7 innocent decisions that are damaging churches
7 innocent decisions that are damaging churches in the long run.
I’m closing in on over 25 years of working in and with churches. Along the way, I’ve seen many amazing ministries. I have a lot of conversations with different churches. There are more healthy growing churches out there than you probably realize. Over the past 8 months, I have had the privilege to focus on consulting with several different churches. It has been an amazing ride.
I have learned that many churches are innocently making decisions today that will likely be quite damaging in the long run. I’m confident that churches don’t try to sabotage their ministries on purpose, but unfortunately, it does happen.
I want to share some examples of some innocent decisions churches are making that are damaging in the long run.
1) Avoiding any focus around a clear and specific vision for the future.
I get it. It’s hard work. When I meet with a church one thing I want to know is what their mission statement is. Then I listen for their vision. Almost every time they say oh yes we have one and then scramble around to find the paper it is written on somewhere. Here is what that means to me. You have a “statement” but you do not have a “mission” if you don’t know what it is.
Developing a clear and specific vision for the future is not easy. But I can assure you that where there’s a vision vacuum, the loudest people in the room will fill it. The problem, of course, is that the loudest people may not have the vision that’s best for your church. And when the loudest people have a platform, they will naturally pull people in different directions. Instead, we need to create a vision for the future that both rallies people’s prayer, time, and financial resources and also repels people. A strong vision will do both.
2) Establishing a vision, but avoiding a focused strategy for how it will be accomplished.
I have heard some amazing visions over the years. Many of them never got past the vision point, unfortunately.
So for a moment forget the words mission, vision, and strategy. They’re just words, and people get them confused all the time. Instead, focus on answering these questions:
- Why do we exist?
- What’s our primary purpose as a church?
- Where are we going?
- What will the church look like in five to ten years?
- How are we going to get there?
- What’s important right now?
Start with those questions.
It’s that third point that ends up dividing and slowing churches. They go through the hard work of confirming their mission and vision, but they don’t unify around the “how” part. When the strategy isn’t defined, people drift back to doing what they’ve always done the way they’ve always done it. People pull in different directions. That leads to division. That leads to exhausted people.
3) Allowing ministry silos to thrive.
This is one that stops the progress of a lot of churches. They begin to form in churches that aren’t aligned around vision and strategy. (I purposely left out mission, because these statements are often worded in a way that anyone could easily say, “I agree with that.” In other words, everyone will agree our mission is the “Great Commission” however your church decides to phrase it. Mission statements that are not aligned with vision and strategy are pointless. They are just a sign on the wall.
The foundation for silos is the lack of alignment, but silos are fueled by a focus on programs and filling the calendar with activities. The win becomes whether we care to admit it or not, is getting more people to show up to our ministry’s events. Silos take on a life of their own because we avoid asking the critical question, “Are the people at our church becoming more like Christ?”
If we were honest about responding to that question, we would have to work together to help people move from where they are to where God wants them to be.
4) Making a significant change in strategy without connecting the change to your vision.
Ok, so I will probably make a lot of people upset with this statement but a lot of churches are like a museum. They are stuck in time.
Take a deep breath and hear me out. I will never forget one weekend my kids went to church with my wife’s parents. We picked them up and they told us about their weekend. At some point in the conversation. They asked, “Why does MawMaw’s church have benches in it?” To that Amy and I busted out laughing. We knew they were referring to the pews. Here is the point to someone who has never been in church they don’t understand a lot of things many churches do. (My kids grew up in church, but we were church planters)
Change for a church is hard. But if you make a change and connect it to your vision and it can be done.
Here’s how I know this is true. I’ve seen churches that focus on vision have the ability to successfully change service times, change worship styles, build new buildings, relocate, change the name of the church, stop ministries or events that have been around for years, and on and on.
On the other hand, I’ve also seen churches try to mimic healthy churches by adopting their methods without explaining why they were making changes. Those changes routinely divide churches.
Everything that the church does needs to be aligned with its vision. From the website, budget, worship, to every little detail.
5) Elevating someone to a leadership position over a ministry area who is only 95% on board with your strategy and values.
You may not have known this, but it’s completely possible for someone to 100% love Jesus, love you, and love your church, but only love 95% of your strategy and values. When you let someone lead an entire congregation of people–whether it’s a campus or a core ministry–that last 5% gap becomes huge.
How we accomplish the vision and the behaviors that shape our values are very important. When a leader with positional influence is in charge and there’s a gap in alignment, the gap gets magnified by everyone they influence. In fact, if someone in leadership is not fully in alignment, the people that person influences have no reason to be fully aligned either. Before long, you have entire congregations of people moving in a completely different direction.
6) People are growing old without growing up.
It is important to remember that spiritual growth is a process, not a program. And as a process, it takes time, but more importantly, it takes active involvement. Unfortunately, we will not grow by osmosis or by association.
God expects us to grow spiritually. The truth is growing people change. Want to know if your church is a discipling church? Ask, are people changing?
Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident you have to have a plan. When is the last time you examined your entire discipleship process?
7) Trying to make everyone happy.
The only way to attempt to make everyone happy is to avoid making anyone mad. The only way to do that is to keep things the way they are.
If you do anything new or try to focus your efforts to become great at something, you run the risk that you will alienate people. When you alienate people, it’s going to create some level of pain in their lives. And you’ll hear about it. Because of that, it’s just easier to try to keep people happy by not rocking the boat. Of course, to avoid rocking the boat, you’ll need to embrace mediocrity.
You will hear…You’re not “deep” enough. You don’t offer this program or that program. You don’t invest ministry dollars here or there. You’re not Methodist or Baptist enough. You don’t use the right music.
It’s amazing the grief you get when your sole purpose is just to point people to Jesus.
I’ve learned that to try to make everyone happy, you have to be comfortable with mediocrity. It’s a place where there are few critics but it’s also a place where few people become really passionate about ministry and their relationships with Christ. Of course, when you embrace mediocrity, you also push the passionate people away.
I wish I were making these things up, but I’ve seen each of these innocent decisions keep churches from growing and carrying out God’s Mission.
Risks take faith. If you don’t need faith, you are being unfaithful. Let the size of your God determine the size of your goal. My hope for churches is based on what God can do, not on what I can do.
Let’s focus on doing big things for God!