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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  • This sounds exactly like the church I used to attend. Now I have found a church with very few problems and lives outside of the four walls telling people about Christ, and they also come to church knowing they’re lost, not to parade around thinking they are okay.

  • Many of these reasons fit why I left my local church. I have tried many other churches wither reasonable driving distance during the last decade and have struggled to find one that wasnt a mirror image of what I left.

  • Some times it’s a “mean” clergyman that drives you away, been there. Changes parishes and diocese after I could not take to hate speech any longer.

  • This article is very true of my current church. They probably hit every single point and could add many more. Unfortunately it is being led by the pastor and his wife. I’ve been a member for almost 20 years, served on the church council and lead the education programs, but because I dared speak up and try to get things done legally and according to the church constitution I am now the troublemaker and called many other names. They work to run those of us who would like to change off so there are never enough people left to force the needed changes.
    I have friends looking for a church, but sadly, I can’t recommend mine.

  • Mike Asher says on

    10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. Mathew 24:10

  • “What can we do to become a more unified body?”

    Let Jesus be the head.

  • Sadly I feel like a member of a “mean church” I have been going their for several years, and have always felt like an outsider. The other members have made me feel like I dont belong their and they are better then me. I quit about 3 months ago. I personaly feel like God had more of a plan for me their and could use me to do great things but every time I tried to help with anything I was pushed away by other members. Enough was enough, you can only take so much “pushing” before you just walk away.

  • I belonged to my church for many years and it was very much ‘home’ to me. There were a few people that you sort of avoided, because they could be unkind, but I never felt unwelcome there. We got a new pastor who was a ‘tea partier’. Politically, I had always realized that I probably felt differently on things than others in my church, but I never saw church as a place for political discussion. This pastor began to preach politics from the pulpit, up to and including that the president was the antichrist foretold in Revelations. He insisted that if you were a true Christian, you could not be ‘a liberal’. (Which I am not). He saw that I did not approve of his sermons, and he began to target me specifically, at one point, locking eyes with me from the pulpit to proclaim that the goal of liberals was to destroy the word of God. I left that day and I did not go back. I think the ‘sign’ you missed was ‘When a pastor thinks his opinions are more relevant than God’s word.’

  • There are a number of wonderful folks in our church who simply don’t want to see conflict and thus put their heads in the sand when people leave the church. They then wonder why so and so left. A small cadre of leaders in the church with a few staff members pretty much run the church and go to great lengths to punish those who do not toe the line through innuendo, gossip and lack of cooperation. Because people leave and won’t say why they left, these problems get swept under the rug and these problems fester and fester. Leaders say things will be better when so and so leaves. Sooner or later, so and so gets the message and leaves, and guess what, things don’t get better. There’s always a new so and so to challenge them. What’s the solution? Someone has to be the window shade and let the light in. That person may have to leave after doing so because the response will be swift and terrible. But the vast majority of Christians want their church to be a church where people feel loved and cared for. They want to be kind and gentle. A few want the church to be in their image and not Christ’s. Only when the silent ostrich majority see the light, can they do something about it. Or they’ll continue to listen to those leaders who say, “that person’s just crazy”, and put their heads back in the sand as the church slowly dies.

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