Episode 9: Stagnant Ministries

Have you ever felt like your church was stagnant? Like some of the vibrancy had been lost?

You’re not alone. Especially after COVID-19, many churches feel like they are stuck on a plateau and don’t know how to get off. 

In this episode, we explore how to identify stagnancy in the church and how to get that forward momentum going again. Listen in and be encouraged!

This episode’s special guest

It’s a privilege to welcome Pastor Steve Blackwell to the podcast today. Pastor Steve serves as the lead pastor of Harvest Fellowship Church in Brighton, CO.

Today’s topic: stagnant ministries

Our topic today is stagnant ministries, and what to do when your ministry or church feels stagnant. We asked Pastor Steve what comes to mind when he thinks of a stagnant ministry.

For Pastor Steve, the word “stagnant” has enough negative connotations that he prefers to use the word “plateau.” When a church or ministry is on a plateau for a while, it feels like people don’t care anymore. They feel like they’ve lost their vision or direction.

A church can also be stagnant even though it looks like there is new growth. You may have lots of fresh life and new faces, but if your church is a revolving door, you aren’t actually growing.

Indicators that a ministry is stagnant

What are some signs that a church is stagnant?

Proverbs 29:18 says, “When there is no vision, the people perish.” Pastor Steve says that you can tell you are on a plateau if you see discouragement and hopelessness about where the church is going. When people feel like the obstacles are too big to get over and the church will never grow, they need some encouragement.

Encouragement for stagnant ministries

How can we encourage stagnant ministries that feel like they aren’t moving towards their goals?

Don’t compare your church to other churches. A mega church might have many people in attendance, but that won’t keep your church from growing. Not everyone wants to be at a megachurch, and there are plenty of people looking for a church just like yours.

Stagnation isn’t just about numeric growth, either. Your church could be stagnant from a numeric growth standpoint, but actually be growing and thriving in other ways within the church body. If your congregation has a desire to serve in the life of the church and build relationships with one another, you aren’t nearly as stagnant as you may feel.

Advice for churches who want to attract more youth

What about a church that has an older congregation with no children? That alone can feel like stagnantion. How can that church attract more youth?

If you want to have kids in your church, you have to have a place for them. Take a look at the resources you have for youth. Is there anywhere outside for them to play and hang out? Do you have people who would be willing to start a youth ministry? A lot of churches desire to have youth, but don’t have a place for them.

Pastor Steve’s church recently installed a grassy area outside with a fire pit and basketball hoop as a place specially designed for the kids.

Whatever demographic you’re trying to attract, you need to prepare to meet their needs and have a place for them.

Is there a connection between the board culture and church culture?

Yes! A church rises and falls with its leadership. If there is stagnation within the board, it will eventually become the culture of the church. Pay attention to how individual board members are doing in their relationships with the church and with Jesus. Vibrancy in the board will produce vibrancy in the church.

So, what is the path toward vibrancy?
Many churches feel like they used to be vibrant, but aren’t any more. For many of us, a lot of people left the church during COVID-19. How can we revive our churches?

Pastor Steve has a saying: “Eye on the pulpit.” What he means by this is that the culture you want to build in your church can be built from the pulpit. As pastors, you should use the Scriptures to describe the kind of culture you want. Eventually, it will end up happening!

Of course, you need to keep reinforcing that culture over time. The board should also be united in their vision for what the culture should be like.

How to engage a stagnant congregation

If you’re a pastor or board member who sees stagnation in your church, there are ways you can engage your congregation. Pastor Steve says the core of engaging your people is to disciple them. Get together with people one-on-one, and start creating the culture you want to see. There’s no shortcut to this one, you just have to build those relationships!

Encouragement for discouraged pastors

There are a lot of pastors right now who are feeling discouraged about the state of their church or ministry. Pastors tend to look at the long game and focus on what their church “should” be rather than what it is.

Pastor Steve says to forget the long game for right now, and just learn to preach, lead, and become friends with your congregation.

Don’t underestimate the value of finding a coach! Pastors need encouragement and advice from outside their own congregation. Go to other pastors you look up to and ask for advice and coaching.

To the pastor who’s ready to quit

Maybe you’re past the point of feeling discouraged, and you’re ready to give up entirely. Don’t!

Being on a plateau can feel more dire than it actually is. With an estimated 20% of people leaving the church right now, it would be nearly impossible for most churches to keep up in terms of new congregants.

You might be doing really well, and it just doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Right now, the church is living in a place more like Babylon than Christendom. A thriving church will look different in this environment than in a culture that is more friendly to the church.

Fundraising ideas for churches

A lot of churches – especially churches that are on the smaller side – don’t know how to fundraise. But many things that can help get your church off the plateau require funds. Imagine trying to add youth group activities, church building improvements, or church fellowship meals without any additional money in the budget! Invigorating changes like this require funds.

Here’s a few ideas for churches to raise extra funds:

1. Let a school or co-op rent out your church space a few days a week. A small change like this can bring in several thousand extra each month.

2. Sell something! Pastor Steve gives an example of someone in his congregation who sold fireworks to raise funds for the youth budget. This allowed them to have fun youth events that every student can take part in without finances being a barrier.

3. Make use of all your resources. Harvest is currently considering turning an unused 5 acres of land they own into a park that they can rent out to the city for little league events. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Raising funds for new projects can reinvigorate your church and bring new vibrancy.

As you do this, pay atention to your return on investments. This isn’t always going to be financial; often your ROI will be people, support, and encouragement to the church.

Book & resource recommendations

One of the best resources is other pastors in your area. Pastor Steve went to a church a few miles down the road from Harvest and asked the pastor to meet with him and coach him. He recommends that any discouraged pastor do this. You don’t have to go it alone!

Another great practice is to do a simple exercise every few years with the board.
Ask these two questions:
1. What would we be known for in our community?
2. What do we want to be known for in our community?

Finally, Pastor Steve recommends a book that was life-changing for him: The Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels. The take-home message of the book is that we are inviting our congregation into what we’re trying to do as a church. The book’s challenge is that you should be asking people to volunteer and serve the church much more than most church leaders feel comfortable with.

Final thanks to Pastor Steve Blackwell

Huge thanks to Pastor Steve Blackwell for joining us today and sharing his insight!

In this episode:

0:00 – Introduction
0:50 – This episode’s special guest
1:43 – Today’s topic: stagnant ministries
5:15 – Indicators that a ministry is stagnant
7:16 – Encouragement for stagnant ministries
10:12 – Advice for churches who want to attract more youth
13:30 – Is there a connection between the board culture and church culture?
19:30 – How to engage a stagnant congregation
22:30 – Encouragement for discouraged pastors
31:35 – To the pastor who’s ready to quit
33:41 – Fundraising ideas for churches
39:32 – Book & resource recommendations
44:45 – Closing thoughts


Resources Mentioned:

The Volunteer Revolution by Bill Hybels


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