How To Break Growth Barriers

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Have you ever wondered how to grow a small church congregation? Have you every asked yourself: “How can I better lead my church in its present condition? How can I more effetely lead my church into future growth? What are going to be some of the obstacles and challenges that we will face as we hit different “milestones” in our church size?”

All of these are questions that are frequently posed by pastors and church leadership. In order to help answer these questions, and others, Baker Books has reprinted a book from 1993, though “for this edition, every single paragraph has been revised and updated in some way” (15). The book is by Carl George and Warren Bird, and is titled How to Break Growth Barriers: Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church

The Main Point

Though I do not tend to be big into church growth book, I found this book quite helpful and insightful in its intended purpose. While there are things throughout that I would disagree with and find quite dangerous (listening prayer, praising a clear word-of-faith false teacher, etc), the one main point that the book drives home, and drives home well, is this — In order for churches to minister effectively and reach the God-given vision for that church, its pastors must move from doing all of the ministry to equipping others to do the ministry.

This is the driving point and focus behind the entire book. The authors say:

“I suggest and will affirm this underlying principle throughout this book … A systems-based approach of empowering others, when prayerfully operated in dependence on the Holy Spirit, is the most effective way to deliver the most widespread continuing infusion of desperately needed care. It also models most closely the way Jesus worked with His twelve disciples” (21).

A Common Problem

The simple fact is — Many pastors are workaholics that, for a variety of reasons, often put the pressure on themselves (or have the pressure put on them) to have their hands directly involved in every aspect of ministry that goes on in the local church. And the effects of this are disastrous — burnt out pastors, a culture of dependency in the congregation, neglected wives and children, and more. And as a church grows, it becomes more and more impossible to live up to this sort of model (or the effects become more and more disastrous). Regarding these pastor, the authors say humorously, though insightfully, “They do not demonstrate wise leadership if they provide all the ministry themselves, even if they do discover how to clock in a twenty-five-hour day” (22).

A Paradigm Shift

In contrast to this sort of the-pastor-does-all-the-ministry model, the authors of the book suggest a paradigm shift in leadership. They say, “In short, I suggest a changed paradigm for church leadership. You must shift from trying to do all the caring, which often means you do it yourself, to seeing to it that people get cared for, which means you develop and manage a system of caregiving that will include as many of your church’s lay leaders as possible” (26).

This paradigm shift is easier said than done — it is going against the very church culture that many pastors have grown up in and ministered in for decades of their life. But if the church is going to grow, not only numerically but more importantly spiritually, our pastors have to see themselves not primarily as doers but as equippers

What follows in the rest of this book is a sort of blueprint and “how-to” to make such a shift. Beginning with the first 5 chapters, the authors help the reader identify his vision for the church. Everything that comes next must be rooted in a biblical vision of what God would have that individual church and pastor accomplish in its ministry. The next 4 chapters involve helping the pastor redefine his role. This is the paradigm shift that the authors are arguing for. Finally, the last 4 chapters deal with some specific situations and advice for breaking the 200, 400, and 800 barrier in church size. Each of these milestones comes with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, so the authors devote a separate chapter to each.


While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book for all people, because of some of the disagreements mentioned above, I do think that the book does one thing excellently — This book helps pastors see that, biblically, their role is not to be the primary doers in the congregation; rather, they are to be the equippers of the congregation, enabling and empowering them to do the work of the ministry.

This is a much needed paradigm shift for many pastors and churches today, including myself. I was greatly challenged, encouraged, and strengthened by this reminder in this book, and for that reason, I am happy that I read the book and would encourage you to do the same.

In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Baker Books for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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