Ten Troubling Statements Church Leaders and Members Make

December 8, 2014
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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?

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83 Comments

  • DAVID PRICE ROBINSON says on

    Thom, good article. However, I may be the lone dissenter. I think most of your list is spot on. I think there is a place for #8. Let me explain. I am not espousing racism or any sort of prejudice. However, just as we as individual members of a local congregation are “many members but one body”, I think God can and does raise up specific churches to reach specific people groups. And these congregations are being a member of the larger Church body.
    As an example, my brother is a pastor of a church that started in an old John Deere dealership. The smell of diesel was in the air and old oil stains were on the floor. The local bank president or lawyer may not be comfortable there. But, then, the farmers and ranchers (and other blue collar types) which my brother’s church reached would not have been as comfortable on the red pile carpet, formal vestibule, and chandeliers of the primary church in town. Neither was bad, they were just different. That doesn’t mean that others were not welcome, but these churches had natural in-roads to these folks.
    Similarly, the church I attend is a clapping, shouting, testifying sort of old-school Appalachian baptist church. We can’t even spell liturgy. And if you encounter the same order of service two weeks in a row, I guarantee you it was an accident. Some folks are not comfortable with that level of freedom. But on the other side, our members would be disruptive if they chose to worship at the church 2 miles up the road.
    By praying and identifying your body’s own spiritual DNA: by looking at where God planted you, by looking at the gifts, talents, and skills God has blessed your congregation with, I believe a church can discern unique ministries and opportunities to serve in their area. After all, God placed them where they are and gave them the members they have for a reason – in His divine sovereignty.
    There is no “white church”, black church”, “Large church, or “small church” there is only The church, and individual members of that body serving where they were called, blooming where they were planted…or not. It is not about competition but obedience. There are enough lost people in every community for us all to share as we join our Father in the family business of seeking, redeeming, and discipling.
    Keep up the good work! (but let us have number #8) 🙂

  • I’m eagerly waiting for the resource to talk about guest friendliness!

  • I’ve heard every one of those at the church I serve except #6. This post is eerily on target.

  • Here’s a familiar song I grew up hearing having special needs in my family, working in children’s ministry, and having a child with special needs. After bringing a need to leadership (even with a suggestion and willingness to enact it), the response is that they haven’t heard anyone else with this concern/issue/problem, so they didn’t see the need to address is potentially for others too. When someone speaks, led by the Spirit, there are others who may not yet be mature enough in their spirituality to share their needs. Statistically there are likely others–but that was rarely if ever the reaction.

  • Many of the comments have tended to focus on one or another of these statements, or add more to the list. This sounds a lot like falling into the #3 trap, doesn’t it? But the first sentence of the article indicates that all or most of these statements taken together spell doom. Every congregation has at least one or two areas of ministry that could use some improvement. My congregation could work on a couple of the items on this list. The danger I see is letting that become “the main thing.” Backing up to get a broader view might show us where the individual items on our own lists aggregate to prevent us from being effective in ministry.

  • Grant O'Dell says on

    I am having a much stronger conviction with this word “RACE” not because it isn’t a word with meaning but because it is a word that is misused. There is only one “RACE” it begins with Adam and Eve. Let us who believe the Book be leaders in making the word apply as it should one race there are ethnic differences there are people group differences but genetically there are no differences.

  • In regards to number 1, don’t words like “staff”, “lay leader”, and “pastor” lead to the kind of thinking that is being addressed in that concern in the first place. By assigning titles and positions to certain people within the congregation it would seem to engender the attitude that those are the people who are supposed to “do” ministry.

    If you hire someone for a position it is only natural to have an attitude within the congregation that they should be out doing their job.

    I would wonder if congregations that raise up leadership (even paid leadership) from within are any less likely to fall ino this than those who go through a hiring process to bring someone into the congregation.

    There are plenty of congregations out there that will give lip service to a dissolution of the clegy/laity distinction, but I would wonder how many of them still function as if it exists.

    • Mark Dance says on

      I agree that titles can become obstacles to an every-member ministry. However, the “pastor” who fulfills that biblical role will intentionally be “equipping/training the saints in the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:11). Each pastor will eventually become either the catalyst for ministry involvement or a bottleneck to it.

