Six Statements That Can Kill a Church

Words can kill.

Words can kill churches because they often have deadly actions behind them. As we begin this new year, please allow me to share six statements that I have heard from church members whose churches have died.

Please hear that last statement again: These are statements from church members whose churches have already closed their doors. I am convinced these statements were major contributors to the churches’ demise.

  1. “We pay our pastor to do evangelism.” The common meaning behind this statement is that the members have no intentions of sharing their faith. A church with non-evangelistic members is a dying church.
  2. “Without our money, this church would be in trouble.” Ouch! The key word here is “our.” Members with this attitude do not give with an open hand; they perceive the money they give to the church is their money, not God’s money. This tight-fisted non-stewardship, if prevalent in the church, is a sure sign of sickness or death.
  3. “This church is not meeting my needs.” For certain, members’ needs should be met. But have you noticed that, often times, the most needy members are the first to complain and the first to leave? We should certainly care for the needs of the flock, but the attitude of the members should be that of serving instead of being served.
  4. “We pay the salary of the pastor and staff, so they should listen to us.” This deadly statement has two major inflictors of pain. First, the money is treated with a tight fist, as I noted above. Second, the money is used to control leaders. I served in a church where a member made that statement to me frequently. Years after I left, I learned he never gave a dollar to the church.
  5. “We will let the next generation deal with change.” When older generations make this statement, they are resolutely refusing to make necessary and immediate changes. Sadly, the next generations won’t stick around in such a church to make the changes.
  6. “I was here years before the pastor came; I’ll be here years after he’s gone.” This statement is one of power and control rather than service and giving. It’s about out-lasting each pastor to keep the church just the way the member wants it. It’s a statement that was commonly heard in churches that have closed their doors.

I remain an obnoxious optimist about our local congregations. But, sadly, many will die in this year and the next. Most of them will have had members who made these six deadly statements,

I pray your church is not among them.

Posted on January 9, 2017

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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  • I really enjoy all of your articles you post. This one (along with all the others) serve as constant reminders to those of us that serve churches in various ministries, that we are just that, servants. We all no doubt encounter people that have some of the attitudes you address in this article. May God help us all as we strive to help those with these attitudes. Again, thank you so much for all that you do in helping those of us trying to help the church we serve.

  • Help! This is my church to a tee! This is only my second church. I’ve only been there six months and have already been told that I need to watch what I say because “we only have 5 families that support this church and we can’t afford to lose even one of them.” Also, I found out after I was in place, that they haven’t had a pastor for the last three years.

  • Guilty of saying my needs are Not being met — how else is my pastor to know what needs there are if they are never expressed. In my defense I also spend 30 hours a week on the ministry I created in my church and use that ministry to help fill the need I express ( if i am experiencing the need others likely are too. )

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Andi –

      That is why I prefaced with the caveat that needs to be met. You sound like a hard worker in ministry. Your comments of needs being met are likely healthy. Thank you.

    • There’s nothing wrong with a church meeting needs (and plenty that’s right with it), but too many people think the church is all about them. It’s one thing to tell your pastor when you have a legitimate grievance, but it’s quite another to grumble constantly and regularly about how your “needs aren’t being met”. Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve. Too many church members these days have it backwards.

  • #3 has been one of my pet peeves for a long, long time. I learned a long time ago that it’s impossible to meet the needs of people who refuse to be satisfied.

  • I struggle as a member with thinking some of these statements. (Please note thinking not saying) Our church needs change and we are changing. My issue is dealing with a pastor who micromanage everything and who has a knee jerk response to most issues and objections. I so wish we had a pastor who would be willing to slow down to a reasonable pace of change and listen to his congregation.

    • I am falling into some of the areas here Thom has brought up……and I have “duly noted” them. I appreciate you Thom for giving this a different perspective that I have not considered.

      My question is “how” do I or a congregation change? I mean, we keep talking about “money” issues in our church meetings, many of your blogs focus on tithing yet any suggestions by many in the congregation are met with a terse attitude at times from the Board, the pastor, the pastor’s wife…….I mean, the are some issues in a church that cannot be solved with money or men. As I recall until the 1960’s or early 1970’s the Roman Catholic Church was one of the largest “corporations” so to speak in the world, and yet all the money could not fix declining attendance, and other ills that plague a flock. In the secular world, IBM Corporation (which I was employed with for 17 years) in the early 1990’s almost went belly up…….even with all the real estate, equity, dividend, physical company assets of buildings and equipment, licensing agreements, partnerships, patents, copyrights, etc……… understand.

      Some of this comes from the top. I am not saying “pastors have to go if a church has problems” nor am I “putting the burden of sick church on a pastor” but when a pastor, reverend, or priest starts behaving like a CEO / CFO instead of a “man of God” first…what is a flock to do?

      Seeds of destruction like this don’t just show up. In some cases it has been years in the making, perhaps even before the current pastor arrived.

      Sometimes a firm, but genuine honesty of “hey, I need help here” can go really far in flock instead of another sermon about tithing……..

      The younger generations don’t stay anyway, and so many churches have bent over backwards with everything to cater to them and they still “leave” or find offense in anything.

      People in the body really need to find their gifts and use them, and it needs to be encouraged from the top.

  • Kevin B. Jones says on

    I read your blogs. I’ve never commented.

