A prefatory note: This brief story was written based on conversations I’ve had with ministers, laypeople and leaders, young and old, rich and poor, and those no longer visiting church.
It was a cold, December day and though the Nativity scene was brightly lit, the truth was all too dim: Main Street Church was dying.
After a series of meetings analyzing finances and low attendance numbers they accepted their reality. They would slowly, but surely, fail to meet the demands of their personnel, building, and grounds forcing an eventual church closing.
Before they closed down the church for good, they sought the quality advice of a seasoned minister, Noah Vale, to ensure they hadn’t missed anything. Just as any good doctor would do, Noah decided to spend a year evaluating his patient. He would, of course, hope to find the answer to several diagnostic questions: Was there even enough left to revive them to life? Do they still have tumors that need to be removed? Have they accepted their condition? Are they ready to do the hard work of rehab?
It was through this in-depth patient analysis that Noah realized there was an unhealthy pattern that emerged: how to kill a church. It was unfortunate that no one had shared these pitfalls with Main Street—perhaps they wouldn’t be as injured as they are now. Hopefully, these cautions will help save another church’s life.
Noah Vale decided to share this, a checklist for how to kill a church:
- Assume that people are looking for a church based purely on location. Don’t worry about getting to know your own neighbors, co-workers or acquaintances. If they need a church, they’ll ask you. Or, they’ll see it when they are driving by and be compelled to stop.
- There is no need for you to have a mission or a vision. It is enough that you feel that God wants there to be a church. It is not up to you to decide for what purpose, need, or connection in your city.
- Focus on money. Make all plans according to how much you do or do not have. Reduce your budget in key areas needed for growth. Examples include (but are not limited to) children’s programs, outreach, and communications. When difficult budget reductions are actually needed, continue funding personnel because of loyalty, regardless of job performance.
- Make poor decisions when hiring your ministers by focusing only on what you can afford, not seeking advise of professionals and other ministers, and elevating age and/or experience as the most important criteria.
- Rather than living as a community, think about yourself as a family. Families are difficult to join. They bicker and fight, lack a mission or purpose, and are together by obligation and history (or marriage).
- Refuse to admit that you need to change. Keep things exactly the way they are. Under no circumstances should you learn what it means to be relevant to your particular community.
- When you have conflict in the church, ignore it, downplay it, or isolate the individuals who are causing it. Do not address it in a healthy, open way. If the conflict is somehow resolved, be sure to carry a grudge. It’s important you do not forgive or forget.
- When filling volunteer leadership positions, regardless if they are necessary, do not look at the individual’s gifts or strengths. Rather, fill each place out of desperation. Also, be sure that the volunteers serve years past their energy or success. And do not have any procedures in place to remove unhealthy volunteers.
- Be sure you do not communicate your needs, dreams, goals, concerns or observations with your ministers or one another. In fact, do not, under any circumstances, communicate anything effectively. This includes all forms of communication: print, digital or verbal.
- Refuse to make sacrifices of time, money, energy, and emotions. If you must sacrifice, make sure to compare with others for equal effort. Also, be sure that everyone knows what kinds of sacrifices you are making.
- It is important that you do not learn from your past mistakes. Be sure to repeat them often. When you think of your past, it’s best if you do not remember your history correctly. Do not become good storytellers.
- Above all, forget why you are a church in the first place. Obviously, this has nothing to do with God, love and people. It is about meetings, committees, money and reputation—a place to spend your time.
Now that the warning signs were laid out, it was up to Main Street Church to decide if they could, and would, change their ways. At the least, it is hopeful that their discovery will help others.