Nine Traits of Mean Churches

March 23, 2015

“My church is a mean church!”

I received two emails this week from church members who made that very statement. The members are from two different churches in two different states. One of the churches belongs to a denomination; the other is non-denominational. In both cases the church members made the decision to drop out of local church life altogether.

Yes, I tried to reason with the two members. I told them that no church is perfect. If they had any doubt, I wrote, look at the two letters the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. I failed in convincing them to stay in their churches. I pray they will become active in other churches later.

I love local churches. But I have to admit, I am hearing more from long-term members who are quitting church life completely. One member wrote me, “The non-Christians I associate with are much nicer people than the members of my church.”

Ouch. That really hurt.

So, after receiving the second email, I began to assimilate all the information I could find where church members had written me about their “mean” churches. They may not have used the word “mean” specifically, but the intent was the same. I then collected characteristics of these churches, and I found nine that were common. I call these the “nine traits of mean churches.”

  1. Too many decisions are made in the cloak of darkness. Only a select few members really know what’s going on. The attitude of those elitists is that the typical member doesn’t really need to know.
  2. The pastor and/or staff are treated poorly. Decisions are made about them without a fair process. Complaints are often numerous and veiled. Many of these churches are known for firing pastors and/or staff with little apparent cause.
  3. Power groups tenaciously hold on to their power. The power group may be a formal group such as a committee, elders, or deacons. But the group can also be informal—no official role but great informal authority. Power groups avoid and detest accountability, which leads to the next point.
  4. There is lack of clear accountability for major decisions and/or expenditures. The church has no clear system in place to make certain that a few outlier members cannot accumulate great power and authority.
  5. Leaders of the power groups have an acrimonious spirit. Though they may make first impressions of kindness and gentleness, the mean streak emerges if you try to cross them.
  6. A number of the members see those outside of the church as “them” or “those people.” Thus the church is at odds with many in the community instead of embracing them with the love of Christ.
  7. Many members have an inward focus; they view the church as a place to get their own preferences and wants fulfilled. They are the opposite of the description of church members in 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul describes them as functioning members for the greater good of the body of Christ.
  8. Many people in the community view these churches negatively. Those on the outside often refer to these churches as “fighting and firing churches.” The community members detect no love for them from these churches.
  9. Most of the members are silent when power plays and bad decisions take place. They don’t want to stand up to the power group. They are afraid to ask questions. Their silence allows the power abuses to continue.

Are mean churches really increasing in number? My anecdotal information would indicate they are.

What can we do to become a more unified body? How can churches demonstrate more positive impressions to the community? What can we do to hold on to good members who are giving up on local churches altogether? What is your input on these issues? Let me hear from you.

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231 Comments

  • Thanks for this article. I just experienced some of that mean and acrimonious behavior recently. Often people look at others as a threat or assume they have hidden agendas when all they want is a relationship with Christ. Recommend first looking at oneself to see if they are in error in any way or giving off vibes of suspicion, stop surveillance of every new church member, they’ll pick up on this quickly. Each time I’d come in the church a particular group would huddle and point and whisper. You would have thought I was a famous celebrity. Get to know the person before making church so uncomfortable that they leave and say to hell with all y’all. Who needs it right? Seek God for a relationship with him, once this is done, the attention will not be on others.

    I understand why people stop filling the churches, but believe God will remedy this when the leadership follows Christlike behavior. Who’s perfect? No one. The church is not a building, the church is us. We are the church. God will teach me and others to be true “Disciples” of Christ. This can’t be all taught in a class, it must be demonstrated with patience and love.

  • Thanks for this article. I just experienced some of the mean and acrimonious behavior recently. Often people look at others as a threat or assume they have hidden agendas when all they want is a relationship with Christ. Recommend first looking at oneself to see if they are in error in any way or giving off vibes of suspicion, stop surveillance of every new church member, they’ll pick up not quickly. Each time I’d come in the church a particular group would huddle and point and whisper. You would have thought I was a major celebrity. Get to know the person before making church so uncomfortable that they leave and say to hell with all y’all. Who needs it right? Seek God for a relationship with him, once this is done, the attention will not be on others. I understand why people stop filling the churches but believe God will remedy this when the leadership follows this behavior. Who’s perfect? No one. The church is not a building, the church is us. We are the church. God will teach me and others to be true “Disciples” of Christ. This can’t be taught in a class, it must also be demonstrated with patience and love.

  • I’m wondering if a tenth trait might be that when a pastor has a good reputation, as well as being a public figure in public ministry, that if there is a dispute or falling-out between members, or else between pastor and a repentant member (from an account I heard) – the church will rally to the pastor and not question his normally good judgment; and thus, ignore anything contrary to what he says. When someone – as I heard – is repenting of sin but who has unanswered questions, then that person is disbelieved or shunned, in part because the pastor has his good history on his side. His friends need to risk temporarily uneasy interaction with him, by pointing out his mistakes, and going outside his counsel IF they think there is something biblical lacking or something UNlike God’s own shepherding heart in restoring the wandering sheep.

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