    While these are sad statements, and I’ve heard them all, it is somewhat encouraging to know that I am not the only one who has to deal with this mindset. Pastoring is a tremendous load to carry. Sometimes it almost seems crushing. Thanks for always sharing the light that exposes darkness.


  • “We don’t want (any more) people like you.” This creates a second/third class of church attendee who is allowed to come and donate money and/or effort but not truly wanted, will not be allowed to lead anything, may not even be considered a real Christian, and can not be a recipient of pastoral care. These people cry out to God and ask why if He can accept them and others, then why can’t the congregation?

    “Wait your turn.” This means you aren’t old enough to be allowed to offer a suggestion. Somewhere around 55 is when people’s ideas are regarded as decent.

  • Glen McKinney says on

    From time to time we all hear statements like these, or similar to. It’s vitally important as a staff member to listen to these statements with a caring ear, but to do our best to steer towards a greater vision for the what our churches stand for. Many times these statements are squeaky wheels that need to be removed, once acknowledged. None of us like the back door reality of our churches, but from time to time, we’re not to bent out of shape be whom we see using them.

    Thank you Thom for a great list of red flags to keep an ear out for…they are deadly for sure.

    In Christ.

  • Mike Lyons says on

    I would add, (and this goes along with #5) “Its time for the next generation to step up and do the work.” There seems to be this idea that at some point, many Christians go into some kind of retirement…I suppose because they look at the Church the same way they would a job. Once you reach a certain age, its time to retire. This seems more like an excuse to shirk responsibility.

    • The senior citizens in my church do not view their responsibilities as belonging to a younger generation, however, I do see them dealing with health issues that hinder how much they would like to serve.

      • Mike Lyons says on

        Health issues can definitely play a role, as well as life circumstances. I’m not dropping it all on the baby boomers, because I too would like to see people who are 30-50 start putting what they believe in action rather than just expecting the Church to be there only to serve their (our) needs. I am one in this age range and believe me the excuses abound. Its the “somebody-should-do-that” syndrome that is so prevalent. We need to grow up and take our commission seriously.

      • My pastor has a philosophy…Every leader should be training their replacement” I agree with that completely. We (60 and up) leaders can’t just drop the responsibilities on the next generation. Sometimes it seems that we older leaders guard our “power” by keeping others out of leadership until WE are ready to hand it of…to people who are completely unprepared for it…then we either sit back and enjoy watching them fail or just complain because they don’t hit the ground running.

      • Exactly.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said.

      • I believe the pastor has the vision for ministries to be started and developed. I also believe people who can meet their own goals (spiritual and others,) and can pursue their passions while serving in ministry will be joyful and productive. I coordinated a MOPS group when I left a management position to be a full time mother. God gave the pastor the vision and me the desire and the gifting and it happened from there. Identifying the spiritual gifts among the congregants is key.

  • Mike Lyons says on

    Great article, Thom. I have not heard these statements in our church, but I can see that #1 is a major problem. My question is, how do you respond upon hearing one of these? It seems that once one of these seeds has taken root the difficulty lies in turning the attitude around. Though I guess the answer is specific to each situation.

    • I had a lady in my last church (by the way we closed the doors and gave the facilities and properties to a church plant) who would constantly tell me that her tithe paid my paycheck. One day I simply replied, “I have seen your tithe and it doesn’t even come close to paying my paycheck!” Then I walked away. She never said it again.

      • Alex Clayton says on

        Had a hog farmer come up to me after I gave a sermon in the Prodigal Son, and put his arm around me and pointed to the giving board and state; “3/4s of the weekly contributions comes from a hog farmer”. I quickly responded, “that the hog farmer doesn’t think much of his hogs”????

      • Glen Hazel says on

        Casting your pearls before swine? A better comment would be “Thank you God for this hog farmer. please send us more hog farmers.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Mike –

      That post is coming later. Stay tuned . . .

  • Sadly, I heard all 6 almost weekly on various ways at my last pastorate.

  • These all speak volumes to me. I would add, “It’s our generation who pays the bills, so you better do what we want.”

    • Mike Richardson says on

      It is interesting that I am hearing more and more that this is a myth. Many leaders mistakenly believe that the retired generation on fixed income are the heavy givers. A study of your church would probably find that it is the 45-60 yr olds in their peak earning phase are actually paying the bills.

    • Yup, heard that one

    • End time evangelist says on

      The early apostles in acts refused to accept simon the sorcerer’s offer of money so he can have a power trip. Politics is the right place for that ambition. In our church, it was God who provided for 25 years in spite of some cartels leaving because their agenda was not met.

    • David Troublefield, DMin says on

      6 characteristics of healthy/functional organizations able to accomplish their missions:

      1. Common purpose
      2. Clear roles
      3. Accepted leadership
      4. Effective processes
      5. Solid relationships
      6. Excellent communication

      See Triaxia Partners (of Atlanta) for details.

      Which group of believers cannot learn, use, and measure themselves/their progress by those characteristics? Churches that do are advancing; congregations that do not, do not. Do.

      • Carolyn Lovdal says on

        Great list David, but I have to add just one more.
        7. Prayer — without asking for God’s Wisdom and the power of The Holy Spirit, there is no invitation for Him to move in our hearts or in the church. And we’re basically telling Him that “we’ve got this God”!

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