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7 Quick Reasons Why Your Church Cannot Grow

For the past few months my mind has been on mission and reaching folks who are lost. There are some of you who are like, “Dude, I thought that is kind of your job.” It is but the fact of the matter is that there is more to ministry than mission but that is another post. The teens and I have gone through some discussion on Sunday morning about mission and this has really got me thinking a lot about it. The term “missional churches” has been a Christian buzzword for close to a decade now. I love the way Ed Stetzer defines it in a post he wrote for Christianity Today:

Being missional conveys the idea of living on a purposeful, Biblical mission. Mission is the reason the church exists and the church joins Jesus on mission. And, this mission is from everywhere to everywhere.

I like that definition for mission. Using that as a definition I want to share some things where I think the church is missing the boat. There are other posts that parse it better but this is where I see our churches struggling when it comes to growth (see “Further Reading” below). Feel free to disagree, clarify or add in the comments section below. Also, I give a confession below that I need you to read.

Your Church Cannot Grow Because:

  1. They lack clear vision. Andy Stanley said, “Everybody ends up somewhere in life. A few people end up somewhere on purpose. Those are the ones with vision.” If I were to go up to a member in your church and ask them, “What is the vision of your church?” what do you think the answer would be? Vision doesn’t solve everything but it does give you clarity on where you want to go.
  2. They are stuck in the past. Whether it is antiquated theology or reusing old ways of doing things, churches that remember the “good old days” might not make it to new days. Insert “gospel meetings” right here folks. They are done along with other programs that used to work.
  3. They allow power hungry folks to steer the church. I have never met a growing church who said, “We have this one elder who continually stalls votes or puts out negative vibes.” As long as you have that one person steering the ship because they are power hungry then you will not grow.
  4. Their programs are internally focused. From the youth ministry, to children’s ministry to bible class, to preaching; all seem to gear themselves toward the members. Again, this goes to “lack of vision” but when we start thinking with the members in mind then we might need to evaluate if we have mission in mind.
  5. They do not spend time with the unchurched. I read a book years ago called They Like Jesus but not the Church by Dan Kimball. In that book he made the observation that the longer folks are Christians (in years) the less time they spend with the unchurched. Number four above is part of the reason this is true but it also has to do with our comfort level. It gets messy dealing with the unchurched and it is a whole lot easier avoiding it (we pay the preacher to do it right? SMH).
  6. They do not understand what the gospel really is. I wrote about this a while back but the truth is that our churches have not done a good job at sharing what the gospel really is. We have truncated the gospel making it akin to salvation (i.e., “obeying the gospel”). Worse, I am afraid our theological gymnastic approach to the text (verse hopping and proof texting) has made us more biblically illiterate than ever before. We have zero clue about the story. Another post for another time.
  7. They have no urgency. From visitor follow-up to implementation of new ideas, many churches refuse to act swiftly when it comes to mission. There is more to this but sometimes churches are the slowest to become proactive. We wait and usually are ten years behind the curve on this. I understand change takes time but often it is time that is a luxury.

A Confession…

I have not done well at this over the years and have even contributed to the problem. My heart is for a solution on this instead of whining about problems. I am still learning the missional life Jesus exemplified in the gospels. If I were to open my journal and allow you to read it you would see scores of entries on times where I missed an opportunity or lacked the right courage. I can only get better and do work. I also admit that I have curtailed deeper explanation for my answers above. Meaning, they are too simple and need further explanation. Such is the nature of a blog as one is forced to say what needs to be said and move on. I am sure you understand.


7 Signs Proving Your Church May be Out of Touch with Your Community

Have you ever looked at pictures of abandoned buildings in Detroit? A website called Detroiturbex has hundreds of pictures of abandoned schools, churches and buildings that were once esteemed in beauty but now house nothing more than rats and bats. I love the tab “now and then” because it highlights this stark contrast between what used to be and what currently is. Here is an example:

Cass Technical High School

I look at those pictures and I am reminded of many churches that have closed their doors because they no longer have enough membership. The reason many churches close their doors is that they simply have become irrelevant to the community around them. This was no surprise to many of them as dying usually does not happen overnight with churches. They ignored the signs and refused to change and so, like a slow cancer, the death took a while but it surely came. Below I share 7 signs that your church is out of touch with its community. These come from many articles read, being a minister for 11 years and having conversations with many people in leadership.

#1 Your church does not look like your community

I have spent plenty of time with this before but suffice it to say that if you are a church in a multi-racial and an economically diverse community yet your church is filled with a homogeneous race and economic group then you are out of touch with your community. In the leadership Jesus chose he had the rich (tax collectors), poor and everything in between. His leadership looked like a sample from first century Palestine. I know people disagree with me on this but I firmly believe our churches need to represent our communities racially and economically.

#2 Your church lacks young families.

How many twenty somethings are in your church compared to older folks? Are there a lot of children in your church? If our churches lack the young families we need to ask the question, “Why do we not have the young families attending our church?”

#3 Your church has an intractable, unilateral programming.

