Over the last few years I’ve noticed some common mistakes churches make. We are all guilty of these…I know I am. It is easy to get into a comfortable rhythm that ignores opportunities to impact our neighbors, to improve a church’s focus, or to more strategically align church vision with ministry realities.
Sound like your church? If so, do something about it. Take a look at the 15 common mistakes churches make below. Discuss these with your staff, leadership team, or a good friend to get a better idea if or how many of these apply to you and/or your church.
15 Most Common Mistakes Churches Make
1) Copying a Mega Church
We have a tendency in America to celebrate the success of mega churches. Many of them are doing great things. But we sometimes think that what they do will transform our church or community. That may be the case, but not always.
Don’t assume that what a mega church pastor does will automatically apply to your church. I have no problem with churches learning from others. You may even decide to borrow a ministry focus or plan for your church. But make sure what you borrow fits your unique context, your people, and your style of leadership.
2) Building a New Facility Before Clarifying Vision and Strategy
Church planting can exhaust anyone. The weekly set-up and tear down gets frustrating and tiring. Everyone begins to clamor for a new building. You begin to think, “It doesn’t make sense to do all this work each week and pay rent when we could build our own building.”
For the record, existing churches are guilty of this common mistake as well. People get tired of the same facility and begin to experience jealousy of another church in town with a more modern and newer facility.
But do you really need this new facility? No problem if you do, but why do you need it? How will this facility help you to accomplish your ministry objectives and realize your vision? Are you sure you aren’t making your building the vision, instead of the building being a tool for accomplishing your mission and vision? Make sure you know the answers to these questions before you move forward with a building project. If not, consider a consultant to help you go through the clarifying process.
3) Hiring a Pastor Based on a Good Sermon
After waiting 6-12 months or more for a new pastor, people start to get anxious. They begin to think that without a new pastor soon, the church might implode. So you have a pastoral candidate visit and preach. People like the sermon and enjoy meeting the pastor and family. Sounds great, right? Maybe.
Before calling someone to be your new pastor, you’ll want to assess the pastor…thoroughly. Is the pastor a turnaround pastor? How do you know this? Has the pastor helped another church turnaround in the past? What data are you basing your assumptions on before inviting the pastor to serve?
For those in denominational contexts where a bishop “places” or “assigns” a pastor to your church, you and the district superintendent or bishop would be wise to ensure a proper evaluation before placement. Otherwise, you risk an overly short pastoral tenure, church-wide frustration, and a quick return to searching for yet another pastor. Get the right pastor on the front end and you’ll help ensure viability for longer than a few years.
4) Keeping All Ministries to Keep Everyone Happy
Cutting ministries is difficult. This is quite possibly the most glaring of the common mistakes churches make. Ministries often start with great intentions and meet a pressing need and/or passion of a church member. But over time these situations change and you find yourself maintaining a ministry that really needs to be cut.
Do an annual assessment of your church’s ministries and celebrate those that worked for a season but need to end. They aren’t terrible ministries necessarily. They either don’t fit your current context or they don’t fit your church’s current ministry priorities or objectives. You can’t do everything and do it well.
5) Ignoring Church Decline Until the Doors Close
Churches decline. Thousands of them are in decline in the United States right now. It isn’t always a good decision to fight until the death. Doing so could exhaust finances and ruin your church’s legacy. (Check out my article on 13 Deadly Sins of a Dying Church for some tips.)
Consider becoming a legacy church that merges with or becomes a satellite of another church. This type of setup can ensure your resources contribute to a larger vision rather than simply maintaining a building until the doors are shut.
6) Avoiding the Church Constitution and By-Laws
I have spoken with countless pastors who have never thoroughly read or even looked over their church constitution and by-laws. I get that. These documents aren’t easy reads and don’t impact the people you need to visit or sermons you need to prepare.
But these documents do create the legal framework for your church. They establish the parameters for capital campaigns, new buildings, leadership transitions, and much more. Knowing their content helps the pastor know how to navigate the complexity of church leadership and avoid the potential legal or financial pitfalls the church could potentially face.
7) Rejecting the Pastor’s Request for a Sermon Planning Retreat
Pastors need time to prepare sermons. With all that goes on week to week, pastors tend to get behind and rush their preparation if they aren’t careful. I’ve had pastors confess that they spend anywhere from 10-30 hours a week on their sermon preparation.
Give your pastor a week or two a year (at least) to get away and focus and long-range sermon planning. These weeks aren’t a vacation and shouldn’t be held over the pastor’s head as an overly generous perk. They are times to slow down, spend time in prayer, spend time in Scripture, and to plan sermons in advance. Doing so will help your pastor to serve without the perpetual “gun-to-the-head” pressure of weekly sermon preparation and provide your congregation with even stronger teaching of the Word.
8) Expecting the Pastor(s) to Visit Everyone that is Sick
Your pastor will never visit everyone that gets sick or has a surgical procedure. If your pastor does, your pastor won’t have any time left to focus on leading the church. Set clear expectations for how much visitation the pastor should do. Ministry in the church is not only for the pastor.
