there someone there like me?” The way you market your church answers that question. “]

What action do we want them to take when they see/hear our ad?

This is an action step. In the marketing world, it’s called a “call to action.” When someone comes in contact with your message what is the one thing you want them to do next. Text a phone number? Click a link? Come to an event? If you don’t clearly explain the next step, they won’t move in your direction. There are times when your marketing is simply for “brand awareness,” but you probably don’t have enough money to market endlessly so make sure whatever message you are broadcasting has a purpose and an action step.

Are we prepared if we get a good return on this marketing idea?

What if it works? Ha! Wouldn’t that be amazing? What if 100 more people show up this Sunday because they got your message? Would you be ready? If 1000 people click your link in 20 minutes is your website going to crash? If everyone who got your mailer comes to your Easter egg hunt, do you have enough eggs? If you expect your marketing to work, make sure your ready. If you don’t expect it to work, don’t do it!

How will we know if it worked?

After your marketing campaign is done, will you have any way of knowing if it worked? Will you have any analytics or data to review? If you’re using mail, is there a place on your connect card asking “How did you hear about our church?” If you’re directing people to your website are you using the free Google Analytics service? Make sure you have data. And if you’re paying an outside company to market for you make sure they provide the data. Before you sign a contract be sure to ask them what kind of data they can offer to show their plan has worked in the past.

What is the goal of this marketing idea?

If you can’t answer this question, don’t waste a second or a penny on marketing. You have to know the goal. Is it Sunday Attendance? Is it web clicks? Is it the number of people reached through radio? If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish how will you know when you accomplish it? There’s no wrong answer you just need to know the goal so you can use the best strategy.

The time and dollars you spend to spread your message are valuable, and I believe you are responsible for being a good steward, so the worst way to spend them is to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.

2. Don’t Take Advantage of Drive By Traffic

The number one marketing opportunity your church has is the drive-by traffic every day. Depending on where your church is located you have a few thousand people to as many as 50,000+ people whose eyeballs pass your church building every 24 hours. (Your city can give you that data by the way.) Think of the potential reach or damage you do to your church every day. When people drive by your church what message are you sending? Does it look like the kind of place I would want to bring my family? Does it look like it’s been foreclosed? Is the parking lot well lit? Is the sign up to date?

One of the things we did at our church is hang a 25ft banner, big enough to see from the street, over the stained glass window on the front of our building. Our building is old, but we want to send the message that our church is not. Another thing we did is cut down a large tree that provided more visibility. We’ve had a median that grows weeds in our driveway for 30 years, and we always tried to stay on top of the landscaping, but no matter how hard we worked we couldn’t keep it from being an eyesore, so we paid a company to tear the median out and give us a three-lane driveway instead of 2. Your church property is a billboard for your church, and thousands of people drive by every day drawing an impression about your church. What message are you sending?

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Your church property is a billboard for your church, and thousands of people drive by every day drawing an impression about your church. What message are you sending? @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Your church property is a billboard for your church, and thousands of people drive by every day drawing an impression about your church. What message are you sending? “]

3. Bad Stock Photography

When it comes to websites and Facebook ads, the easiest thing to do is “google search” a phrase like, “happy family” and then use one of the pictures from the search results (that’s illegal by the way.) This strategy poses 2 potential problems:

False Advertising

In your attempt to send an attractive, compelling message to potential visitors, be careful you don’t send a false message. If your church has no ethnic diversity, don’t post a stock photo of 5 friends who are black, Asian, Hispanic, and white. It’s not true. And if by chance someone shows up in response to your marketing and sees that you mislead them, they won’t trust you, and your marketing hurts you instead of helps you. We don’t do it on purpose. Our motives are pure, we want our church to be more diverse or younger, but honest advertising will always be more effective than false advertising.

Cheesy Quality

Probably more likely than false advertising, is just poor photo selection. People, especially younger people, want authenticity. And the photo example I’ve provided here is not authentic.

7 Biggest Church Marketing Mistakes

Let’s be real, the people who attend your church aren’t that perfect, spiritual, or happy. With a photo like this, instead of sending the message, “you’re welcome here” you send the message, “you probably won’t be good enough to fit in here.”

