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August 6, 2016

Don’t Be the Bottleneck

By Ron Sylvia

I love helping churches uncover growth opportunities!  And oftentimes, while leading churches through this strategic process, I uncover something else.  A bottleneck! The dictionary defines a bottleneck as a point of congestion or blockage. As the lead pastor, you must continually develop as a leader or you risk becoming the bottleneck for your church’s growth. 

Effective lead pastors learn how to lead larger by continuing to grow, challenge and develop their own leadership skills and by making necessary leadership shifts along the way.

Leadership Shift

The first leadership shift takes place in what a lead pastor does on a daily basis.

Howard Hendricks, a beloved professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, once said, “The secret of concentration is elimination.” A true leader learns the art of elimination. Long before there were books written on this subject, I learned the art of elimination the hard way.  While at a staff retreat, our worship pastor challenged me to stop trying to do all the things I thought were part of my job description. 

On a whiteboard, we listed everything I was responsible for at The Springs.  The list was twenty-seven items long.  On another board, we made a list of what I needed to be doing, those specific things that only I am called to do.  The list included only four items: teach, cast vision, lead the church, and pray for God’s direction.  I still vividly remember him standing up in that conference room and saying, “This is easy. You have to stop doing these twenty-three other things.”

It was not easy. There were good things on that list, things a pastor was supposed to do.  But it was a necessary shift for our continued growth.  As a result, weddings are no longer on my “to-do list.”  I still DO weddings, but not every wedding.  Though I counsel from time to time, counseling is no longer in my job description. Funerals are not regular functions for me anymore.  These were painful choices, but the staff was right.  I had to let go to grow myself and to allow our church to grow.

This leadership shift must happen as a church grows beyond 200 people.  Rick Warren says that “as a church grows, two things have to happen: the pastor has to give up the ministries and the people have to give up the pastor.”  You can grow a church to 200 with ministry skills, but you grow beyond 200 with leadership skills.  Giving up the ministry means you’ll need to learn to delegate and even allow others to fail. 

Are you the bottleneck in your church’s growth?

Take 20 minutes to assess your current reality. 

  1. Pray for God’s direction.
  2. List all the things you are currently doing. 
  3. Next, list the things you, and only you, are called to do. 
  4. Create an action plan to eliminate the barriers. 

Your action plan may require nothing more than a small shift in thinking or it may require a strategic intervention like I experienced. 

We have an overwhelming abundance of leadership training at our fingertips, more than any other generation. Avail yourself of training and conferences. Attending at least one conference a year is essential for the growing leader.  Remember, the skills used to grow your church to 200 will keep it from growing beyond 200. As the leader, it is imperative that you are willing to make the shift; an effective leader has to be reinvented every several years. 

Challenge yourself to lead larger, as if your church was twice the size it is. If you don’t know what that looks like, enlist a mentor or coach who knows the way.  Intentionally look for ways to learn from leaders who are running the path ahead of you.  Expose yourself and your staff to healthy churches further along than yours. Utilize their experience.

If you need guidance identifying the bottleneck in your organization, I am happy to help.  Keep growing.  Learn from others.  Don’t be satisfied continuing to do what you’re doing.  Remember the bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle.


Ron Sylvia

Ron Sylvia (@ronsylvia) is the founding and lead pastor of Church at The Springs in Ocala, Florida, and Director of NEXT Churches: Nuts & Bolts Church Planting (http://www.nutsandbolts.org). With over 3500 in weekend attendance, Church at The Springs meets in three locations. While leading a fast-growing church, Ron learned firsthand the value of mentoring & coaching. As a result, Ron started NEXT Churches, a national network of practitioners equipping planters and lead pastors to start & lead healthy churches. Ron is a Strat Op Facilitator of the Tom Paterson Strategic Planning Process, using the process to help pastors think & act strategically in the local church. He is the author of Launching a Purpose Driven Church conference curriculum and authored his story and methods in the book, Starting New Churches on Purpose. Ron & his wife, Teddi, are overjoyed to be surrounded with family in ministry, but especially love their two grandsons.


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