Nine Traits of Mean Churches

“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.

Posted on March 23, 2015

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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  • Ronald L. says on

    I would add a number 10. to this list and this is a new(within the last 5 years) meanness that I believe with all my heart to be perhaps at the top of the list!! This is it, with the onset of the modern technology that is available there is a tendency with the “power group” which includes the Pastor for the “testing of the spirits” within not only church member but also with the attendees that are participating in the church. I am convinced that this new technology is allowing and permitting the power group to enter in individual lives to the extent that individual privacy is being wrongfully and perhaps even illegally invaded and thus any and all “righteous” testing of the spirit is being thrown completely out the window. I do not believe that God ever meant for lay persons lives to be singled out and compromised and even tested by entrapment by the governing boards or even by illegal invasion by other community entities such as law enforcement resources among others. Everyone of us human beings are essentially sinners, saved by Gods grace and in the process of being sanctified through the power of the Holy Spirit. For any one person or group to place themselves above their fellow christian believers and to take advantage of those “other” believers without possessing even the slightest clue that they are not only being tested but also judged and perhaps even gossiped about through out the community without their ever giving permission or having a single clue that this is occurring, in my humble laypersons opinion is a much deeper class of sin than what the person involved with the original sin is being tested for verification may have committed. This means of testing is so very new and possible that I will venture to guess that 99.5% of the “church” has absolutely no clue as to what I am even suggesting. My guess is that over the next 10 to 15 years this form of testing will become so prevalent that the current church membership will drop by at least 50% and thus the actual church attendance level may drop by at least 75%. I believe without a doubt that God will not allow this type of criminal activity to go unpunished for very long and may very will be the cause/reason for the timing of Christ return to rapture His true believers to Heaven. You say you have no clue what I am getting at???? I say EXACTLY, that proves my point, and also believe me that I truly know what I am talking about because this has been ongoing in my life for the past 3 years, that I know of. NO, God did not ever give permission for the believers in Christ to ever treat one another in such an unloving and biased manner!!!!

  • I wouldn’t say my Church is a mean Church, but I would say that in my family’s circumstance they have been neglectful and failed to ac. You see 2 and a half years ago I was forced to apply quit work and apply for social security disability. The congregation knows this, and they know that it has been a real struggle for us to keep up with the mortgage, car payment, kids in clothes, lights turned on, and food on the table. We go to a small country Church, but we have several members in our Church whose household income is well over $100,000 per year, yet no one has ever said, “hey, do you guys need any financial help. ..could we pay your electric bill this month….can we bring you some groceries?” No! Not once. All we get every now and then is a “we’ve been praying for y’all!”, but no action.

    Someone from another Church that knew our circumstances once brought us about a months worth of groceries, which was a huge blessing, bit not our Church. And during this time my wife was in an auto accident, and even she had to miss some work, and the only “spiritual” statement I got from our pastor during that was, “maybe we’ll all learn something from this”. Gee pastor, I hope so.

    We still feel blessed though because when the need seemed greatest God always appeared in unexpected ways, but just not by using any of our fellow congregants. For example, the latest blessing was from a lady with whom my wife works. She placed and envelope on my wife’s desk containing a lot of money. Praise God! He is good!

    To make things worse we recently had a member die by his own hand. This is a well to do family. They live in a newly built 4,000 square foot house. He had a high paying, top secret classified government job, and his wife’s income is about $60,000 per year. They have 2 young children and it was just an awful situation that would be extremely hard on anyone, and I am so sorry that it happened to the survivors. But what bothered me about it was that even though this family didn’t need financial assistance members of our congregation came together and started doing things for them – paid their mortgage payment – paid their electric bill – carried them groceries – paid the car payments. I wrong for knowing this and having it leaving me feeling that my family has been neglected?

    Maybe God has somethung for me to learn from this and just hasn’t revealed it yet. Maybe it’s just a faith building experience because faith is what has sustained us these last 2 and a half years, and by his Grace alone we have made it through. Just this week I got my decision letter from social security saying I have been approved for disability benefits. Praise God! But I just cannot help feeling neglected by our Church, and feeling that they missed an opportunity to extend a Christian hand and be a blessing to us. Maybe it’s time to seek abother Church….I just don’t know.

