Eleven of the Most Common Mistakes Churches Make

February 10, 2014
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I was recently in Arkansas speaking with a pastor who is a daily reader of this blog. He expressed gratitude for all the free content, but then he made a kind plea. He said that the blog has so much content that it can be overwhelming at times.

He then asked if I could write some posts that summarized several issues I covered in multiple articles over many months. I asked him to give me an example for clarity. He said, “Maybe you could write an article on the ten most common mistakes made by churches.”

His request is proof positive that my readers are much smarter than I am. Why didn’t I think of that?

Thank you, pastor. Here is my response with one added to the ten. These are not necessarily the most important issues (I think theological heresy would outrank them all), but they are the most common.

  1. Failure to have a informative, easy-to-use website. I cringe when I see some churches’ websites. That is now the first place a prospective guest visits when he or she is thinking about attending a church. Websites are incredibly affordable today, and they can be updated easily. A church website should be updated at least once a week. It should be one of high quality. And it should contain good and accurate information for guests and members alike.
  2. Failure of pastors and staff to be actively involved in social media. That is analogous to a missionary in another land failing to learn how to speak the language of the people. 
  3. Failure of pastors and staff to understand they represent the church when they are involved in social media. When I see some of the blog posts and Twitter and Facebook communication of pastors and staff, I am often left speechless. Even if it is a personal blog or Twitter or Facebook account (or almost a dozen other social media entrants), church members read them. The community reads them. Pastors and staff: you represent yourself, your church, and, most importantly, Christ. Please be careful with your words. 
  4. Failure to urge people to be a part of groups. Groups are key to healthy assimilation, ministry involvement, evangelistic intentionality, biblical accountability, and community connections. Church leaders should regularly encourage members and others to get involved in a small group, home group, Sunday school class, or some other ongoing group. 
  5. Failure of leaders to be actively involved in influencing the content of groups. Can you imagine a pastor asking a random person to preach on Sunday morning without any idea what that person would say? That’s how many leaders treat their groups. Some have no idea what is being taught, studied, and discussed. 
  6. Failure of church members to be considerate of where they sit during a worship service. I can’t tell you how many guests told me they had to climb over church members who arrived early and got an aisle seat. I can’t tell you how many left no room for others because they used space for their coats, Bibles, smartphones, and other items. 
  7. Failure to have parking lot greeters. This ministry is a church’s opportunity to make a positive first impression. However, most churches do not have parking lot greeters. 
  8. Failure to have clearly marked guest parking. Most churches have guest parking places. The problem is most guests can’t find them. 
  9. Failure to have clearly marked entrances to the worship center. Ask a person who has never attended your church to do so. Then ask them how difficult it was to find the worship center. Because we know our own church well, we often don’t comprehend the challenges a first time guest may have. 
  10. Failure to have clearly marked entrances to the church offices. This issue is, of course, more of a problem during weekdays. 
  11. Failure to have adequate restroom facilities. There should be an adequate number of restrooms. They should be clean. And guests should see clearly marked signs that tell them how to find them.

This “top ten plus one” list is not comprehensive. It simply represents the most common mistakes I see. I look forward to your responses and feedback.

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119 Comments

  • I feel the churches have moved away from their purpose,55% don’t know what they believe or why,they are not being taught.As far as a lot of sports and programs,we as a church can’t compete with the world.While I believe in working with the youth,i have saw churches turn everything over to the youth (novice) All we have is Jesus Christ and His birth,death on the cross and the resurrection.To show love to everyone that comes through our church doors.And offer salvation to all.

  • Oh, the last one is soooo true! I once visited a church that had the only ladies’ restroom in the basement -with no doors on the stalls and no lock on the main door. Anyone could walk in and see you perform your business. Yikes!!!!! I was only passing through, but if I was looking for a forever church at the time, I would not have gone to that one because when someone mentioned it, they said they had more important obligations for their money. I just feel like if a church is comfortable putting their members through inevitable shame and embarrassment like that, they did not need my attendance.

