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Churches: Breaking the 125 Barrier

Churches: Breaking the 125 BarrierI attended the National Outreach Conference for my San Diego Reader Job (see Outreach Article). At the conference, while at a seminar led by Nelson Searcy, Breaking Attendance Barriers, a coupon was handed out for Searcy’s website.

About the Author
Nelson Searcy is the founding pastor of The Journey Church of the City in New York, NY. The Journey is an innovative, multicultural, multi-site church in Manhattan and is one of the fastest growing churches in the Northeast. Nelson previously served as the Director of The Purpose Driven Community at Saddleback Church. He is also founder of and

With coupon in hand, I purchased the Breaking the 125 Barrier CD for $5. The 45 min seminar offers a collection of pratical insight on how to ‘break through the 125 person barrier’ at a church. Here is the description on the website:

This CD contains teaching, motivation and ideas for breaking the 125 attendance barrier. Learn how to structure your staff, your budget and your church for dynamic growth. This CD includes:

* Why break the 125 barrier
* The challenge of 125
* The shift from Pastor-Shepherd to Pastor-Leader
* The pastor’s role in breaking 125
* The good, bad and ugly of breaking 125
* The top two decisions you must make to break 125
* The three big challenges in breaking 125
* The top 10 proven ideas for breaking 125

Searcy says the top three challenges at this size are Space, Small Groups and the Pastor.

Space: Have you identified a place that can grow you to 250 people? Meaning it will need to seat nearly 350 people based on Searcy’s 70% full principle.
Small Groups: Searcy says a church will need at least 12 small groups to break through the 125 level.
Pastor: Do you believe it is God’s will for your church to grow? Do you want your church to grow? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make this happen?

Searcy then provides 10 Ideas for Churches Break 125. In this, he offers suggestions like:

2. A pastor needs to transistion from a pastor shepherd to a pastor leader.
5. You will need to hire staff. “I have never hired staff with the money in the bank,” said Searcy. Hiring has to occur before the growth, done in faith.

These are just two of Searcy’s suggestions. On the CD Searcy offers eight other suggestions ranging from practical “to get irregular visitors to become regular, start a special series” to spiritual “always remember the harvest”. Where Searcy stops, he offers book suggestions to provide more depth in particular areas. (Sample book suggestions include: The E-Myth, Now, Discover Your Strengths and Next Generation Leader.)

Often the subject of church growth is frowned upon by those who say, “Why can’t you just preach the gospel and not be concerned with systems, space and business principles in the church?” Recently, I got in a conversation about these issues with another church leader. The reality is, even the early church had to change when Peter preached and 3000 people converted, they never met in the same upper room again. We all have processes and systems that are in place. Our God is a God of order, meaning there is good stewardship and serving of God’s people and bad ways to do it.

Many people who attend Kaleo Church for the first time are consumers. (They live in San Diego in the year 2005, how could they not be with the way our culture trains them?) They want to find a church that does things to their own preferences. Either we can stick our nose up at them and say “we’ll they should repent and sit quietly to hear the preaching of the Word the way we do it”, yet I believe churches have a responsibility to teach new people the reality of our sinful consumeristic hearts, and that doesn’t happen (typically) the first time they walk through your doors. Meaning, there is an element that we must be aware of the background of people who visit our churches and love/disciple them to a point of maturity in these areas. We need to build in systems and processes to think about how to lead people and set-up an environment that accomodates growth (hopefully through missional congregants converting those around them).

About this CD: Much of what is offered is common sense. Those who have relationships with church planting organizations (for us, Acts 29) these ideas have probably already been communicated through formal training or informal relationships. For those who don’t have these types of resources at hand, Searcy provides a resource to ‘check your sanity’ and think about the practical challenges of growing a church.

church, church growth, church planting

Also see: The TurnOut Solution: Solving the Problem of Plateau and Decline
Breaking Attendance Barriers


  1. Helpful post Drew. Becoming a practitioner you soon realise many of your ideals – albeit fine to hold onto and often necessary to do so – are just ideals without legs. So I value “how-to” theories like this because they often compliment the ideals.

  2. Dude, when preaching the gospel fails, just go “Purpose Driven.” 🙂

  3. Mike,

    Yours is a common response, mostly from preacher/teachers. (David is wired the same way.) You recognize the intangibles of these barriers from your planting Mars Hill. I remember before you purchased the Ballard Building (and there was no building) the challenges that led to people leaving the church. There was a lot of confusion and no one knew where the next Sunday was going to meet. If things had stayed like that, Mars Hill would have hit a barrier pretty hard.

    Of course without the gospel, all of this is meaningless.

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