Posts Tagged ‘blocking church growth’

Many years ago, a church that I served as pastor held an Italian-themed outreach event on our campus one gorgeous Saturday evening.

Because we had a lagoon behind our property, my wife obtained a gondola and we offered our guests rides while someone serenaded them.

After one gondola ride, I greeted a woman I didn’t know and learned that she was from the Czech Republic.

As we walked toward the back entrance to our multipurpose room, she suddenly stopped and refused to go further.  When I asked her what was wrong, she said that she was afraid of entering the church building.

We weren’t going to enter the worship center … merely a larger room used by various groups … but she became so petrified she would not advance a step further.

Many people in our culture won’t set foot on a church campus for a variety of reasons.  Some have terrible memories from childhood.  Others can’t forget the way a family member was mistreated.  Still others are possessed by hostility toward God or pastors or churches as a whole.

But sometimes, people have a negative reaction because a church long ago made them feel so uncomfortable … or anxious … or excluded … or afraid … that they don’t want to feel that way again.

My wife and I attended a church in our area recently for the second time, but sadly, it will be the last time because that church … like thousands in our country … simply wasn’t ready for anyone new to show up.

The only way for any church to grow is by reaching newcomers … and you can only attract and keep them when you make them feel comfortable enough to stick around.

Let me share with you five things that many churches do to keep people from returning … and this is only a brief list:

First, they let the church phone go unanswered.

I was once speaking with a pastor in his office when the phone rang.  When I asked him, “Shouldn’t you get that?”, he said, “No, the church answering machine will get it.”

But if a church wants to reach people for Christ, they need to treat every call as precious.  You never know who’s on the other line.

I once read a story about a Christian leader who called many churches in his community before Christmas.  In more than half the cases, nobody picked up the telephone.

We had a rule in our last church: during office hours, we will personally answer every call that comes in.  When the office manager needed to use the restroom, she would first ask me or another staff member to answer the phone until she returned.  If the entire staff was going out to lunch, the office manager would arrange to have a volunteer answer the phone during her absence.

There are many people who will call a church once.  If nobody answers, they figure nobody cares … or they will call the next church on their list … and it won’t be yours.

What if it’s a potential leader … a large donor … or that prized volunteer you so desperately need?

Second, they fail to greet every guest personally.

Years ago, the late Howard Hendricks – speaker, author, and professor at Dallas Seminary – said that whenever he visited a new church, he played a little game.

He tried to enter the worship center without anyone greeting him.

Over the years, I’ve tried playing the same game, and so far, I’m winning.

A while back, I visited a church that meets on Sunday mornings at the local community college.  I walked past two booths without anyone greeting me, and then I walked straight into the auditorium while a greeter kept his back to me while talking to someone he knew.

After I sat down, an older woman told me that I was sitting in her friend’s seat, and that she always sat next to her friend, the implication being that I was doing something wrong by coming to her church.

So I left and never went back.

The greeters in a church are crucial.  Most people receive a warm feeling when someone says hi to them.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Saddleback Church in Orange County where Rick Warren is pastor.  They were meeting at Trabuco High School in the early 1990s.  As my wife and I walked toward the gymnasium, we were instantly greeted by a couple of younger people who communicated, “We are so glad you’re here.”  Their greeting took a lot of our initial anxiety away.

Then we were greeted when we entered the gymnasium.

Greeters don’t corner newcomers and ask if they can teach the fifth grade class.  They just stick out their hand, say hi, and welcome you to their church.

I believe that greeters are so important in a church that they should be trained on a regular basis … and it’s so vital that the pastor may need to do the training himself.

Third, they fail to keep their promises.

I am one of those people who take their promises seriously.  I try and underpromise and overdeliver.

But some churches do the opposite in their advertising: they overpromise and underdeliver.  And when that happens, many people will stay away.

My wife and daughter and I recently visited a church on Christmas Day that advertised their service from 10:00 am to 10:45 am.  We had visited several years before and didn’t return, but thought we’d give them another chance.

We didn’t get out at 10:45, though … we got out at 11:15.

Another time, my wife and I visited a church near our home and she signed up for a women’s Bible study, leaving her name and number.

She’s still waiting for a call.

Someone gave me a gift card to Kohl’s for Christmas, and I received a 15% off card in the mail.  The checker at Kohl’s honored both cards, and I left a satisfied customer.

