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

  • Barry Snead says on

    Thom, I appreciate your list. It is very good. Just wanted to refer to #6 about members being conscious of visitors when it comes to seating. A few years ago much of our extended family returned to my Father-in-Law’s church he had pastored many years ago as he was invited to preach their Homecoming Service. So, the ten or so of us sat on the second row in front of the pulpit, sitting together as a family. Along came an older woman who said, “Excuse me, but this is where our family sits.” I didn’t “talk back” to her but we all simply got up and moved. We had been there early to get good seats. The church was now full and we ended up on the back row of the balcony with three of us sitting on the steps. And, of course, the church recognized us as the preacher’s family and we all stood up. I don’t even know if the lady and family at the front could even see WHO we were! Probably not! This was the worst case I have experienced of members actually asking visitors to move. There were also 2 pastors and 2 Ministers of Music in our family group. I can imagine the sermon illustrations that came on later occasions!

  • Another thing that drives people away are church members who lecture people if you haven’t been to church in awhile. Don’t lecture me and the church has my contact info. If someone is concerned, pick up the phone if you really care but don’t fire away with “where have you been?”. Churches should discourage that type of behavior and instead, keep it to a simple “good to see you again. Hope all is well”

  • I must respectfully disagree with #6. My husband has had double hip replacement, so we make a special effort to get to the auditorium early so we can get an aisle seat, where he is more able to stretch his legs into the aisle. It is difficult for him to sit for an hour or more in an uncomfortable position. It is awkward when the usher asks us to move down for latecomers when we made the special effort to get there not only on time, but early. Maybe if we are going to allow special parking spots for visitors, we could also allow special rows in the auditorium for visitors.

  • You left ouy any mention of Jesus.That is the most important.

  • D. Boudreaux says on

    What about bad grammar on websites or communications? As you write, “Failure to have a [sic] informative website…” should also include “Failure to demonstrate a grasp of proper usage of the English language.”

  • I’m a military wife and also a pastor’s wife. I have been in churches in 4 different states in a variety of denominations. In my (limited) experience, your list doesn’t cover the things that drove us away from the churches we intentionally left. First on my list would be a pastoral staff that is unable/unwilling to actually connect with their people…including staff. Second would be “control freak” head pastors who don’t allow the staff that they hire to do the jobs they are hired to do. Third would be a too-narrow focus…intentional ministry to the unsaved/unchurched, to the detriment of the mature believer that keeps said church in motion, leading to a revolving-door membership and staff.

    • Shouldn’t “mature” believers be most concerned about the unchurched/unsaved? And they should be able to feed themselves and establish ministries dedicated to helping them continue to grow and minister. The fact that the church is drawing in unchurched people automatically provides opportunities for the truly “mature”.

  • Thom, The list is really good but I have a concern about # 2. I realize that I am from another world but I do not engage in Facebook, or twitter or any other social platforms. Our church had a face book page but had to take it down due to the content that continually showed up from unrelated “friends” linking to posted items and then inappropriate comments that had nothing to do with the original post. I had a personal Facebook page once for about 2 minutes and was overwhelmed by 60 plus hits in that time. Most of what I see placed on my wife’s and daughters pages is usually TMI and serves no purpose. Do you really feel that it is that beneficial and necessary? I have seen so much damage done by posts and not well thought out tweets that I fail to see the benefit to ministry. I cannot see how what I am doing right now or in a few minutes is of any interest to others. Help me see the light.

    • Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc. are critical for the church today. In fact, they are an end-time gift… brilliant communication tools developed by the world that can be use for Kingdom purposes. I am continually connecting with new people who are provoked by my status updates and who are intrigued by our Facebook ads. Same with Twitter. The high majority of our visitors come because of Facebook, in fact.

      You have to post often… many times a day… and build a following. Then, simply post what God is burning in your spirit and others will be excited to connect with you!

    • There are ways to control who sees Facebook groups, and a Facebook page has to have someone serving as an administrator. We have multiple “groups” that serve our partners, ministry teams and leadership well. And we have a public page with which we’ve had no problem.

  • Loved your final impression: “Failure to have adequate restroom facilities.” This should have been number one (tee-hee) on your list, in my opinion, because there is no worse impression than a bad restroom. Unless it is a bad first impression because someone forgot to proofread their writing’s first impression: “Failure to have a informative, easy-to-use website.” Really now! Use the article “an” before a word that begins with a vowel sound. For example, “… an informative, easy-to-use website.”

  • Wow, the social media missionary thing just rocked my world…so true

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