  • I’m a Pastor. And I can say that I’ve been hurt more by the church than I ever have by the world. I don’t understand the hatred that I’ve experienced as a pastor from the church? I’ve searched for a satisfying answer to this shocking reality and I haven’t found it. What is the church if the world is more like the church than the church is? I’ve searched for answers: The only ones I’ve been able to discover is that there 3 realities: 1. There is so much of the world in the church. 2. There are far too many tares in the wheat for our own good. 3. Discipleship is a little known and rarely appreciated reality. You can find a lot of believers in the church, but not a lot of disciples. Our churches in America are filled to overflowing with selfish, worldly, and ungracious people who think nothing of excoriating the servants sent to lead them. Perhaps what needs to happen in America is for the fire of persecution to hit the church like never before to burn away the cancer that has infected American churches. Perhaps as pastors, we need to feel the weight of the beam we’ve been called to carry as a disciple. This is ministry…we expect people to hate us without a cause…even our so-called brothers in church.

  • PastorOpa says on

    I wonder if this is more prevalent in denominations or churches that are autonomous?

  • One you didn’t include is the cliques that exist in so many churches. It’s difficult for new christians to settle into a church when they feel unwelcome and they don’t get the fellowship they need. This unfortunately results in these baby believers backsliding, since they don’t get the fellowship support they need early on. This was me. I backslid for over 20 years, and then when I tried to find a church it was a real struggle to integrate myself because of the already existing cliques.

    I’m not sure what can be done about that as people tend to interact with those they have things in common with, but the scriptures do say we’re not to have favoritism, that we’re to accept all regardless. I think this is one of the bigger struggles in the churches… new christians not feeling welcome. So then how would a non believer feel in that situation.

    Believers are all supposed to be part of the body of Christ, and yet some like to separate themselves.

    I also have found there to be “gift envy” from some believers who envy the one that has been given certain gifts and tries to use them in the church. Some churches don’t even make it possible for a believer to use their gifts, so they end up suppressing them.

    A very sad state that the church is in. If we can’t support each other through fellowship, then how do we help the lost that enter the churches?

  • Concerned for my Church says on

    How can as new help(leaders) who have come into the church and found that the deacons, and their wives practically run the church and the Pastor is afraid to put them in their place not get caught is the cross fire? 2 new ministers youth and young adult 1 being one of them have come into this church over the past couple of months to find that the pastor who wants change is basically having to coddle 3 deacons who have been there for 50 years plus and will not be moved thank you! they like the old ways of everything and new people come to visit and leave because they are looking for more than what we are being “allowed” to give!!!! it is a constant argument or ill leave if you give this deacons wife that position or ill leave if you do that kind of disagreements all the time… WHERE IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST? WHERE IS THE PASTORAL RESPECT? WHERE IS THE KINDNESS OF HEART OF THE OFFICE OF DEACON? I have been in ministry for 30 plus years and this is a first for me to see this degree of discord and BULLING in GODS HOUSE!!!

  • I had been in church for almost 15 years when I had an unusual spiritual experience. I tried to talk to my small group leader about it with no response. I then turned to the elders of the church and met with the assistant pastor. I explained what happened and was hoping he could help me. At the time, I thought he was being sincere then soon realized he was mocking my experience. Afterward the senior pastor of the church gave a sermon on the insanity of King Nebuchadnezzar then shared his experience of meeting with people in church ministry who suffer from insanity. Maybe the sermon had nothing to do with me but it seemed as though I was being pushed away. Although I feel the presence of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I struggle with feeling that I no longer belong in church. In a strange way, I feel called to serve the Lord, just not in the church. It has been five years since my spiritual experience and I continue to struggle with leaving the church. The main reason I stay is because I want my children to continue in church and I promised my husband we would always remain together in church. Although my experience was life-changing, being in the church seemed to complicate it. Strange huh? After my spiritual experience, I understood God’s love and genuinely loved other people. It was such a powerful experience that when I witnessed how the leaders treated me, is when I became confused and wondered why they did not truly love and care for people. Maybe they did care and love people, I just had a hard time recognizing it. My recommendation to the church would be 1) if a member comes to you and shares an experience, show compassion and be truthful; 2) if a person shares an experience that is not in agreement with your church’s doctrine or tradition, in a caring way, explain why the experience is not in accordance with the church’s doctrine or tradition; and 3) do not ignore them and make them feel as though they suffer from insanity because the Adversary will use the experience to confuse them, crippling them from sharing the Gospel with others. Yours truly, Ambassador for Christ, former church ministry volunteer.