Church leaders need to make sure they honor their promises as well.

Fourth, they fail to use visuals during the Sunday service.

A church I admire has an annual emphasis on doing things for their community over several weeks.  To celebrate what they did, they showed a video recapping the highlights of the previous few weeks.

It was quick … celebratory … and effective.

Even though I wasn’t there to witness what happened, the video made me wish I had been there.

I am a firm believer that churches need to use visuals as much as possible.  Most churches nowadays have large screens to project the lyrics of praise songs.  They need to do more than that, however:

*Put the announcements on the screen while they’re being made.  Some people respond better to what they see than what they hear.

*Celebrate every major victory with either photos or a video.  It will make people feel that they were present at the event.

*The pastor should use photos when he speaks.  When I was a pastor, I took hundreds of digital photos everywhere I went.  Most of them went unused, but when I told a story, I’d often say to myself, “Hey, I have a photo of that.”  And I knew how to find it quickly.  In fact, I had a private rule to use at least seven photos during every sermon.

*Use video when it’s appropriate.  When I saw a concert at the Hollywood Bowl last fall, the performer used video.  When I attend a major league baseball game, they use video.  If you attend a business presentation, they use video.

For years, I’ve felt that whenever a pastor refers to a scene in a movie, he should show that scene during his sermon.  It has more of an impact than if he tries to describe it.

There’s a famous church in London called Holy Trinity Brompton.  They meet in an old Anglican Cathedral down the street from Harrods.  I’ve visited the church three times.  What do they do in that old building?  They use photos and video.

Why don’t more churches use visuals?  I don’t think the reason is theological.  I tend to think it’s due to laziness.

We use microphones so people can hear.  We need to use visuals so people can see.

Finally, they fail to plan the service wisely.

When I go to a play, I receive a program telling me the names of the actors as well as the scenes.

But when I visit most churches nowadays, I don’t know what’s going on.

On Christmas Day, the congregation sang six stanzas of “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” even though the song officially has only three.  Then at the end of the service, we sang all six stanzas again, and I thought to myself, “Somebody didn’t plan this well.”

I like an order of service.  I like to know who did the announcements … who read the Scripture … and who gave the message.

But many churches have dispensed with that information altogether, and to be honest, it makes me anxious.

My wife and I attended a service a while back that met in a middle school.  The pastor spoke for a solid hour without notes, but his message was, in my view, much too long.

If a sermon is good, I don’t want it to end.  If a sermon isn’t good, I want to escape.  When it isn’t all that good, and the pastor goes on and on, I feel like a prisoner in church.

It’s fine to be spontaneous in the Spirit.  Just let us know the general structure of the service … or guests may not return.


I pastored four churches.  Two were under 100 … one was over 200 … and one was over 400.

I became a more effective pastor when I decided to ruthlessly evaluate how each church was doing and create a plan for becoming more outreach-oriented.

Most pastors focus on what’s happening on the stage … especially the worship music and the sermon.

But sometimes the impact of a church is determined more by little things like answering the phone promptly … greeting every guest warmly … keeping promises effectively … using visuals in the service regularly … and planning the service wisely.

What are some areas that make you feel uncomfortable at church?

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“We’re on a mission from God.”

Those immortal words from the film The Blues Brothers – a movie I’ve only seen in edited form on TV – perfectly describe in succinct form what the church of Jesus Christ is all about.

God has given His people an assignment: to “make disciples of all nations.”

The assignment is not to hold worship services … or to preach sermons … or to construct buildings … or to fashion a church budget … or to create a shelter from the world for our kids … or to have a small group ministry.

Those are all means to one end: to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission.

Jesus’ final words to His disciples are found in various forms in Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:8.

We worship God … listen to sermons … construct buildings … have youth groups and small groups and men’s groups and women’s groups … so we can make disciples of all nations.

And we do that by going … baptizing … and teaching (Matthew 28:19-20).

Most pastors know that carrying out the Great Commission is their divine assignment.

But from what I see and hear, most churches have flunked their assignment.  They aren’t making disciples … they aren’t baptizing new converts … and if they are teaching them Jesus’ words, their efforts have little to do with Christ’s divine mission.

