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 often wonder if the people who do not think they are being “fed” really have a different need but do not realize it. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for me: I am not a pew sitter. IMO, God made me a worker, not a spectator. In those instances where I was unfulfilled in a church, it wasn’t the church’s fault. I was ansey to do some kind of ministry, not be ministered to! Meeting #3 by service may also deal with #5, because then the next generation will be training for their place in the future.

  • Bill Pitcher says on

    Another comment has addressed a portion of this.
    There is an attitude in some folks that “I’ve been here to see 3 (or 4 or 8 or 10) pastors come and go, and I’ll watch this one go too.”
    Maybe that attitude is the reason all those pastors have come and gone. Sometimes I think that it’s a way for the discontent to maintain a measure of power for him/herself. If a pastor is never allowed to take root in a church, those who like to stir the pot can maintain control.

  • long time Linda says on

    The one pastor we had that most wonderfully and successfully turned around a dying church insisted on not dropping the monthly full congregation business meeting. And if something came up, and there was push back to a change, he always spoke up with “let’s just table this for now, wait until we are in one accord, and pray about it.”

    Sometimes by next business meeting God had the people on board. Sometimes the pastor had changed his mind. And sometimes we just waited a while.

  • I would add, “You aren’t the kind of people we want in this church.” to guests. We had a recently homeless couple who wandered into our church one day. And though they never asked for help, a number of our church members pulled together to help them get on their feet again. This couple stayed for a few months and started helping around the church doing odd jobs like shoveling snow off the sidewalks around the church. That is until a couple church members decided to fill them in on the opinion that they didn’t belong in our church because they used to be homeless.

    Having a hostile attitude towards guests is always toxic.

  • Rick Evans says on

    I had a “revelation” this past Sunday talking to one of our “retirees”. He mentioned that he had a lot of head knowledge from all of his years of bible study that his head almost hurt. I was reminded of a senior widow in the church that she said at her age needed to give away a lot of her acquired stuff so that she could down size to a smaller place. I mentioned to the first senior adult that maybe he needed to do to his knowledge what the widow needed to with her stuff, give it away.

  • Jerry D. Woods says on

    Are those the possible statements of church members who have the attitude that they perceive that the pastor for the most part is coming across to them as a CEO ! Jesus did not build His Church as a Corporation, but as a living Body of Believers !
    What has happened to the Holy Spirit-Led Church? Jesus the Good Shepherd in John 10 knew his sheep by name. How many pastors know their sheep by name especially in the larger churches? How often are pastors in touch with their members to really listen to their needs and what they are thinking about the worship services and the direction of the church. Are they experiencing personal edifying worship or are they coming to observe a performance ? Pastors are called to lead, but conversations with servant deacons, not boss deacons, can help pastors lead their church members to accomplish the pastor’s God-Given visions with most of what they want without causing a disruption in the fellowship and outright rebellion. People sometimes move slowly and change only when they realize the need to do so. In my retirement years, I’m watching some pastors lead in some cases against the wishes of the people. The people come to me and tell me. If we force our views, are we really loving the sheep ? Just because all the other churches are doing it, does not mean it is good for every church. When we study the history of the church from the days of Acts, we find God’s people praying for God’s direction and for specific needs. God changes hearts and makes things happen. Pastors and churches need to often get out of the way and let God do it. Pastors and church members just need to do what God calls each of them to do to help advance the Kingdom of God as a team member. Church member need to be listening and talking with the pastor and leaders in order to know how to advance God-Given Visions for leadership. The Pastor and Ministry team need to delegate responsibilities and allow God-called Believers equipped with their various Gifts of the Spirit to labor together in the unity of the Spirit to glorify God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus !!!

  • Or how about this one, “If we can just get more people like us, we’ll be okay.” And yes it was said in a dying church.

  • What to do if your needs are not being met? I am happy to give my support to my church. All I want in return (yup I want something) is a sermon that is thought provoking and feeds me until next week. If this isn’t happening, is one supposed to just stay where they are and hope for change (been hoping and waiting for two year …Council says change is coming, I haven’t seen it)? Where do you draw the line?

    • lorraine white says on

      This is something I would like to know also. A new pastor came and instead of feeling the word and having the service fill me to minister to other, the service drained me and my personal ministry suffered. I could not enter the church with out crying because I felt so bad. Should I not have withdrawn my funding because I was empty?

  • My husband is a pastor & so was my dad. Yes we are the generation that tithe our 10% to the church but I still don’t believe the pastor is to do what the people tell him. He is to do what God tells him. I have seen everyone of these happen, especially the last one. The first church (it was a very small church) my husband had an older lady who didn’t care of me b/c I kept my 3 month old out in church (to her the church was to be reverent & that’s what the nursery was built for) walked out of church one Sunday & pointed her finger in my husband face & told him flat out “I’ll be here a long time after you’re gone”. He did her funeral 2 wks later. People don’t realize you don’t mess or play around with those God has called.

  • The other Linda, long time responder here. says on

    Certainly all of these statements can kill churches.

    As can NOT making them when they are called for. Case in point:

    One local church of which we used to be a part called a new pastor. Seemed a good it for about six months. But then we heard “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” could not be spoken because some found them sexist and offensive. The idea of repentance for sin needed to go because that harms folks self esteem. When folks complained, we heard pretty close to this blog about all the stuck in the past oldies ruining the church. We walked away when this pastor asked permission to do a gay wedding, and have not looked back.

    The original members have mostly gone to other churches, and yes, this church is growing and attracting some new, mostly younger members.

    Doesn’t make it right or anything I want to be associated with.

    • When a pastor is preaching contrary to the Word of God, churches have a duty to deal with it. If the church refuses to deal with it, then certainly it is appropriate to look for one that actually preaches the Bible.

  • Re: #6. There is a flip side to this remark that is very important regarding conflict. I have known a number of clergy who have responded to deep conflict by asking members to leave. I remember member who responded “This is MY church, too.” Or another side–one often encounters members who decide to “up and leave” because of “one sermon too far”. Or those who jump from church to church to find the pastor who is just right. I think it is more helpful to look at one’s congregation in the light of St. Benedict’s vow of stability and rootedness. Rather than “clergy come and clergy go”, look at how many and deep are the reasons one belongs to a parish community.

  • I’ve got one to add that may not kill churches right now, but it certainly will in the future: “If those colored people want to worship with us, they are welcome to, but I don’t want to worship the way they worship.” This statement could be applied to any group or groups.