Several years ago, I was challenged as a youth pastor to give my leadership away — delegate, delegate, and delegate.
The challenger warned me that I could only reach so many people, but if I delegated and empowered, I could lead larger ministries with longer reaches and greater sustainability.
The challenger mentioned that my personal limit of people I could effectively influence was likely around 120-150.
If I could influence leaders, the ministry could grow beyond my personal limits.
One blog I read (ChrisBrogan.com) shares the source behind the social limit of real relationships that a person can maintain.
There’s a theory called Dunbar’s Number that suggests there’s an upper limit to the amount of relationships we can maintain. If you’re interested in networking, this should be an issue. That number, for the record, is 150.
Implications for pastors
I know of a church plant that started about nearly 10 years ago. I checked in on it recently, and the pastor reports that it has plateaued about 125-135 people for the past five years and that the turnover rate is about 45% each year.
New people come in, other people leave after about a year or two. The net effect is that the congregation has remained numerically stable.
This church is a single pastorate, and the pastor has a leadership style where his hand is in everything.
Pastor sets the direction (with a board of government), pastor runs the small groups, pastor runs the worship service and no ministry gets started without the pastor’s initiative. Recently pastor split up the small groups into different areas, but he still maintains a pretty tight involvement with the leaders.
Pastor lovingly leads it all. There is joy in the congregation, no complaints, and for this church this type of leadership functions.
It’s not a dictatorship and pastor is not a control freak. He gets joy out of being involved.
Now, before you agree with me that this is
- Not healthy, or
- A recipe for burnout or
- Effective in a small church, or
- Leadership style that hinders further growth
let me connect it to the point.
1. The church will not grow any larger.
If Dunbar’s number holds true, the limit of a single pastor who feels the need to be involved in everything will be about 150.
It seems to me that the congregation has reached the practical end of its growth unless the pastor gives and empowers leadership to raise up their own networks.
2. Leaders leave because they can’t serve or lead.
This church leadership model does not delegate and empower leadership of other ministry. It doesn’t effectively raise up others to lead their own network of 150.
Not having a place to serve or contribute their gifts after a while, solid believers leave for a place where they can serve.
This particular congregation is at a stage of church growth. If it wants to continue its dream of fulfilling its particular calling, one thing that must change is the leadership style.
Implications for Church Planting
I know it’s not as simple as waving a wand to make a solution, but if you are wondering why your church isn’t growing — perhaps you’ve maxed out the social limit of your leaders?
How much leadership can you give away to trusted and respected leaders?
With regards to evangelism training in your church’s DNA, is the pastor in charge of it all, or is that delegated as well to empowered leaders?
One church planting coach that I have gotten to know uses Jethro’s advice to Moses — delegate and empower. Put people in charges of 50s, 100s, and 1000s.
Implications for Church Visitor Retention Rates
There are practical implications here as well to keeping church visitors in your midst.
In the church I describe, the back door is as big as the front door.
People come and perhaps stay connected for a little while, but without the empowerment to lead and serve in ministries, they may likely take their gifting elsewhere where they are needed.
Your church is working hard at retaining visitors and building connections, but the leadership DNA won’t let it grow.
Could this issue — 150 people per pastor — be part of the reason? Take a look and think about it for a while. Add your comments below.
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