Eleven of the Most Common Mistakes Churches Make

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.

Posted on February 10, 2014

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Thom, while serving as the Involvement Minister for a medium-size church, I attempted to use your book – recommended by another minster friend of mine who said it was a must have. Unfortunately, as is the case in many problems with the church (any), leadership or the lack thereof, is usually the root for all the issues you shared.

    I have left the ministry due to leadership because they thought visitors and the issues to be inviting to them, were for one ministry leader and not the members themselves. They also felt the members were more important.

    Since I left the town and ministry where this occurred, I have visited many churches and most have the same problem – we are all so wrapped up in our own life we forget to be inviting, genuine and loving – AT church and then we fail to follow up and stay in “gentle” contact.

    The culture, not just in churches but in the world, has shifted from a “we” to a “me” and from “love your neighbors as yourself” to “what about me?” mentality. I’m afraid we (including the church), have forgotten what the love of God means and how to show it. The Lord’s church will not grow until we return to a loving, service, mind-set. Maybe we forgot how because we forgot, don’t see or don’t believe the love of God that was so amazingly shared BY God to and for us.

    We all need a refresher from the hymn, “None of self and ALL of Thee”.

    JOY = “J”esus first, “O”thers second and “Y”ourself last.

    To HIM be the Honor, Glory and Praise forever.

  • As a missionary who recently was on Stateside, I visited many churches across the US. On several occasions I tried to visit church websites to learn about their congregations, etc. Many still do not have websites or they are so out of date that they are irrelevant. Also, on several sites, I could not find their address or service times.

    • It’s unreal how so many pastors devalue or don’t understand internet marketing, which, of course, starts with a professional website.

      People will or won’t visit a church due to a well or poorly designed site.

  • Scott Andrews says on

    Not posting times of services anywhere on their signs. How is a potential visitor to know what time to show up? I’ve found this one to be the most common, most overlooked, and most easily fixable.

  • Thom, thank you. Wow, I felt pretty good until parking and clearly marks entry points came up. Something to work through. Thank you for a Pastor who seeks to be a better communicator at every avenue.

  • I’d love to help with web design. I’m a church planter, author, conference speaker… in addition to running my design biz… so I totally understand what ministries are looking for!

  • Great list, Thom. Thanks especially for including #s 4 & 5. while I agree in principle with number 5, I also think pastors need to train and then trust their small group leaders as shepherds of the group. That’s not to say the senior pastor and staff do not know what groups are studying and doing (Proverbs 27:23). Some pastors know and do very little in regard to groups, and that is indeed dangerous. But some swing the pendulum the other way and do not allow their equipped shepherds to lead the sheep entrusted to them. At some point trust the shepherds you have equipped and trust the Holy Spirit to guide them.

  • It is crucial in today’s society to make families aware of the fact that your nursery attendants and children’s workers have all been background checked. List this in your advertisements, your Sunday program and from the platform. This shows a sign of excellence, integrity, follow-through and the value placed on children. I think churches should go as far as posting documentation at the Children’s ministry entrance that certifies that each children’s worker on duty at that time is qualified and trained and has had a thorough background check.

  • Thom, nice list, but you seem to be assuming that people want to go to church in the first place….

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Kevin: Pew Research’s most recent data indicates 37% of Americans attend church at least weekly and another 33% attend about once a month. If we then conservatively estimate that 40% of a population of 314 million attend church in a given week, that means over 125 million people are in church services each week. Some people still want to attend church.

  • I left out the “want” in “they do not want to share a pew….”

  • Church members and regular attenders who sit next to an aisle and use space for items are signaling that they do not to share the pew with anyone else. This is particularly a problem in small churches where an individual or family will claim a pew and will show various signs of agitation or even hostility if a stranger seeks to invade their territory. In older churches a family may have occupied the same pew for several generations. The problem, however, is not confined to small churches. The problem has a long history. In the days when churches supported themselves from pew rents and horse stall pews were common, families actually put padlocks on pews. Those who could afford to rent a pew were forced to sit (if they had the foresight to bring a stool with them) or stand in the aisles.

  • Everybody is calling for pastors who don’t do social media to do so. But there are some very significant drawbacks, a couple of which have been mentioned already on this post (and comments). 1) Distracting 2) Time consuming 3) Discovering things about your members you would rather have remained blissfully ignorant of 4) Gateway for unsolicited smut

    There are always tradeoffs. I have found the enumerated minuses to be much more weighty than the plusses of being “out there where the people are” (in cyberspace).

  • That’s a great list. Definitely see some issues we need to work on. Perhaps the biggest mistake is that we spend so much energy fighting about worship and music styles we don’t have anything left to even see, much less correct, these common mistakes. Our society and our churches tend to make one issue, any issue, (not just worship and music), so paramount in our lives, a pet peeve, so to speak, that we fail to see other obvious mistakes we need to address.
    Love “I Am s Church Member.” Thanks.
    Brad Holmes

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