Most of us have seen hot youth ministries or churches suddenly crash. Why does that happen?

Business guru Verne Harnish has researched the same phenomenon in the business world. He noticed that rapidly rising companies often kill themselves at the same time they are growing like crazy. In fact, it’s because they are growing like crazy, says Harnish. 

In his book, “Scaling Up” Harnish identifies four things that sabotage growing organizations. Then he tells you how to identify which ones are about to knock you out. Or if you’re in the early stages of ramping up, this book tells you the four things to pay attention to as you grow.

The four words start with S, P, E, and C, so I’ve been telling people these are the SPECs for successfully growing any organization.


Is your plan clear to you and to everyone on your team? And is it any good? “You don’t have a real strategy if it doesn’t pass two tests,” writes Harnish. “First, does what you’re planning to do really matter to enough people; and second, does it differentiate you from your competition?” 

If you do have a good, clear strategy, make sure you share it clearly with your team. If we’re successful in reaching more students, we eventually get to “the size at which senior leaders no longer know everyone’s name” and we can’t be at every event to set the tone. If we haven’t articulated clear “values, purpose and core competencies,” the culture will start to unravel as we grow.


Do you have enough people to support your growth? Are they a great fit and have you bothered to train them? If not, the growing enterprise will collapse. Harnish offers this clear test: “Would you enthusiastically rehire (or recruit) everyone, knowing what you know today? … It’s a painful question that requires one to face the brutal facts and make changes. If you fail to address these relational issues head on, they will continue to drain your emotional energy.” 

For tips on how to deal with your most difficult people, check out “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson. In youth ministry, sometimes the biggest “people” problem is the youth pastor. We love being the genius who makes everything work, but you’ll kill a growing ministry if you insist on controlling it all. “The bottleneck is always at the top of the bottle.”


“Along the journey, there is a set of habits – routines – that will make your climb easier. The routines set you free,” Harnish advises. “Set a handful of priorities,” he writes. What will you excel at, no matter what? What two or three things will you measure – Event attendance? Conversions? Volunteer-to-student ratio? And what habits will keep your team on track? An annual calendar? A curriculum plan? Excellent communication? In youth ministry, nothing kills a youth group faster than a super charming quarterback who has no playbook and no idea what he wants the rest of the team to do. Check out our website for some free tools that will help you execute better


Harnish’s advice here is pretty straight-forward: “Don’t run out of it. This means … paying attention.”  A youth leader who lives outside her budget – or doesn’t keep a cushion for the unexpected storm – won’t be a youth leader for very long.

It’s a great irony.  Some companies and organizations are so good at what they do that they start adding on raving fans every ten seconds. It looks like nothing can stop them.  But the very growth that’s thrilling them is also the growth that’s killing them.

Jeff Dunn-Rankin is Vice President of Consulting for Ministry Architects. To ask follow up questions, email him:

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