  • Samantha says on

    I was continually bullied and abused in a ministry and became so sick from it I had to quit. My husband is still working their and the same things are happening to him now. I just don’t understand. He took me to a picnic for the Church part of the full ministry and they stared me down the whole time. I’m over this and we are waiting for God to provide a new job opportunity but nothing seems to be coming around after countless applications. I’m just not understanding any of it and am getting fed up. The effects of it all have made me afraid of other people in general believer or not and I am not as involved anymore. I’ve lost people I thought were friends in ministry and honestly sometimes it’s tempting to go back secular jobs because they are nicer and actually follow policies and procedures More closely instead of hiding and destroying incriminating evidences. I’m not sure I have a point other than I’ve seen all these traits and ministry and it sucks.

  • Jennifer R says on

    I’m a woman with high functioning autism. I refuse to go to my husband’s mean church anymore. I have been shunned and bullied by many in his church. Many have refused to talk to me, excluded me, and outright been mean to me. They have factions and power groups. If you are not in their group, you are an outsider. They are judgmental, and look down on others out in the world who are not like them, and look down on other denominations. It’s very sick. I believe that church belongs to the devil, and not to the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Most people are blind to the fact that Satanism is running most of what purports itself to be Christianity today.

    They are confused about all of the abuse, and scams in the churches.

    It is very simple. Satan runs it all.

    This is the last days. Wise up and open your eyes to it, sheeple. You are surrounded by ravenous wolves.

    • Jennifer R says on

      @bigbro Amen to this! I completely agree. The churches are now businesses and social clubs, and nothing more.

  • John Wickham says on

    Alot of the problems mentioned here is due to the ‘system’ of denominations training pastors and then those pastors being depolyed to churches where they don’t know anyone. If churches ‘raised up’ their own leader from within then these problems wouldn’t happen – because nasty churches would raise nasty pastors and no one would want to go there! Churches who love the LORD wouldn’t let a wolf in if they we’re raising their own leaders. Look at Vineyard churches – the only way to be a Vineyard pastor is to come through the ranks of the local church.

  • heartbroken child of God says on

    I think the core to all the problems is addressed in 1 Corinthians 13. TRUTH is important, but so is LOVE. They are to go together always. What was your heart motive when you corrected, to be right and prove them wrong? That’s being puffed up in knowledge. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. You forgot LOVE. You should have corrected them with a heart of LOVE, to save a brother or sister from injuring themselves or others with sin. To help them draw closer to the LORD. Correct biblicaly, and if they reject your correction, then follow scriptures council to excommunicate them. The devil loves to send in wolves in sheep’s clothing, they do great damage and hurt. Gods council on how to address these issues will weed them out or cause a rebellous brother to repent. Follow His council and it works, do what is right in your own eyes and it will reap corruption. ANYTHING done WITHOUT LOVE does not profit, helps no one and does no good. That’s Gods council. Even if you give your life as a martyr, yet have not love, it meant nothing. That is a very sobering scripture. 1 Corinthians 13 is smack dab in the middle of a book dealing with issues in the church of God. It’s important! To ignore it leads to corruption, biting and devouring one another, sin that leavens the whole lump, fights, quarrels, disunity in the body of Christ. Brethren, these things should not be. Fights and quarrels amongst the body is a sign of our immaturity, we must grow up in Christ, that is Gods council. Christ dwells within us, His power to overcome these things is in us, He has given us instruction in His word and we need to follow it and trust that Almighty God is smarter than us. Leaders evaluate YOUR OWN lives before God, do you meet the biblical qualifications to lead His body, God has determined what they are.. IF you do not meet those qualifications, then please, I beg you, humble yourselves, step down and appoint someone who does, otherwise you will harm Jesus precious bride that He shed His blood for. I am so saddened in my heart by the amount of hateful posts I read everywhere and they are coming from those who claim to be Christ followers. And they think this is glorifying God, we glorify Him by the FRUIT we bear in Galatians 5. LOVE is the first one listed and is bookmarked on the end by self-control. Please brothers and sisters, don’t let the enemy deceive us, we know His wiles. He is laughing at how divided the body of Christ is in this nation. He loves the biting and devouring. These things grieve the Holy Spirit of God. I beg you brethren, search your own hearts before the Lord God. Humble yourselves and turn from your wicked ways. Stop hurting one another. We are to be known to the world by the love we have for one another! Instead, they call us hypocrites! What did our Lord Jesus have to say about hypocrisy, beware of it!

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