7 Dangerous Mistakes Made By Fast-Growing Ministries
By: Jay Mitchell August 19, 2014
Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to have been part of several fast-growing organizations in both ministry and the marketplace. I loved the energy, the pace, and the unique challenges of leading through a season of growth. But for all the fun and excitement, it can also be a very dangerous time for both the organization and the leader.
Decisions we make during that season can either set us up for long-term sustainable health and growth or can set us up for a serious derailment down the line.
1. Assuming that what got you there will keep you there
Organizations, like people, need to adapt to changing environments and circumstances over time, because the world in which we live changes constantly. When our organizations or ministries experience rapid growth, we tend to focus only on managing that growth rather than thinking strategically about where our organization is heading and the potential challenges that may be ahead. You may have a great vision, but the initial strategy that led to rapid growth may not work for the long haul as circumstances change and as your organization outgrows the initial strategy.
The marketplace and the ministry world are littered with now-defunct or irrelevant organizations that had a great idea, grew quickly, but could not adapt to changing realities. While we shouldn’t abandon the compelling vision that fueled the growth, we will need to pay attention changes around us that may require a change in strategy, organizational structure, roles, and even personnel as the organization matures and adapts.
2. Building systems and programs that aren’t scalable as your ministry or organization grows
One vital question leaders of fast-growing organizations need to ask is this: Can your staff, systems, programs, and style adapt and continue to grow if you have 20% or 50% more people coming to your church in one year? And have you put systems in place that can grow with you? What about your staff? Can they manage and lead effectively as you grow or will they hit a ceiling where they are no longer effective?
3. Assuming that the growth rate will go on indefinitely
I was part of a church that saw rapid growth over several years, and it was blast. People were coming in droves, and when they did, the feeling of expectation was so thick you could cut it with a knife. Every weekend was a happening. Income was exceeding expenses by an astounding amount each week, each month, each year. We made what we thought were strategic and God-honoring decisions to expand the organization.
What we didn’t count on was that the economy was about to crash, and we were not prepared for it. We hadn’t planned on the downturn and were forced to cut programming and people. Remember Joseph? In a season of plenty, he set aside a portion that could be used to sustain Egypt through a season of famine. It’s wise to be prepared for the worst while making the most of the season of growth.
4. Playing it too safe
The other side of the coin of not planning for slower growth is not being willing to continue taking the risks necessary to reach more people. I see this all the time in churches. An entrepreneurial leader plants a church with a bright vision, and lays it all on the line. No risk is too great to reach people. They’ll try anything to reach the lost. The church begins to grow, and then organization grows to support it. And suddenly the risks that seemed so easy to take when there was nothing to lose become harder and harder to take. There are employee’s families to consider and a budget to maintain. There are policies and procedures that must be followed.
While it’s critical to create systems and processes that will allow an organization to mature and maintain itself, those systems and processes need to support and encourage continued creativity and risk-taking in order to achieve the vision around which the organization is built.
5. Hiring or keeping the wrong people
Nothing can derail a fast-growing organization like hiring (or keeping) the wrong people can. Sometimes the staff that got you where you are won’t be the staff who will get you to the next level. I’ve seen fast-growing organizations keep a staff member in a role where they were clearly in over their heads, simply because they had no one else to do it and weren’t willing to risk that person’s feeling to move them to a place where they could be more successful. They’d been a part of the organization since the beginning.
Fast-growing organizations can also have a kind of institutional arrogance where they think no one else could ever “get them,” so they tend to want to hire only from within. While raising up new leaders from within is a great plan, when your organization is growing rapidly or when it has grown beyond the current team’s capacity to lead it, it’s critical to go outside the organization and find someone who has the skills and experience needed to help the organization continue to grow in a healthy way.
6. Not saying no to good things so that you can focus on what you and your organization do best
As your ministry or organization multiplies, so will opportunities for you to lose focus. You may be asked to speak at conferences or write a book. New ventures will constantly present themselves that promise to expand your reach even further. These all may be very good things, but if they distract you from your compelling vision and mission, it would be wise to say “no.” As your organization grows, the leaner you need to be. If you don’t already have one, gather a group of trusted advisors (whether elders, board, or trusted friends) who are committed to helping you stay on mission to help you sift through opportunities and focus on what you do best.
7. Failing to guard your heart
Many gifted leaders of fast-growing organizations can experience burn out or moral failure if they don’t take this verse seriously: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Leading takes a toll on us, especially when our organization is growing quickly. It’s easy to let down our guard or lower important moral or ethical boundaries if we’re working ourselves to exhaustion just to keep up the pace. It’s easy to fall in love with growth itself – the pace, the adrenaline, the accolades, or the material benefits of growth – and lose sight of why we are doing it in the first place. It’s a subtle but effective temptation that can and will derail you and your organization.
Leaders, as you make decisions for your church, ministry, or organization, strive to focus on not just the immediate growth, but what is best for long-term sustainable health. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
What are other mistakes leaders of fast-growing organizations sometimes make, and how can you avoid them?
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