Declining Churches

old-church

That’s the subject of articles authored by Thom Rainer and Alan Danielson. Here are the links:  http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/08/16/the-most-common-factor-in-declining-churches/ and http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/153332-alan-danielson-the-number-one-reason-churches-decline.html.

Both articles identify a common pattern among churches in decline: an inward focus, to the exclusion of an outward focus. No surprise! Here are some highlights from Rainer’s article:

“Ministries in declining churches are only for the members. Budgeted funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members. Times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members. Conflict takes place when members don’t get things their way.”

“Other symptoms include very few attempts to minister to people in the church’s community. Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires. Members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, church staff, and lay leaders in the church.”

“In declining churches, any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance. The past becomes the hero. Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light. Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.”

Danielson adds: “Our churches are not here to make us (the believers) happy, meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or affirm our opinions. Our churches are here to reach people who are desperately far from God. Our churches do not exist for us. Our churches exist for the lost.”

He continues: “We need to ask ourselves some tough questions. What do I not like about my church? What if the very thing I don’t like is the thing that will reach people for Jesus? What do I love most about my church? What if the very thing I like most is the thing that is a barrier to reaching people for Christ? Am I willing to support changes I don’t like? Am I willing to lay down my preferences and opinions for the sake of people who are lost?”

“While our own desires don’t automatically contradict our mission, we must be diligent never to allow our desires to supersede the mission. What should we want more than seeing people come to faith in Christ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

Sound familiar? This syndrome is not uncommon in congregations of the national church body of which I am a member. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is no stranger to decline.

Rainer helps with words of hope: “For those of us in Christ, however, there is always hope—His hope. Times are tough in many churches. Congregations are dying every day. Many church leaders are discouraged. But we serve the God of hope. Decline does not have to be a reality.”

My additional comments are these: There are lots of moving parts in the process of transforming a declining church to a church of health and vitality, many more than can be satisfactorily covered in Perspectives articles. But do not despair. Hope comes in various ways.

If your church is declining, begin now to pray. Respectfully express to your pastor and other church leaders your concern and offer to assist. Consider encouraging him or them to take the step of reaching out to someone who might be able to help. For ideas of where to find such help, contact leaders of a healthy church. If all else fails, let me know.

It’s important to remember what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Dealing with Church Bullies

Church PewsLast week I shared an article by Thom Rainer identifying nine traits of church bullies. This week’s Perspectives focus is another article from the same author, who now moves “from descriptive to prescriptive.” Highlights of his article are below. To view the entire article, go to http://thomrainer.com/2015/04/nine-ways-deal-church-bullies/

How do we deal with church bullies? How do we prevent bullying? Here are nine suggestions:

  1. Fight bullying with the power of prayer. The most common targets of church bullies are the pastor and church staff. Ask humbly for people to pray for them daily.
  1. Seek to have an Acts 6 group in the church. Check out the manner in which the Jerusalem church dealt with murmuring and complaining.
  1. Have a high expectation church.Higher expectation churches tend to be more unified, more Great Commission focused, more biblically defined, and more servant oriented. High expectation churches don’t offer an environment conducive to bullying.
  1. Encourage members to speak and stand up to church bullies.Bullying thrives in a church where the majority remains in silent fear of church bullies. Bullies tend to back down when confronted by strong people in the church.
  1. Make certain the polity of the church does not become a useful instrument to church bullies.Many churches have ambiguous structures and lines of accountability. Bullies take advantage of the ambiguity and interpret things according to their nefarious needs.
  1. Be willing to exercise church discipline.Church discipline is a forgotten essential of many churches. Bullies need to know there are consequences for their actions, and church discipline may be one of them.
  1. Have a healthy process to put the best-qualified persons in positions of leadership in the church.Bullies often are able to push around less qualified people who have found themselves in positions of leadership.
  1. Have a healthy process to hire church staff. A unified church staff is a major roadblock for a church bully.
  1. Encourage a celebratory environment in the church.Joyous churches deter bullies. They like somber and divided churches.

Church bullying is more widespread than we often like to admit. Actually, last week’s article was forwarded to more people than any Perspectives article in a long time. That’s an indication that the article hit home with many of my readers, who very likely have encountered a church bully.

As stated last week, I encourage you to remember that church bullies, like you and like me, are “poor, miserable sinners” for whom Christ died. They, too, are in need of the forgiving and life changing grace of God.

Accordingly, our goal should not simply be to “run off” church bullies from our congregation, but to seek and pursue ways of helping bullies become blessings! That will not always work. Yet while such an endeavor is easier said than done, it’s certainly a worthy effort to consider!

Nine Traits of Church Bullies

Arms Crossed ManThat’s the title of an article by Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Highlights of the article are printed below. For the entire article, go to http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/252237-9-traits-church-bullies.html.

Church bullies are common in many churches. They wreak havoc and create dissension. They typically must have an “enemy” in the church, because they aren’t happy unless they are fighting a battle. They tend to maneuver to get an official leadership position in the church, such as chairman of the elders or deacons or treasurer. But they may have bully power without any official position.

Church bullies have always been around. But they seem to be doing their work more furiously today than in recent history. Perhaps this look at nine traits of church bullies can help us recognize them before they do too much damage.

  1. They do not recognize themselves as bullies. To the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the church from [it]self.
  1. They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” church should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal church must be eliminated.
  1. They seek to form power alliances with weak members in the church. Weaker church staff members and church members will succumb to their forceful personalities.
  1. They tend to have intense and emotional personalities. These bullies use the intensity of their personalities to get their way.
  1. They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.
  1. They find their greatest opportunities in low-expectation churches. Many of the church members have an entitlement view of church membership. They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with church bullies.
  1. They are allowed to bully because church members will not stand up to them. While the bully brings great pain to pastors and other church leaders, the hurt is greater because most church members stood silent and let it happen.
  1. They create chaos and wreak havoc. A church bully always has his next mission. While he or she may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
  1. They often move to other churches after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more churches.

Church bullying is epidemic in congregations. Next week we’ll explore the topic of preventing church bullying. In the meantime, join me in remembering that church bullies, like you and like me, are “poor, miserable sinners” in need of the forgiving and life changing grace of God.

Thank God for his grace in Christ our Lord!