So if you want to be honest, authentic, and legal with your photos, what options do you have? First, try to use as many pictures of your actual church facility or church people as possible, but there are times when a stock photo is a better choice. Our church uses a mixture of stock and personal photos. Our criteria when selecting stock photos is, “Does it look like this photo could have been taken at our church? So for example, we use this stock photo from as the main photo on the front page of our website because

7 Biggest Church Marketing Mistakes

  • it shows a diverse range of ages
  • it shows a girl with a nose ring, which defuses any feelings of uptight religion
  • it shows a young couple
  • it shows a man carrying a baby carrier
  • it shows people stacking chairs (one of our campuses is portable)
  • It shows people wearing casual clothes

This photo could’ve very easily been taken out our church, but it’s better than any picture we had, and it only cost $10, so we purchased it and use it a lot.

I highly recommend for your stock photos. I don’t work for them, but I am a satisfied customer and asked them to offer some kind of discount to readers, so they were kind enough to provide this discount code with a 20% discount for the yearly subscription or the first month of a monthly subscription. You can also pay $10 per picture if you choose.

4. Not Using Email

In the age of social media, it’s easy to forget about good ole reliable email newsletters, but you’d be crazy to overlook email marketing because studies show that people are anywhere from 6x to 30x more likely to click on a link in an email over social media.

Keep in mind marketing doesn’t always have to be to brand new leads. As a matter of fact, your best chance at engagement will probably be with people who have already come in contact with your church; they just need a reminder that you exist.

What if you sent a weekly or monthly email newsletter from your church keeping relevant information on their radar. While we’re on that topic, do you do anything with the email addresses you collect from the guests who visit your church? Please tell me you are collecting email addresses from guests????

I wrote an extensive tutorial on how our church uses Planning Center’s FREE “People” software to follow up with every guest who visits our church. You can read that tutorial here.

There’s a fine line between being annoying and being helpful, figure out where that line is and maximize exposure to people who have given you permission to reach them by giving you their email address.

There are lots of email marketing companies you can use, but I recommend MailChimp, They have a free account for up to 2000 email addresses, and if you use Planning Center for your church database management (and you should) it syncs perfectly with MailChimp so you can send emails to your database in one step. Read more about that here.

5. Outdated Website

I could write a whole blog on this topic alone, and I probably will at some point in the future, but for the purposes of this article, let’s keep it as simple as this: your website is the front door to your church, and people will visit your website before they visit your church. Is your website sending the clear message, “you really need to visit our church because you will like it!” or is your website sending the message, “Something cool was happening 4 months ago, but nothing cool enough to update the website has happened since then.”

It’s easy to think that people don’t visit websites because they visit your social media pages instead, but that would be wrong, they visit both. The difference is when they visit your social media page they are most likely just browsing, trying to get a general impression of your church, but when they visit your website, they are looking for specific information.

  • Service times and address
  • General information about your beliefs and pastor
  • A video of the sermon (if available)

Here is a screenshot of the google analytics of our church website. Since Jan. 1 of this year, we’ve had 20,301 website views from 14,970 individuals.

7 Biggest Church Marketing Mistakes
  • 43% viewed the homepage
  • 10% viewed the “about us” page
  • 4% of those people viewed the “our pastor” page
  • 3% viewed the “sermons” page

More critical than cool youth group names, or a calendar of events is the images on your homepage and quality of the information in your pages. At our church, we use our website as a tool to reach visitors (people who don’t attend our church yet), and then we use the church blog to provide news and updates for everyone. Our website is NOT for our church members, we use social media for that.

I understand that having a good church website can be challenging if your limited financially and are not a “tech” person, but it’s too important not to do it right. I would go as a far as to say if you can’t have a good, updated, website don’t have one at all.

We just launched a new website for our church, and we used this $54 WordPress template. We had to customize it to fit our needs, but our total cost after hosting, WordPress templates, and stock photos was less than $400.

We use for our hosting and domains. They have plans for as a cheap as $3.95/month.

6. Not Taking Advantage of Facebook Ads

Facebook ads are such a powerful marketing tool, it’s scary. I’m sure you’ve experienced scrolling through your feed only to see ads for products you viewed earlier in the day; that’s not a coincidence.

Facebook ads allow you to target people of a certain age, in a specific zip code, with a specific interest. For example, you can show posts to people who are friends with people who like your churches page, in other words, you can market to people who are 1 connection away from people who are involved in your church. Those aren’t “cold leads” they are most likely people who have heard about your church through a friend.

Or consider the opportunity to maximize marketing dollars to show an Easter Egg video promo to women ages 22-42, who “like” the county public school Facebook page AND live in your churches zip code. With Facebook Ads, you can do precisely that.

