Turnaround or growth is usually the result of some action taken by the leadership.
Usually, it’s not the little changes that kill a church but the big changes that go untried. Either leadership is afraid of these BIG changes, or they can’t even imagine them. Either way, nothing is deadlier than ignoring the BIG killers facing your ministry and the church where you serve Christ.
So, here are a few of the really BIG killers that go untried far too often.
Taking Incremental Steps
I still remember the advice I received when I was appointed to my first mainline church. My supervisor said, “Get to know the people and then slowly make a few small changes.” That is the worst advice anyone can give to a pastor, no matter what the condition of the church. I knew in my gut that my supervisor was wrong, so I didn’t follow his advice. When I challenged the congregation during my first sermon, I could see jaws dropping and tears welling up in some eyes. After that morning, the phone rang continuously at my supervisor’s home, wanting me moved. But to his defense, he understood triangulation and told them to work it out with me. As a result of two big moves that first year, the church grew from 19 people in worship to over 250 people worshipping each week in less than two years. The rest is history.
Making incremental changes kills a church. Incremental change is like halfway pulling a tooth on Monday and pulling the rest of it over the next five days. It is one trauma after another. In contrast, making the one BIG change gets the trauma over quickly. I’ve never seen incremental change make a major difference in a church, much less the change in a church’s culture. And if the culture isn’t changed, nothing else matters.
We know there are nine BIG changes a pastor can implement in changing the course and culture of a church. I wrote about them in my book Unfreezing Moves. You can get a digital copy here.
Being Afraid to Fail
Many of the major discoveries of our time are the result of multiple failures along the way. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be afraid of not learning from your failures. If you have staff who have never made a mistake, you have the wrong staff.
Being a Controller
Permission-giving is one of the hallmarks of a great leader. Leading through others is biblical, not to mention it’s essential to success in today’s culture. The best leaders don’t try to be the center of attention; instead, they give the limelight away by making heroes out of others. I wrote about this in my book Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.
Trying to remain anonymous
Too many churches fail to understand the importance of visibility. Where I see this most often is in their mission programs. Instead of sending volunteers into the community to help an organization, they send a check. Checks seldom create visibility. Leaders need to remember Matthew’s admonition: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”(Matt. 5:16).
Acting like it’s 1960
The average age in mainline churches is now over 60. That means most mainline leadership was born into a far different culture than the one that we live in today, and that creates a problem for those who still think it’s the 1960s or before. If you don’t understand the culture, you can’t lead a church. You don’t have to like the culture, but you must understand it to reach it.
Worship is the primary place where I see leaders thinking it’s still 1960. The bulletin is full of words; the service is full of written and spoken liturgy; and the music is more like Lawrence Welk than Bruno Mars.
But worship isn’t the only place church leadership still thinks it’s 1960. Consider for a moment their understanding of the digital revolution. Odds are they still pay bills by putting a check in the mail rather than using PayPal. But the real killer is they don’t see the value in putting money in Kiosks throughout the church.
More Than Two Committees
Committees don’t grow churches or people. Instead, they always get in the way. The more committees you have, the smaller your church will remain. So, what can you do to get your structure down to two or fewer committees? I know some churches have no idea how to function without committees. But that is another reason why you’re in decline. Every hour spent in a committee is one less hour you can spend growing your church. Instead of pushing back, think – how can my church function with only one or two committees? The church I attend has close to 9,000 people every weekday, and the only committee is the staff meeting.
You’re Not Rabid About Local Evangelism
This is the number one reason most churches are in decline. If you’re not passionate about evangelism, then your days are numbered as a church leader. I know – this isn’t a popular stance for many pastors, especially those in dying churches. But it’s a fact – either you’re rabid about reaching and converting people, or else your church is on its way out of existence. It’s that simple.
Now here is the kicker – if you’re rabid about evangelism, you redirect enough money so that it amounts to a minimum of 10 percent of your budget, and you measure success by the number of servants who share their faith during the week in such a way that it results in new Christians.
I saved this one to the last, even though it is the number one reason most churches are in decline. If you’re not passionate about evangelism, then your days are numbered as a church leader. I know- this isn’t a popular stance for many pastors, especially those in dying churches. But like I said, you’re either rabid about reaching and converting people, or else your church is on its way out. Period.
If your church is in decline or on a plateau, then consider the possibility that most of what you are doing is hindering your future and the future of the Kingdom and make the BIG changes.