Meaning, your church only has programs that benefit…wait for it…your church. Two words: GOSPEL MEETING. I saw a sign the other day that read, “Come to our gospel meeting,” and I cringed a little. This is insider language that only a select group understands and the meeting itself is really geared toward those in the “know” anyways. Think about it for a second. How many unchurched, community people drive by and read a sign that says, “Gospel Meeting” and think to themselves: “Wow. That sounds amazing. I really want to go to that strange place and meet strange people because gospel meeting sounds really enticing.” That goes for many of the different programs that seem to benefit only those internally and not really appeal to those externally.

#4 Not many people from the community use your building.

Many churches are so protective of their building like it is the temple of David or something. If someone wants to use it for their wedding they have to give a background check, blood sample and if all of that passes they better not bring in an instrument. Because clearly an instrument in a building used for secular purposes is a clear sign that the mark of the beast is upon that church. Does your church allow AA, Al-Anon, Community Suppers (not the bait-and-switch kind), Charities or other organizations to use your building? If not, then your church may be more of a burden than a blessing.

#5 When a community event needs to happen your church is not called on to help.

Relay for life, 5k/10k runs, school support, blood drive, sports tournaments, community awareness meetings or anything along those lines. Living in Springfield, Tennessee there are a couple of churches that I hear who are always involved in community events. Whether it is hosting the hospitality tent at a state baseball tournament or having a booth and every local fundraiser these two churches are synonymous with this community. The cynic in me wants to say that it is more about marketing than the messiah but the realist in me says that they understand that if they are going to make a difference with the lost then they better make a difference in the community.

#6 Conversations in the church hover on the “good ole days” instead of today.

“Hey Bill.”

“Hey there Fred.”

“You remember when we used to have 450 people come to Sunday morning services?”

“Sure do, Fred.”

“We could get about 375 every night at the Gospel Meeting. Bro. Traveling Preacher would lay it on us thick each night.”

“Sure did, Fred. Stepped on our toes like we needed. They don’t make gospel preachers like they used to.”

“Heck no Bill. Man those were the good ole’ days weren’t they?”

“You ain’t kiddin’.”

Conversations like that in leadership and in the church are a clear sign that they do not have the pulse of the community in their minds and hearts. A blogger and youth ministry aficianado Adam McLane tweeted one day:

Your organizations best path forward is to stop investing in stuff that didn’t work yesterday. (@mclanea).

We have got to work on things that will improve our churches impact in the community right now and quit spending time on the hamster wheel of old ways of doing things. If we do it the old way it looks like this:


#7 Nobody in the Community Talks About the Church

I understand this may be subjective especially if you live in a huge city or one with a bunch of churches.

“Hey my name is Sarah Churchmember and I go to First Church of Robertson County.”

“What church is that?”

“Oh…you know…First Church of Robertson County.”

“Not ringing a bell. Is it a new church?”

“No, we just celebrated our 100 year anniversary.”

“Whoops. Well I have lived in Robertson County my whole life and never heard of ya’ll.”

There are many ways to describe that conversation but a face palm seems to be in order. Does anyone in your community really know about your church? Can they tell you even exist? How? What tangible evidence exists to prove it? I am afraid many of our churches are pieces of brick and mortar that simply house our mundane worship because really we just want to be zapped up to heaven anyways.

Here’s the deal. My point and purpose of this post is to get you and your church moving to be a light to the community instead of a piece of property that pays the bills. To do that we have to be advocates for our community and super-involved from the leadership down to the pew members.

What would you add to this?

If I visited your church, would I matter?

A couple of Sundays ago I had the opportunity to go to a different church other than the one I serve. I always love going to new a different places than the current context I am in because it allows me to get new ideas and worship without worrying about being a “leader.” I want to share my frustrating Sunday morning.

  • I wanted to visit Church A but I could not find the worship times on their website nor an updated calendar (seems to be an epidemic).
  • Instead I decided to visit Church B for class. I went to Church B walked in after their early service and tried to find a class. No greeters to help me along the way. No signs locating classrooms and topics. I wandered aimlessly for about 8 minutes. I decided to leave.
  • I went to Church C because I knew their exact class time. I walked in, was greeted nicely and invited over to sit down with them over a cup of coffee. I finally felt like this was going to go well. I sat down and they talked about the weather for 20 minutes. I went to class where I was the youngest person (by 25 years…I am turning 35 next week) and we studied (eh hem…read) from a prefab class booklet.

My Sunday morning was off all because, as a visitor, I could not find my way. I want to post later this year about how to specifically help your church with visitors but I just want to ask the question first:

If I visited your church, would I matter? Click To Tweet

Casting Crowns sang and rather inditing song called, “If we are the body” where he chronicles people who encounter church folk and their subsequent responses to those encounters. Here is a sampling of the lyrics…

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

Thom Rainer wrote a post a couple of years ago entitled, “Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests?” and here are the 10 ways:

  1. Having a stand up and greet one another time in the worship service. 
  2. Unfriendly church members. 
  3. Unsafe and unclean children’s area. 
  4. No place to get information. 
  5. Bad church website. 
  6. Poor signage. 
  7. Insider church language. 
  8. Boring or bad service. 
  9. Members telling guests that they were in their seat or pew. 
  10. Dirty facilities.

I can certainly resonate with many of these. Looking at the list which ones does your church struggle with the most? Thom did this as an informal Twitter survey but I would say these are certainly true for many of us.

So what would you add to this list above? Would I really matter if I attended your service? Do you even care about visitors?