  • I think the biggest mistake is that so many churches remind it’s people each Sunday where the bible says to tithe, but so many churches AVOID the parts of the bible that may offend or seem controversial in today’s society like homosexuality for example. I’ve been looking for a new church simply because after attending my current church for over 5 years, I still don’t know their stance on homosexuality or other controversial topics, But I do know the verse that says to tithe.

  • As a military family that has been displaced from our hometown for several years now, we are always in search of a new church home. Unfortunately, we haven’t had much success with that for the past 4 years. We’ve tried numerous churches and none seemed like a comfortable fit. We found a great church but it had no Sunday school, no bible studies, no groups, no involvement other than Sunday morning worship. We found a church with a all the above mentioned and everything was wonderful for several weeks until we asked the pastor how to become members of the Church. He gave us little direction, sort of blew us off, and told us to see people at the front desk. We asked them and they gave us a vague answer. We haven’t returned since. We tried another church with a great service, great Bible studies, and various activities. We joined the softball team and were appalled at some of the member’s behavior. One of the deacons was on the team and was extremely rude to my husband when he asked if he would like to go golfing sometime. I could write a book on this subject. I’ve searched for so many years to find a great Church and I’ve basically found 3 I was in love with…all 3 times I’ve had to move away (military life).

    • Ashley,

      I feel your pain!

      We have been members for 18 years and lived in many different locations. Finding a church family gets harder and harder every time we move. Our first assignment was Japan and, not sure if you’ve ever been in an overseas Mil. church, our experience was amazing! We still have wonderful friends from there who we have witnessed dropping everything for each other, no matter how far away we are.

      Next we went to Turkey and were part of the Chapel and our own house church. It was an interesting experience and we enjoyed it.

      Then we moved to MO and had a fabulous church experience. Very active in Ministry and great fellowship!

      But, then we PCSed to Alaska! Wow! What a difference! We church hopped for the whole 4 years we were there, from the chapel, to literally every Baptist church from the main gate to 30 miles away. Some churches we stayed for one service and some we went to months on end, but none of them ever really accepted us. We were either too liberal for their conservative or too conservative for their liberal. It was so frustrating and sad when all we wanted to do was worship God and be accepted as a valuable part of their communities.

      After AK, we moved to NM, started at a church and stayed there for 2 years. I was the Women’s Ministry Director but the pastor probably talked to me outside of his office two or three time the whole time we were there. I met with him twice in his office. The first time was when I took the position and the second time was for me to initiate a clearer understanding of my role there. He was non supportive and, I see now, had no real vision for Women’s Ministry. He tolerated it ,at best.

      I should have known better though, because shortly after I took the Volunteer job, I got a phone call from him and received a pretty severe dressing down because one of our ladies had disrupted his office staff on a Friday because she wanted to print some brochures for us. She was barely in church and very skittish about going to a Baptist church; this incident just sealed her dislike for the whole place.

      BUT! I say all of this to encourage you! There is hope! Because God has moved us to a place where our church is amazing! It is a mega church, but feels like a small group of people. The core members are loving and kind. They really are happy we are here. When the pastor stands up and says ‘we want to change the world and we need your help doing it ‘, he really means it and will give you every opportunity to serve God.

      We had about 6 difficult years, but God is faithful and we had to go through the valley to appreciate what we have now. I hope you find a place for your family and I am sorry people have mistreated you. I know how it feels, but God loves you and sees your desire to serve Him.

      Do not loose heart!

      Blessings,

      Torie Pendleton

  • Christopher Sweet says on

    The simplest thing we can do for guests is to consider what we woulddo at our homes to mmake a guest feel welcomed and honored. That includes how you clean and “stage” your home, the way you help your guest find your home, the way you greet your guest and how you serve them/treat them while at your home. For some reason we do this at home with intentionality, but fail to translate these concepts to the church.

  • As someone who is just now getting into churches and trying to find a home church, none of these were at the top of my list for things churches are doing wrong.