Create a clear plan for how to mobilize the congregation to care for one another. Many people have the false belief that they haven’t been visited if the pastor didn’t visit. Address this one head on and make sure everyone knows that the church leadership does NOT expect the pastor to visit everyone.
9) Criticizing Rather Than Using Social Media
Social media is a target of endless criticism. It’s almost as if people want to vilify social media, so they can avoid connecting with all the people active on social media. If we criticize it we don’t have to use it, right?
Create a social media plan for your church. This isn’t so that you can play on social media all day. A social media plan clarifies the platforms (ie Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) where the church will have a presence, who will manage it, and what the guidelines are for posting content on the church or pastor’s accounts. Even better, avoid obstacles to effective church communication by creating a communication plan for the entire church rather than social media alone.
10) Treating Children and Youth as Daycare, Not a Critical Ministry
Children are not a nuisance that needs babysitting. They are human beings made in God’s image. They are critical to reaching families and bringing in adults to your church. Make sure you have a clear plan in place for how you will develop leaders to disciple children, protect the safety of children, and create an environment conducive to the spiritual growth of kids and youth.
Parents can tell when children’s and youth ministry is a priority to the church. They may not come back if they have any safety concerns. Impact children and adults will come back over and over (in droves).
11) Focusing on Internal Needs Rather than Their Community
Do you know what needs are in your community? How are you meeting those needs? Where will your church make a deep impact in your community throughout the year? Don’t just do an event or two. Invest deeply over time.
Churches tend to fill their time with church-focused activities, meetings, and Bible studies. These are all good things. But sometimes I wonder how churches with a Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening service could possibly have any bandwidth left to effectively serve their community and create a strong group life. Don’t spend so much time and money on yourself that you forget to live “on mission” as a church.
12) Assuming Their Church Hospitality is Doing Fine
Few people or churches can assess themselves effectively. We lose the ability to see our churches, businesses, or homes as a visitor sees them over time. When is the last time that you asked a guest to share their candid thoughts about their first visit?
There are many ways to step back and take a good look at your church hospitality. Consider sending a few individuals to visit a church or two in the area. Afterwards, ask them what they learned and what ideas they came away with. Some churches can create a list of ideas with a quick meeting or two to brainstorm how to improve their church hospitality. Other churches bring in an outside Sunday Secret Shopper to provide an objective and experience perspective on how to improve the church’s first impressions ministry. Also consider how you can show hospitality to your guests outside of Sunday morning.
13) Focusing on Sunday School Over Small Groups or Missional Communities
Sunday School classes or groups have impacted millions of people over the years. Most churches who still have Sunday School aim to provide Biblical instruction and community in a small classroom type environment. They may want to provide depth that they don’t have time for during the worship service. All that is good and not necessarily something you should end.
But what if your church transitioned to a “attend one, serve one” approach. This approach challenges members/partners to attend one service and serve during another service. It is also a great way to increase the amount of volunteers available to serve. It also impacts group life in some distinct ways.
The “attend one, serve one” approach creates a need for small groups or Missional communities outside of the Sunday School structure. These groups can meet on Sundays or during the week. New attendees will want to get to know others. Small groups give you an easy on-boarding context for new people to form relationships, to learn about Scripture, to serve, and to get discipled by another believers. It also communicates that the church body extends beyond the Sunday experience.
14) Expecting Non-Christians to Act Like Christians
Non-Christians are extremely important. God created them in His image and He gave the church the responsibility to impact their lives. But non-Christians do things that shock Christians and cause Christians to tend to want to have a “holy huddle” instead of engaging them.
Don’t expect non-Christians to act holy, carry a Bible, or know your songs on Sunday mornings. Non-Christians will engage in behavior that you won’t approve of. They will speak in ways you normally wouldn’t. They may not want to spend time with you at the church. You may have to join them on their turf…outside of the church. (Now I’m not advocating sinning in order to reach people, but rather involving ourselves in uncomfortable situations that require involvement outside the church.) Try not to bash non-Christians for their “immoral behavior.” As Christians, we have just as much room to improve. Start by loving non-Christians where they are and gradually sharing Biblical truth with them at the right times.
15) Hosting Events For Christians While Ignoring Opportunities To Impact The Community
Do all your events as a church target Christians? If you don’t create “on-ramps” for non-Christians to get engaged, they likely won’t. Think about major holidays and assess where you host your church events during these times each year.
An easy example is Halloween. If you have an objection to dressing up in scary costumes, no problem. What if your church were to host block parties in 3-5 neighborhoods or at 3-5 homes on Halloween? You could grill out a large amount of hot dogs and hamburgers, rent a bounce house, and invite your neighbors to a fall festival at your home.
To be clear, I’m not adamantly against “Trunk or Treat” events. But these events usually occur at a church building, involve mostly “churched” people, and leave the homes of Christians empty on the one night of the year everyone comes to your house. Do we really expect large amounts of non-Christians or previously churched people to come to our churches on Halloween? I doubt it. Why not go and BE the church to our world instead of expecting them to come to US.
Which of these 15 most common church mistakes could you address this year? Make a plan and start making changes now. These mistakes will keep raising their ugly heads if we don’t take intentional steps to address them.