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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Failure to have clearly marked guest parking. Most churches have guest parking places. The problem is most guests can’t find them.
- 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.
- Failure to have clearly marked entrances to the church offices. This issue is, of course, more of a problem during weekdays.
- 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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Some of these suggestions (parking lot greeters, for example) could be the basis for a new post – “How to Make an Introvert Run for Cover. “
very good point that needs to be addressed
So doesn’t Jesus have anything to do with church at all? Is success of his church measured by a bunch of marketing hype, tweets and twits, and doing everything possible to meet the whims of self-centered pseudochristians. Isn’t there some tiny place for the Holy Spirit to work in church growth? Is there anyone left out there who is part of church to please God or in obedience to Christ?
As I thought some more about your list I realized that the church I am ministering to at the moment near Gundlepet India meets one of your requirements. They have very adequate restroom facilities. There are at least 100 acres of open field behind the village and they even have a few trees to shield us westerners as we do our business.
Elk City Baptist Church
Wow, brother Tom. Don’t you think that was a bit harsh? And believe it or not, the Holy Spirit can and does work thru social media…
Have a blessed day.
Thanks for sharing this. My wife and I just did a quick overview of the 11 and our church passed! LOL, praise the Lord!
My husband and I both grew up in fundamentalist independent Baptist churches. My husband became a youth pastor and was an assistant pastor for 24 years. When his position was eliminated due to financial difficulties at the church, we found ourselves looking for a church for the first time in our lives. We visited over 30 churches in our search for a new church family. I wish I could have had a form like a “mystery shopper” and be a “mystery visitor” and hand the pastor an evaluation form at the end of our visit to let him know what things attracted us to the church and what things drove us away, never to return. Some people in churches were so cold, stared at us as if we had a third eye, asked us to move from the unmarked handicapped section (as if we knew it was the handicapped section), walked around with coffee, told us to help ourselves to coffee, but never told us where it was. I made it a mission to see how people at the Information station would handle visitors. Some totally ignored me. When I asked where the church bulletin was, they just pointed, but never said anything. My husband filled out a visitor card which was supposed to be dropped off at the visitor center after church. He had to stand and wait while the visitor booth attendant had a detailed conversation with her friend. We received visitor packets with no visitor card to fill out. In one church, the pastor even said from the pulpit, “I don’t think we will pass out visitor cards today.” That makes you feel wanted for sure. We had no idea how to find out all the churches that were in our area because not all churches advertise in the yellow pages, or have a website. It just so happened that we had a terrible snowstorm on a Sunday during our church search. The local news posted all the church closings for that Sunday so I created a spreadsheet from the list and that was the only way we even found out some of the churches even existed. In one church a little old lady stood at the end of the pew and waited. When I asked if I was sitting in her pew, she said, “Oh no, I’ll just sit back here.” AWKWARD!! One small church had one bathroom for both men and women to use. It was right beside the sanctuary. I noted that if we ever returned to take care of any “potentially volatile situations” at home. Only one pastor ever called and even asked if there was something he could pray about for our family. He prayed with me right then on the phone. It meant so much. It took us over a year and a half to finally find a church. I think God allowed us to go through all that mess so we would know just how horrible it is to be a visitor at times. I hope I make people feel welcome in our church and help them find a small group in which to be involved and find a group of friends and a place to worship, which is the whole purpose of finding a church.
Oh My! Joanne, I had the exact same idea about the Mystery Shopper thing for churches. Maybe you and I should start a business!
I have had some of the exact same experiences over the last 6 years, no lie. And all I ever thought was … “wow, I sure am glad I am already saved because if I was a lost person, I would NEVER step foot in a church.”
It is a shame! Nothing more that unadulterated sin and pride! I praise Him for leading us to relief at our new church and pray that I will always remember how it felt to be on the outside!
For the record, we are military and have no choice but to visit and change churches often.
Torie, I was hoping I was the only one that had gone through these problems. I agree with what you said and feel that if I was not saved and looking for a church, I might not ever set foot in a church again after all the things I’ve seen. Christians need to make an effort to step out of their comfort zone, have more than “foyer friendships,” and reach into the lives of visitors to whet their appetite for Christ, the church (God’s plan for His people), and teach them how to reach the lost.
In my opinion, all these are non-issues in a small church.
I actually disagree. I’m an ordained pastor serving a nursing home chaplaincy call, which leaves my Sunday mornings free. As a result, I’m often asked to supply. I can’t tell you how many times (after an hour’s drive out into the countryside) I have found the little church and pulled into the single parking lot.
Even though it’s often a small church building with a modest-sized office/classroom attachment, I have never encountered a church with one and only one door. Even with the setup I just described, invariably there are three or four doors… and invariably, while hoisting my robe over my shoulder to make sure it doesn’t drag on the ground, and juggling my handbag and folder of prayers, sermon notes, and directions to the place, I find myself trying door after door after door.
And I’ve often found small churches the worst with members “owning” aisle seats and back rows, where a visitor might want to slip in and sit with a minimum of fanfare.
In fact, the back rows being filled up with members speaks loudly to me as a visitor. What if I was a shy, hesitant, unchurched person who wanted to give this church a try? Opening the door and seeing that I would have to walk past several pews’ worth of people-who-would-be-staring-at-me (not really, but it would sure feel like all eyes were on me), while I hiked up the aisle to a front-row seat… that would scare me.
And churches with woefully out of date, or rarely updated, websites drive me bats. The website is the first stop I make if I might want to visit a church. And if the home page doesn’t clearly display service times and church address? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Great points, Thom. Gives us some areas we can improve upon!