      • Mark, I agree with everything that you said there. I think that the key word in what you wrote is “role”. A pastor is defined by their gifting, and the role within the body that they are functioning in. That is one of the reasons why I will harp on something like pastor search committees because we should be raising up people who ARE functioning within a role, rather than assigning job responsibilities to someone who we have deemed to have the qualifications. For the most part we don’t seem to have a problem doing that with elders or deacons, but when it comes to the pastor we seem to shy away from raising up leadership from within.

        Part of the issue is that so many of the extraneous details of running a church fall on the shoulders of the pastor because he is the one who gets “paid for ministry”. It gets to the point that they can’t necessarily focus their time on their actual gifting to equip and train the body for ministry. With the exception of discipleship, none of what is listed in number 1 applies to the pastor any more than it does to the believer in general. If you ask the pastor to head up an evangelism ministry, you are asking him to function as an evangelist rather than a pastor.

        The body needs to function as a whole, in some cases that means that the congregation needs to be lifted up. In other cases it means that the pastor needs to be taken off his pedestal. In either case we are many members, but we are one body.

  • To go along with #4 – We’ve NEVER done it this way. (The rest of that statement usually remains unspoken, but is often seen in the attitude that goes with change-resistant people – “And we NEVER will!”)

    • Thom Rainer says on

      So true!

    • That finishes up with a condemnation to hell from the pulpit for asking/suggesting it in the first place.

    • Mark, I agree with everything that you said there. I think that the key word in what you wrote is “role”. A pastor is defined by their gifting, and the role within the body that they are functioning in. That is one of the reasons why I will harp on something like pastor search committees because we should be raising up people who ARE functioning within a role, rather than assigning job responsibilities to someone who we have deemed to have the qualifications. For the most part we don’t seem to have a problem doing that with elders or deacons, but when it comes to the pastor we seem to shy away from raising up leadership from within.

      Part of the issue is that so many of the extraneous details of running a church fall on the shoulders of the pastor because he is the one who gets “paid for ministry”. It gets to the point that they can’t necessarily focus their time on their actual gifting to equip and train the body for ministry. With the exception of discipleship, none of what is listed in number 1 applies to the pastor any more than it does to the believer in general. If you ask the pastor to head up an evangelism ministry, you are asking him to function as an evangelist rather than a pastor.

      The body needs to function as a whole, in some cases that means that the congregation needs to be lifted up. In other cases it means that the pastor needs to be taken off his pedestal. In either case we are many members, but we are one body.

  • My biggest concern is any statement starts with “you” instead of “we.” “You all don’t do…” indicates the speaker doesn’t consider themselves a part of the church. (Even positive comments worded this way concern me– “you have a great church.” When I hear this from long-time members it often indicates they are thinking about leaving. I also occasionally catch myself in sermons saying “You need to…” instead of “We need to…” Christ calls us a body and what happens to one part impacts the rest. For good or bad, we are “we” and not “you.”

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Totally agree.

    • I think in some cases it depends on who the “you” is aimed at because it might be a symptom of a very different problem. It may very well be that the person has intellectually seperated themselves from the body, but I have also seen situations where you have a pastor who routinely refers to the church as “his church”. I don’t mean this in the way that I might refer to “my family”, which I am a part of, but as “my company” or “my shoes” which belong to me.

      There are many leaders out there that kindle that “Me and Them” attitude. Sometimes it is not the member who has seperated himself from the body, but the assumed head that has long ago done so. It it often times subtle, but it can be found within the language that is used sometimes bu pastors and other leadership.

      • Regarding the commonly used term “MY” when referring to the church……
        This word really is disturbing when coming from a long-time elder or deacon whose relative of long past may have been one of the founders of the church.
        This can reveal that they may actually posses the attitude that it really is THEIR church, and in a subtle way letting the hearer know who is in charge.

  • Again Thom another great article.

    According to the Biblical definition of what the church should be, I don’t know how churches that frequently use these statements especially numbers 2, 7, 8, & 10, could even qualify as a church to begin with. These statements are more descriptive of a private country club rather than a church.