Here is an example of a video ad our church did for Easter this year. We targeted only people living in the surrounding communities who were “facebook friends” with people who “liked” our churches FB page.

You’re Invited to Easter at Hope City Church

Are you going to church this Easter??? You’re invited to celebrate Easter with us at Hope City Church.

–> Fun Kid’s Classes
–> Exciting Music
–> Life Changing Messages

Saturday, March 31 @ 7:00pm
Sunday, April 1 @ 9:00am/10:15am/11:45am

We share real hope so people can have real life. Find more at

Posted by Hope City Church on Thursday, March 8, 2018

7 Biggest Church Marketing MIstakes

  • We spent $208
  • We reached 17,770 individuals
  • The video was watched over 5,000 times
  • 63 people clicked the link to go to our church website

You may consider that successful or not, you’ll have to decide what your goals are, but we definitely did.

The worst idea is to just boost a post for $20 with no criteria. The more specific you’re targeting the effective your reach. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the opportunity to use the most sophisticated marking tool of our lifetime for as little as $1 day.

7. No marketing at all

This is a long article with A LOT of information, and when it comes to branding, marketing, videos, ads, photography, and social media, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and do nothing., Don’t do that! The worst thing you could do is nothing.

Sometimes our strategy to reach people is just hope. We keep doing the same things and just hope that more people show up next week than the week before, but we have the most significant message in the world, shouldn’t we figure out the most effective ways to get that message out?

I’m not talking about marketing with wrong motives, or tricking people into coming, or creating hype, I’m talking about effective ways to tell people that their family would love your church and potentially fall in love with Jesus if they knew about it.

Whatever you do, do something. People need to know!

Church Growth

4 Reasons Church Attendance Goes Up But Always Comes Down

Let’s be clear at the beginning, you can’t grow your church. Well, I guess technically you could scheme your way to increased attendance numbers, but what I mean when I say, “grow your church” is much more than raising your headcount. When I say, “grow your church,” I mean growing people, growing leaders, growing groups, growing engagement, and yes in the process increasing attendance.

The challenge for any pastor or leader in their attempt to grow, is that with new growth comes new challenges. We believe the myth that a bigger church would be an easier church to pastor, but that’s not true. Every level of growth requires a new level of organization, leadership, structure, and systems. A big church is not just a larger version of a small church; it is an entirely different thing all together. What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go, and what gets you where you want to go will not get you to the next place you need to go. Each new level of growth requires new levels of leadership.

Go back and read that last paragraph again.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: A big church is not just a larger version of a small church, they are entirely different. What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go. New levels require new leadership. @jasoinsaacs” quote=”PASTOR: A big church is not just a larger version of a small church, they are entirely different. What got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go. New levels requires new leadership.”]

This new leadership, required at new levels I outlined before, is why most churches don’t sustain the spurts of growth they experience. I know based on your Facebook timeline and Instagram feed it feels like every church is exploding with growth, but it’s not. The stats tell us 65% of churches have plateaued or are in decline.

Typically what happens, and I speak from multiple experiences, is churches experience a growth spurt, but within a few weeks, months, or years, eventually the church returns to the place it has historically averaged; that is, if it doesn’t decline even lower than before. Why? Why does this cycle of grow-recede-grow-recede, happen time and time again? The answer is simple, but it isn’t easy. Why do churches not sustain their growth and cycle up and down in attendance year after year?????? Because growth requires change.

Remember that thought, because we’re going to come back to it in a moment. First, I want to show you something that changed my life and leadership.

7 years ago, Matt Keller introduced me to the idea of the S-Curve. You’ve probably seen it before in business or back in high school, but an S-curve shows the growth of a variable in terms of another variable, often expressed as units of time. In pastor terms, an S-Curve shows your churches attendance over time. I’ve provided an example for you to see…

The reason the s-curve is essential for a pastor and the life of a church is that we tend to believe that church growth looks like this….

but it doesn’t. That’s how it looks for .0001 of pastors and churches, but if you’re blessed enough to lead a growing church, church growth looks like an S-Curve: you grow, then you decline a little, then you regroup, and you grow some more, then you decline a little, then you regroup, and you grow some more. If everything works like it’s supposed to, your growth exceeds your decline, and over time your church is larger because the seasons of growth exceed the seasons of decline. Make sense?