In some cases, the pastor is the problem.  During my first few years as a pastor, I focused on helping believers grow spiritually – expecting they would share their faith with their network and eventually bring them to church.

But it never happened.

One year, I baptized one convert.

I asked myself, “What’s wrong with us?”  But in reality, I needed to ask “What’s wrong with me?”

Because in many ways, I was the problem.  I didn’t preach or prioritize the Great Commission at all … and our church was slowly dying.

Like many pastors, I was blocking the Great Commission in our church.

But once I realized my omission on the Commission, I changed my ways.  We built our church around Christ’s assignment and things changed dramatically.

But in talking to many pastors over the years, I realize that most know their God-given assignment, and want their church to go in that direction.

But when they try, they meet resistance.  In fact, this is the point at which many pastors are terminated.

Why?  Because the governing leaders and key opinion makers have another agenda for their church … and it’s not the Great Commission.

They want more and deeper Bible study.

They want to be doctrinally pure.

They want all of their family members … as well as their friends … to be happy.

They want to meet the budget.

They want to have a clean building.

While these are all worthwhile goals, they are not the Commission … they are possible means to the Commission.

But for some reason, most churches are willing to stop far short of actually winning people to Christ.

In fact, far too many of them are willing to make sure that the Commission is never fully implemented in their assembly.

Like one woman told a pastor friend: “I’d rather go to hell than to follow your leadership.”

Let me just say it: there are people in our churches who put their own personal agenda … and often the agenda of their friends … ahead of Christ’s agenda for their church.

When I attended the Catalyst seminar for Christian leaders several years ago, either Andy Stanley or Craig Groschel – I don’t remember which – told pastors:

“You cannot let anybody block the Great Commission in your church.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that statement.

In fact, they suggested that pastors remove anybody who is blocking the Great Commission in their church.

Recently I spent some time with a group of pastors who shared the same story over and over.  They said:

“We wanted to reach our community for Christ, but one longtime member … one bully … one board member … one faction … stood in our way.  As long as they were successful, the church didn’t go anywhere.

But when we wouldn’t meet their demands … when we confronted their misbehavior … when we removed them from office … when they left the church … that’s when the church took off.”

As I read Paul’s letters, I get the impression there were many professing believers who were blocking the Great Commission in their churches … like Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19-2) … and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:17-18) … and Alexander the metalworker (2 Tim. 4:14) … and the feuding women Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3).

When Paul wrote about these Commission blockers, he expressed a sense of urgency, as if he were saying, “Resolve these issues as soon as possible so you can resume your evangelistic efforts.”

I recently met with a longtime pastor friend for a meal.  As we discussed these kinds of people, he said, “Jim, I just don’t put up with it anymore.”

As the late Howard Hendricks used to say, may his tribe increase.

23 years ago, I came to a board meeting at the church I was pastoring with a radical proposal:

I suggested that we sell our church property and start over again in a different location.

As I described what we could become and the people we could reach, the two oldest board members caught the vision … for which I will always be grateful.

They said to me:

“Jim, we failed to reach our generation for Christ … but we want to do everything we can to help you reach your generation for Christ.”

And they did … sacrificing time and energy and money for the Great Commission.

Rather than block my proposal, they embraced it and led interference for me every step of the way.

And I will never, ever forget them for it.

We eventually did sell our property and start a new church, and in five years, we baptized 100 people … a far cry from one per year!

I don’t like saying it this way, but I’m going to say it anyway:

The pastor is the professional.  He’s been called by God … trained and certified and examined in countless ways … and he’s specially gifted to lead a church.

The governing board members are at best amateurs who lack God’s call … who lack special training …who haven’t been certified … and lack their pastor’s giftedness.

The factions inside the church may be vocal … and they may be loud … and they may claim, “The pastor hurt my feelings” … but they have no idea how to lead a church.

So I’m going to follow my pastor’s leadership … not that of the board or any faction – even if they are my friends.

This is the choice we all have.  In football parlance:

Am I going to block the plays my pastor calls, or am I going to block for the plays my pastor calls?

And if I can’t block for him, I’ll find another team where I can block for that pastor.

But one thing’s for sure: I never want to block the Great Commission from happening in my church.

Check out our website at www.restoringkingdombuilders.org  You’ll find Jim’s story, recommended resources on conflict, and a forum where you can ask questions about conflict situations in your church.

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