    • I just wanted to elaborate. For #1 – I have used word of mouth in every endeavor to a new church. I have never visited a website. #2 – I have also found myself wondering if the pastor has nothing better to do in His service than post pictures and scriptures on facebook and twitter all day #3 -. I have also never seen a pastor post anything out of line. The congregation, however… #4 – I have found many churches trying their hardest to shove me into one group or another, and also deciding which group would be best for me and directing me there without asking what I thought. #5 – It seems in most cases, as well, that the pastor knows the group leaders well enough to know that they are the right ones for the job. They may have even been led to select those leaders through prayer. In those cases, very little supervision would be necessary. #6 – I never cared where anyone was sitting, I just found an empty spot. I’m surprised someone complained about not getting an aisle seat. #7 – I would rather be greeted at the door, especially depending on the weather. #8 – I never cared about parking either. As someone who is young(ish), I would rather park in the back so that someone who was elderly or handicapped would have better access. This was nowhere to be found on my list of things churches could do better… #9 – I can’t weigh in here, never had this issue. #10 – Same as the last. #11 – This may be the only thing on this whole list I can agree with.

      I’m just someone on the outside trying to break in who wanted to be honest.

      • As a staff member of a church i’d love to see your list my friend. thanks

      • As someone that has recently moved to a new area and visited many churches: I find parking attendants weird and unneeded (unless it is a mega church). I am more than capable to find a parking space and enter the building. At some churches the parking attendants are sitting in such a location that it almost feels like you have to pay to park. I also do not use visitor spaces for fear of being mobbed by an over zealous greeter before I even enter the church. Personally, I find “unlabeled” greeters to be the most important. I expect that the person at the door and kids check-in are going to smile and be nice – it is the job of their volunteer position. What really makes a difference is feeling like people actually want to talk to me because they are genially nice, not because that is what they volunteered to do for the day. This is not to knock greeters – they are important and need to be available to answer questions.

    • I would love to hear what is at the top of your list Brandy. While this list probably wasn’t intended to be a one size fits all- I would love to hear your added perspective.

  • We’ve been wanting to set up a website but it seems to be overwhelming, what options or designers for churches do you recommend?

  • Great list! 7, 8 and 10 I can work on immediately, but number 6 is one that has ALWAYS frustrated me. It would be nice if Mr & Mrs Maturity would sit toward the front center! Although I have to admit, my claustrophobia has me wanting an isle seat, I just have to be intentional about inviting and making it easy for others to get around me 🙂

  • Thom,
    We have a website that is quite developed. It is however somewhat vanilla. I wanted something that would work with mobile and not occupy a lot of screen with graphics and pictures. The site has a lot of features with the emphasis on communicated Jesus. Do I really need a lot of graphics or is simplicity more important.

    • Content is king.

      You don’t need graphics, if your content is well written, organized, and properly designed.

      The simplest test is to throw away your keyboard, mouse, and monitor. If somebody else can navigate your website, and clearly understand the content, you have a winner. If they can’t do that, rewrite and re-layout everything until they can.

    • Wow, I visited your church site and unfortunately I got lost and really couldn’t find the information I wanted. I think you guys should rethink it a bit. And. yes, content is important, but people today won’t stay on a plain website for long. Often you have 30 seconds to hook and inform people. I spent that trying to figure where to click first…

    • Torie N Pendleton says on

      Jon,

      As the wife of an Active Duty AF Member, I can tell you that one of the first things we wives do is look at church websites when we get new orders! Trolling a website is the safest way to avoid visiting a new church that is just not for your family.

      I honestly eliminate a lot of churches within the first few minutes of looking at their site. If it is boring and generic, it feels like the church does not value the age we live in. Yes, this is a judgement call that may not be true, but even someone like me, who has been saved and in church for a long time, does it! Can you imagine how a lost person or a person who hasn’t been in church feels about a generic site? They are used to cruising the web on a daily basis and advertisers are doing bigger and better things with their sites.

      Most churches can’t compete with the budgets that companies have but a webpage is very important to those who are secretly searching for a place. Church websites need to speak to that person who is seeking something and they have no idea that they are being lead by the Spirit.

      I encourage you to pray about revamping your site with those who are unsure about church and Jesus in mind. And think of the seasoned church members who know what they re looking for:

      a clear doctrinal statement
      service times
      an updated calendar
      Introductions for your ministry leaders with their education and experiences listed
      Available ministries

      People want to see that the church is active in ministry and fellowship.