I don’t want to belabor this point, but I think it’s critical you grasp this. The S-curve means that, if you have a church of 50 people, in order to be a church of 100 people you don’t need 50 more people, you probably need 100+ more people so 50 will connect with your church. If you pastor 200 people and want to break the 300 barrier, you don’t need 100 more people, you probably need 150-200 more people because not everyone will stick, and you will lose people who don’t want to be a part of a growing church (crazy that these people exist, I know, but it’s real.)

We know this intuitively, but when we get inspired or filled with faith about church growth, we get discouraged when growth doesn’t look or feel like chart 2. If it makes you feel any better, check out this revenue vs. profit chart from Amazon since 1998.

Amazon revenue vs. profit
Amazon revenue vs. profit

So when it’s done right, your growth outpaces your decline, and over time your church is larger because, not only have you raised the ceiling, but you’ve raised the floor. Sadly, for many churches though, instead of an S-Curve progressing up and to the right over time, you endlessly cycle back and forth between being “up a little” and then “back down” and then “up a little” and then “back down.” Let’s call this process the “loop of doom.” It’s when your church keeps repeating the same cycle of growth and decline season after season.

This was our church’s story for years. I’m willing to bet it’s yours too. We would grow from 225 up to 275-280 only to slide back down to 225 over and over again. Why? Why could we not grow beyond our loop of doom? Because growth requires change, which brings me back to my original point.

Everything I’m describing to you is a very real struggle for pastors and churches all over America, and to break the cycle, it will require you to do something different than you’ve always done. To put it plainly, a pastor of a church of 150 is not the same “kind” of pastor as a church of 50. A pastor of a church of 300 is not the same “kind” of pastor as a church of 1000. Not better or worse, just different.

The Bible provides a beautiful example of this in Acts. The church was growing, and new believers were being added daily, but all of the growth could have been halted if the disciples hadn’t made a critical leadership decision. Let me show you.

Acts 4:32
All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.

Acts 4 describes the picture perfect image of a thriving church. There was unity, power, and generosity. Every pastor dreams of pastoring a church like this. But look at the beginning of chapter 6.

Acts 6:1
But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.

This is what always happens, just so you know; more people means more problems. Every blessing has a burden.

So put yourself in the disciples’ shoes. Things are growing, giving is up, attendance is up, momentum is on their side when all of a sudden there are rumblings of discontent. Their problem was that widows weren’t getting fed, but that’s not your problem. Your discontent sounds more like:

  • “I just feel like since the church has grown, I don’t really know everybody like I used to. It used to feel more like a family.”
  • “Ever since the church started growing I can’t get a hold of the pastor like I used to. I feel like all he cares about is growing.”
  • “My family has been a part of this church for a long time, and now all these new people are changing things.
  • “Why are we starting another service? We still have seats open in this service.”
  • “Why are you asking the volunteers to get here early? Don’t you know how hard it is to get my family ready? We’ve never had to get here early in the past.”

I could keep going, because “rumblings of discontent” are like a second language in the church, but just know that everyone won’t be as excited about growth as you are. For them, growth means inconvenience. Whether they will admit it or not, they want things to stay the same, and the first chance they have to go back to “the way it was” they will take it. What’s keeping your church from growing is not a lack of opportunity, it’s a lack of change.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: What’s keeping your church from growing is not a lack of opportunity, it’s a lack of change. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: What’s keeping your church from growing is not a lack of opportunity, it’s a lack of change.”]

If you put the two verses together, you can see the loop of doom in real time…

Acts 4:32 & Acts 6:1
All the believers were united in heart and mind… but as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.

For so many churches, this pattern, repeats itself over and over again, season after season. Acts chapter 4 was so great, and Acts 6 feels so uncertain, so what did the disciples do?

Acts 6:2-4
So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

New levels of growth require new levels of leadership, and that’s what the disciples did. That’s usually not what we do though, is it? Our churches get caught in the loop of doom because when we face “rumblings of discontent,” we fight for unity instead of change.

  • We keep the underperforming staff member on the team because they have relatives in the church
  • We refuse to cancel a service only a handful of people attend
  • We over-commit ourself, to prevent being perceived as “not caring.”
  • We prioritize long-time members over new believers

Overcoming the discontentment of growth requires courageous leadership to push beyond the discomfort of change. If we’re not willing to change our leadership, we will continue to go backward in order to recapture peace instead of making progress.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: If you’re not willing to change your leadership, you will continue to go backward in order to recapture peace instead of making progress.@jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: If you’re not willing to change your leadership, you will continue to go backward in order to recapture peace instead of making progress.”]

