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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  • “You’re just a youth pastor.”

  • #5 (no $) especially rings true for me. Too often leaders view the budget as the be-all-end-all.

    “We can’t do it because there’s no money for it” becomes an excuse to not think creatively or even TRY.

    Not having enough money is just a problem to solve (like the many others that will come in any endeavor). It shouldn’t be the end of the discussion.

  • “I don’t believe we should go on a mission trip, we should be doing missions in our own areas.” Sounds good, but my experience has shown me 2 truths as it relates to that statement:

    (1) Usually, those who make that statement aren’t involved in either mission field.

    (2) Most churches who engage mission trips also do a great job of local missions.

  • It is not so much that these are said but thought of not only by the leadership but also the membership. Very often what is stated is not always what is thought or believed by the majority.

    • I have told too many times “but we don’t think like that” or “we don’t do that.” Yet, I never saw anyone who went to the person and confronted them as to why they said something that so few agreed with or was too radical.

      Condemn it or you condone it.

  • church I am a member of but rarely attend any more has lead pastor that focuses almost entirely on newcomers. That approach is just as bad as the ignore guest approach. Also appears to me that lead pastors are fostering a mindset that ministry is only done if it is something organized through the church. The same people chewing on me for not participating in church social work are the same ones who do not even know their neighbors.

  • Sterling Tollison says on

    My pastor has been told this before,

    “All you worry about is the pulpit. I run this church”
    – Chairman of Building and Grounds

  • Kelli Harlan says on

    I would love to see you write something (or a few somethings) on “church volunteers”. I have witnessed personally how so many folks volunteer their time and talents only to be abused and mis-used by the leadership of the church. Everything from extra demands and overwhelming expectations to micro-managing all of which (in my opinion) only serve to frustrate the volunteer. Volunteers do so because they have a desire to help and serve. Churches need our talents but that’s not just our money and musical skills. Churches need Volunteers! People that love people (young, old, big & small), every age group should have a place to serve and be served. We need folks who are organizers and event planners, finance folks and carpenters, housekeepers and computer geeks, prayer warriors and parking lot patrollers and EVERYTHING in between. We need both the creative leaders and willing followers but why are we always begging folks to volunteer? Why are we destroying the very help that God sends us and tossing them aside only to beg for more help? Why is their gift never enough? Why do we discount their abilities and talents because we don’t understand them or think we know how to do it better? If leadership is so smart, if we know how it should be done why don’t we just do it? Volunteers are givers yet those gifts are often times very unappreciated by leadership. These wonderful people are tangible assets with talents that they are offering/giving in service to the church only to find that those gifts are received by a leadership that wants to manipulate them by demanding that they do even more or in some cases do something totally wrong all because they don’t like it or don’t want to lose control of it. While it is one thing to maximize a person’s potential it’s quite another to take advantage of your leadership position and guilt or force a volunteer into something they are not equipped to handle. How often do we see young believers who find it hard to say no because leadership leads them to feel like they are disappointing God? I know personally the pain and frustration caused by some of these very issues and have witnessed the devastating affects to both the volunteer and even to the church relationship. Should we not as leaders encourage volunteers to say “this is what I am prepared to do” then determine how to best utilize that gift within our organizations expectations and needs? Why do we continually press and press volunteers to their breaking point then shun or discipline them when they say no, or quit, or worse yet just leave the church all together.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Good idea.

    • Kelli, I think that what you are saying kind of touches on number 3 in this list. In many cases you have leadership within a church that has a “vision” of what that church should look like. What happens is that if your personal gifting does not fit into the vision for that church you will be marginalized.

      There are so many people out there with so many visions and they often seem to be really small because it generally involves everybody moving in the same direction. We can have a very hard time individually being all things to all people, but within the diversity of the body we can reach out in many directions at once. No one person can or should be involved in everything.

      From my experience it seems like the really successful ministries tend to be one person or a small group of people being supported in something that they are passionate in, rather than one corporately decided focus that some people are passionate about but everyone is expected to participate in.

      My suggestion would be to potentially stop volunteering for the church, and just find something that you are passionate about and serve your community. If you need support as it grows, then reach out to your brothers and sisters for the help that you might need.

    • 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

      From St. Matthew ch 23.
      Also in St. Luke’s gospel.

      Kelli, This is nothing new.

      Why do you think that Habit for Humanity gets more volunteers that most churches? They learned how to treat volunteers. There are more people in churches that would give time and effort if only they weren’t criticized, micro-managed, or of the wrong gender, age, marital and parental status, etc.

  • I don’t know how else to contact you, but your emails have been trying to connect to feedburner recently every time I flip past them in my email client. It takes forever to connect sometimes and I don’t know why they are all of sudden doing this (probably past couple of weeks). I’m going to have to unsubscribe if I can’t figure out how to stop it from trying to connect all of the time. That being said, I really enjoy your blog and emails.

  • I wonder if #1 comes about sometimes innocently, because churches are some of the few places in the culture (the only place in the culture?) where SO much unpaid volunteer work goes on, from top to bottom, from simple cleaning tasks to the leading of the body. And if a church doesn’t have a good, detailed description of the pastor’s role or expected tasks, as that particular church views them, then you’re more likely to get odd/weird/wrong comments about what people t-h-i-n-k the pastor should be doing (and related to the fact that he is paid, while others are not). On a related note–I wonder how many statements in this list are views held by church members/staff–but UNsaid……