      I hope this helps and hope many more come to the saving knowledge of Jesus through your ministry!

      Blessings,

      Torie

  • Thom, I would add something about child care to the list. I did an Interim for a church recently and the child care room was right next door to an exit. That was a recipe for disaster for sure. Most young couples want to know their children are safe and cared for adequately.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Leon. The safety issue is huge.

    • I would have to add in addition to safety, that a quality children’s program is also premium. I believe people want to see that you are vested in their children as much as you are them.

    • We left a church due to poor attention to children. My toddler walked outside and played and nobody even noticed she was missing. I only knew when she made her way to me in the sanctuary which was next door and quite a little walk with it pitch dark outside!! she was 2!!
      I asked them about it, rather upset, and they did not even apologize. We never went back.

      • Oh my gosh Celeste, that is horrible. I want to apologize to you, even though we are likely not even in the same country. I am, nevertheless, a Christian and the people who did this claim to be a part of my family. This is absolutely shameful. It seems like more and more these days I feel a need to apologize for the actions and attitudes of others who claim to be Christian

      • Amen.

      • Just visiting says on

        Was your child in a children’s church or a nursery and the leader was not watching her? I am saying that because my child does not leave my side at church and the only way I see that happening is that the child was in a nursery or children’s church.

    • On the other hand, if there was a fire in the building, what better place to have the child care room? Exits can be locked during occupancy so no one can come in.

  • Great list Thom! I’m already in on #4 and more convinced everyday that #5 is extremely critical today. In fact, that might be my #1 takeaway from Geiger and Stetzer’s new book, Transformational Groups.

    • Thanks for seeing the importance of small groups! I think it is a vital part of a growing church body. People need someplace to be “associated” with, to feel welcomed and listened to. Our culture has become so far away from the personal touch in lives. Thank you for sharing this new book, I can’t wait to read it!!
      ~Mare

      • Murdoch Mann says on

        As a lay member of a British Methodist church, I feel really frustrated because the leadership think that having 25% of the church members participate in small groups is a success. In fourteen years at that church, only once has the mention of small groups been made by a preacher, yet the (now abandoned) mid-week classes when members held each other accountable for their actions and their conduct was almost certainly one of the features that made the denomination such a force up to the early 20th century.

  • Just last week, I visited two church websites.

    Church Website number 1: Featured the pastor as the superstar. But the website failed to disclose the meeting location, service times, or even what country the church is in.

    Church Website number 2: Awesome displays of the ministry of the church. Well done website. But the website failed to disclose the meeting location, service times, or even what country the church is in.

    Can’t forget the most important detail:

    Where and when are your services?

    Chris
    EvangelismCoach.org

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good word Chris. Thanks.

      • Chaplain Ed Sischo says on

        Hi Thom,
        I work at a trauma center hospital. I find myself trying to make contacts for patients who want desperately to talk to their own pastor or have them visit, but do not know their phone numbers. Today many if not most pastors are using cell phone and therefore are not listed in a directory. Most church web sites, and even church answering services post their office hours telephone numbers but do not provide an emergency number. Because of hospital rules I cannot simply “leave a message” as directed by the service. As a chaplain I try hard to fill the void, but sometimes I only add to their frustration when I have to attempt to explain why I could not help them.

    • Amen. Times and location should be accessible within 5-10 seconds…

    • Jay Michael says on

      The crazy part is I was sent this (as I am the IT guy) because they said I need to get this information on the website…..unfortunately I have the service times in 2 locations, the address in 2 locations, 8 ways to contacts us, every type of social madia, and even a special message in 4 locations, and no one can find anything, or figure out how to contact us :-/

    • Rev. Heidi Smith says on

      When I travel and look for churches to visit, the failure to have the worship time(s) clearly visible on the website is my #1 pet peeve, followed closely by not having the same information on the church’s phone recording…

    • I totally agree with the top 3 points. Thats why here @ http://fellowshipmedia.net we strive to help churches and ministries have a comprehensive online marketing plan. Give us a call if you need affordable help. 407-434-9680 | http://fellowshipmedia.net | [email protected]

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