So based on Acts 6:1-7, let me give you 4 potential reasons why your church can’t break out of the loop of doom and attendance keeps cycling up and down over and over again.

1. A Lack of Clarity In Your Calling

“We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.”

Contrary to popular belief, great pastors are not great at everything. Great pastors know what they’re great at, and double down on their strengths. I’m not suggesting that you only get to do the things you want to do, but until you are clear on what God has called you to do, you will spend all of your time doing what everyone else wants you to do. Food programs are a good thing, but not if you’re called to do something else.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: until you are clear on what God has called you to do, you will spend all of your time doing what everyone else wants you to do.@jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: until you are clear on what God has called you to do, you will spend all of your time doing what everyone else wants you to do.”]

2. An Unwillingness To Delegate Responsibility

“We will give them this responsibility.”

So what do you do after you clarify your calling? You delegate everything else. The disciples didn’t end the program, they delegated responsibility. Sit down and make a list of everything that gets done without you being involved. The larger that list grows, the larger your church will grow. My brother Jeremy wrote this great post about building leaders and delegating responsibility. You can read it here.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: Sit down and make a list of everything that gets done without you being involved. The larger that list grows, the larger your church will grow. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: Sit down and make a list of everything that gets done without you being involved. The larger that list grows, the larger your church will grow. “]

3. A Lack of Scalable Pastoral Care

“The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.”

My friend Kyle Jackson wrote this post about scalable pastoral care, so I won’t belabor the point, but just know that your church will not grow beyond the level the people stop feeling cared for. Most of the discontent that occurs during growth seasons is perception not reality. You’re probably still doing a great job caring for people, but as a church grows, you have to overcome the perception that you’re not available to or aware of the needs of the congregation. Which leads me to the last point.

4. A Need to Be Needed

“Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”

A pastor who needs to be needed, will never sustain a growing church over a long period of time; you will either burn out or get bitter. Contrary to popular opinion, it takes an unselfish pastor to grow a large church, because in order to grow they have to be willing to let go of things a “small” church pastor refuses to release. The praise or attention of your congregation can be intoxicating, but if you have to always make the visit, preach the sermon, take the meeting, you are the lid to your church. Of course, there are strategic times when the best player takes the big shot. I’m not saying don’t preach on Easter.

I heard Brian Houston say one time, “the most important thing a leader has to learn is when to be in the room and when to not be in the room.” His point was that insecure leaders always feel the need to be in the room, and oblivious leaders miss big moments when their presence is needed. A great leader knows when their absence is more valuable than their presence.

[clickToTweet tweet=”PASTOR: A great leader knows when their absence is more valuable than their presence. @jasonisaacs” quote=”PASTOR: A great leader knows when their absence is more valuable than their presence. “]

So what happened? Did the courageous leadership of the disciples pay off?

Acts 6:7
So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.

Growth requires change, and change can be scary, but if you will make the hard decisions and push through the “rumblings of discontent” you will continue to grow your church and grow your people. Be courageous.


September Sermon Series Giveaway

This month is giving away a 6-week series, “My Life Under Construction”

Sermon topics include:

  • Taking personal responsibility for the ruins in your life
  • The power of the favor of God
  • The importance of having the right people in your life
  • and more

Sermon Bundle Includes:

  • artwork files (title slide and scripture background slide)
  • 5-Weeks of sermon notes (one week was a panel discussion)
Church Growth Podcast

Episode 22 – How To Create, Communicate, and Protect the Vision For Your Church with Shawn Lovejoy

Click Here to listen and Subscribe on iTunes

Shawn Lovejoy is the Founder & CEO of His heart beats for coaching leaders and helping them conquer whatever’s keeping them up at night. Shawn has been a Real Estate Developer, a Church Planter, a Mega Church Pastor, and a coach.

In this conversation we focus on vision. How does a pastor discover the God given for their church, how do they communicate the vision, and most importantly how do they protect the vision.

Links mentioned in this podcast:

Be Mean About The Vision:
Courage To Lead Coaching:
August Sermon Series Giveaway:


August Sermon Series Giveaway

This month is giving away a 4-week series, “Long Hair Don’t Care”

Sermon topics include:

  • The reasons God asks us to live a righteous life
  • The importance of parenting on purpose
  • How to overcome temptation
  • and more

Sermon Bundle Includes:

  • .jpg and .psd artwork files (title slide and scripture background slide)
  • 4-Weeks of sermon notes