4 Critical Turning Points Your Church Must Tackle
History is filled with decisive “turning points,” key moments when the outcome hangs in the balance, and the future will be determined by the outcome. We just passed the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the true turning points in American history. If Pickett’s Charge, on July 3, 1863, had succeeded, the Confederate Army probably would have marched into Washington, D.C., and the resulting history of the United States could have been much different. This was certainly a turning point for our nation.
Churches and ministries have “turning points” as well, decisive moments when the future of a church will be determined. Here are a few that I experienced when planting a church from scratch and watching it grow to over 2,000 regular attendees. Your ministry context may be different and have other turning points, but I hope sharing my experience with you will help you tackle these turning points with confidence.
1. When to purchase property and build a permanent facility.
One of the big turning points for a church is when to purchase property and build permanent facilities. The church I pastored rented space for Sunday services for the first seven years. That was quite a chore when the church was running over 600 on Sundays. But I have witnessed churches too eager to buy and move into permanent facilities, which thwarted their growth. Some churches buy too soon or too small. There used to be a maxim that the average American church will grow to 100 times the number of acres it has in Sunday morning worship, so if a church buys five acres, odds are it can grow to an average attendance of 500. Now there are churches that bust out of that on both sides of the equation, but it's a measurement to think about. Also, why would you buy already existing facilities if it is a step down from what you are renting? I have seen churches buy everything from a house to a former bank to an insurance agency office. In most cases, it did not help the church grow to its potential.
2. Identifying and selecting leaders for the church.
For newer churches, the selection of church leaders is a huge turning point. Two words of advice: go slow. I have seen fledgling churches ruined by having put the wrong people in leadership positions. The church I led had two leadership groups (besides staff): a leadership team (the visionary board) and elders (people shepherds). The church was two years old before we had the first Leadership Team, and the church was seven years old before we had elders (we wanted a plurality of elders, and the church was mostly new converts). One of the key moments for the church was selecting the right people to be in places of church leadership. As has been said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.”
3. Adding additional worship services.
When do you add more worship service times? This is a big turning point for churches. The church I served started from scratch, so there was not a large number of people at the beginning. We had oneworship service for the first five years. I am a big believer in having a “critical mass” in a service. You have to have that energy in the room that helps believers participate and makes a nonchurched person want to be there. When we started a second service, still in rented facilities, one of the services was pretty sparse. People don’t laugh as readily, react as much, sing as loud, and it is hard for guests to blend in. More worship time options don’t necessarily bring growth. As Bill Hybels has said, “You have to have empty seats at optimal times.”
4. Hiring additional staff.
When do you hire additional staff, and for what role? Some time back I wrote a blog titled “Is Your Church Lean?” Leadership Network did a study some years ago on labor costs in local churches in America. The average church spends about 50% of its budget in labor-related costs. Lean churches spend 35% or less. The average church has one full-time staff person for every 70 attendees, while lean churches have one full-time staff person for every 86 attendees. A key staff person can be a “force multiplier” for a church. At Vanderbloemen Search Group, we help churches all over the country find force multipliers for their staff.
What other “turning points” have you seen in your local church?