Ten Troubling Statements Church Leaders and Members Make

If you want your church to move toward a slow yet certain death, make certain your church leadership and membership affirms most of these ten statements. They are troubling statements. Indeed they are proclamations that virtually assure your church’s decline and probable demise.

What is troubling is that these statements are not uncommon. They are articulated by both staff and lay leaders at times. See if you have ever heard any of these ten.

  1. We hire our pastors and staff to do that. “That” can be evangelism. Or discipleship. Or caring for others. Or visiting people in the hospital. Some lay leaders view pastors and staff as hired hands to do ministry they should be doing themselves.
  2. We have enough churches in our community. I rarely see a community that is really “overchurched.” The number of unchurched people in any one community is typically increasing, not decreasing. This comment usually comes from church leaders who view new churches as competition.
  3. We are a discipleship church. Or an evangelism church. Or a ministry church. Church leaders who say their churches are focused on only one area of ministry are offering excuses not to be obedient in other areas.
  4. We have never done it that way before. Yes, it’s cliché. But it’s still a very pervasive attitude among change-resistant people in the church.
  5. We don’t have the money to do that. More times than not, the church does indeed have the money to focus on necessary priorities. The problem is that some church leaders don’t have the courage to reallocate funds toward those priorities.
  6. We really don’t emphasize small groups. Churches that do not give a priority to small groups or Sunday school classes can count on a big exodus of people out the back door. Those in groups are five times more likely to stay involved in a church than those in worship services alone.
  7. We have enough people in our church. This is a tragic statement by leaders of inwardly focused churches. And it is an excuse not to do evangelism and ministry.
  8. We aren’t a church for those kinds of people. Though similar to number seven, this statement is an appalling declaration made by church members who really believe people of a certain race, ethnic group, income group, or other descriptor should be excluded from the congregation.
  9. We really shouldn’t expect much of our members. Low expectation churches are far too common. Too many church leaders communicate unwisely that it’s okay for members to do nothing, give nothing, and not be concerned about growing spiritually.
  10. We focus only on our members, not guests and others. Many church leaders make this statement either explicitly or implicitly. Sometimes the facilities, the worship services, and the small groups shout “Guests not welcome!” I released a resource today that addresses this critical issue of guest friendliness.

What do you think of these ten troubling statements? Are they accurate? Are they fair? What would you add or change?

Posted on December 8, 2014

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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  • Thanks for the list. #8 definitely resonates for us. Our organization resources churches to minister with kids with disabilities and their families. We surveyed attendees to a conference we held last month and found that more than 60% of our attendees with a disability or a family member with a disability had been unable at some point to attend church as a result of the disability.

    As a physician in a pediatric subspecialty, it’s shocking for me to hear some of the stories parents share about their experiences when they’ve sought to attend church. Thanks for pointing out the absurdity of some of the statements church leaders make.

  • May I add:
    There is/are a deacon(s)/elder(s) to take care of that. This is often done regardless of the competence/expertise of said deacon/elder. Example is church finances may not be handled by a member who is CPA, banker, financier, etc. but who is not a deacon/elder.

    We don’t want to hear or consider your opinion or thoughts. This translates to you are of the wrong age, gender, marital status, parental status to provide an opinion to for consideration.

    You have to pay to play. This translates to you did not give a large enough donation to be permitted to give an opinion.

  • Tom Rainier says on

    You made some bold claims about small groups.
    “Churches that do not give a priority to small groups or Sunday school classes can count on a big exodus of people out the back door. Those in groups are five times more likely to stay involved in a church than those in worship services alone.”

    I would love to see some research regarding small groups. There are some great journals that what put out by Christian education journal about 6 moths ago. I have no doubt whether small groups are building fellowship opportunities, but i question whether its actually building more mature believers if you know of any research please point me to the right direction.

  • Thom, can you cite your source for the stat that people in small groups are five times more likely to stay in a church? It’s a great point in favor of small groups. Thanks!

  • Thom,

    Nice post. I would also add the ageist church, the one that specifically caters to a specific age group.

    • Thom Rainer says on


    • Yes. I agree. I saw plenty of churches where the old people could do no wrong and the young could do no right.

      • Agreed. I love my church–fabulously flexible. But most churches I’ve been involved in have evening (including midweek) services that begin when we’re putting kids down. Beyond having special needs, young kids need 10 hours of sleep. Yet all the ministry opportunities are understandably during evening and midweek times–and parents of young kids (especially with special needs) can’t sacrifice their kids health to get more involved.

      • I fear today we’re going to the opposite extreme. Churches seem to think young people can do no wrong and old people can do no right. Either mentality is a recipe for disaster.

    • See Chuck Lawless’ blog on “Bridging the Generation Gap”. He gives some good suggestions on how to bring generations together in the church.

  • #11. “We have to be willing to compromise.”

    The watering-down of biblical principles or ideals will wear away conviction. Compromise, even in areas that we think are unimportant, is a dangerous. Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines: for our vines [have] tender grapes.”

    Doctrine matters!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Well said.

    • Not all compromise is bad. Somehow the idea of compromise became equal to “making a deal with the devil”. This is not always the case. If moving the service 30 minutes earlier would help, do it. It having an earlier service on Christmas Eve instead of 11 pm, try it. If implementing an early (7 am ) service for youth involved in sports would help, try it for a few months during the season.

      Listen to what the other person is asking. It might surprise you.

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Certainly methodological compromise is called for at times.

      • Judging from the context of Steve’s comment, I think he was talking about doctrinal compromise, which is always wrong. I’m reminded of an old saying. I can’t remember who said it, but it goes like this: “Moderation in principle is always vice. Moderation in temperament is always virtue.”

  • “young people have ruined the church”

    “he’s not even playing that guitar, he’s just chording”

    “I get nothing out of anything at this church especially the music”

    “we need more strong gospel preaching (we baptize over 10% of attendance)”

    “We need to know where you are pastor”

    “I can’t believe we pay so much, at my first job I made 25¢ an hour and I was there at 7:30 every morning”

    To me: “some people want the pastor there all the time, your primary job is the Word! It’s the church’s job, the people, to visit.”
    To others: “well, I’m the only person who visited So-n-so when they were in the hospital (except I did too, and they’ve never called to tell me of anyone in the hospital)”

    All this from someone almost everyone says, even those who oppose him: “he’s the most godly man I know, his biblical knowledge is amazing.”

    On the finance committee: “well, let’s go over the pastor’s salary in detail… (And they cut it by $10,000, though it’s the Personnel Committee who handles staff compensation, not the Finance Committee)”

    I’d like to find a nice comfy spot between a rock and a hard place. That would be nicer ;^)

  • Josh Burns says on

    I would love to hear your explanation concerning #3. I lead our people to embrace the idea that we have one assignment or main mission and that is disciple making. Everything flows out of making disciples.

  • I’ve been associated with a church that essentially turned #10 around: “We focus only on our guests and others, not on our members.” I’m thinking that’s just as wrong, and just as dangerous.

  • Thanks Thom, a good reminder to avoid saying and/or correct such statements. I would probably add ‘we need to make our message more user friendly in order to get people in’.

  • Doug hunt says on

    I really like your list. I have also heard this by pastors. “You have to run a church like a bussiness.” Very troubling.

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