The vast majority of dying churches I know get their priorities mixed up. Every church has a primary priority and secondary priorities. The primary priority of any church should be effectively growing the Kingdom, and it can’t be doing that if it totally dies. Secondary priorities can be any kind of mission they choose. However, many churches I’ve seen confuse the secondary priority for the primary priority. In other words, they allow the tail to wag the dog. Here are a couple of examples.

I was working in a church that was over sixty years old. It reached its zenith at 500 in worship, but for the last thirty years, it had declined to less than 200 people. So they brought me in to help them grow. But everything I suggested they do was met with, “We don’t have the money to do that.” But they did. They had a budget of over $350,000, but they were spending $100,000 on a mission project in Africa the church adopted thirty years ago at its zenith. I suggested they put that mission on hold and spend the $100,000 on something that might ensure their future and their ability to support the mission project for years to come. But they wouldn’t do it. They got their priorities mixed up, and, as a result, in a few years the church had to drop the mission project and finally close its doors because the tail wagged the dog.

Another example of confused priorities happened at about the same time when I was consulting with a church of around 500 that had once been a rather large church of 1500 in worship. Again, I was brought in to help save the day. But again, everything I suggested was met with, “But we can’t afford to do that.” It was true that they had laid off every non-essential staff member and had cut their budget every year for the past twenty years. However, it was also true that they had over $250,000 in a building maintenance fund and over three million in an endowment.

But they didn’t have the money. They would rather ensure the building was kept up while they were alive rather than spend it on a ministry that might ensure their future. The rest is history. That church of 1500 is now down to less than a hundred people with a part-time pastor. Again, the tail had wagged the dog.

What should both of these churches have done? It’s a no-brainer for anyone who loves the Kingdom. It’s spend, spend, spend all their money on something that would ensure their future. In both cases the church’s worship sucked. A good contemporary service with contemporary hospitality could possibly have saved the day. If it hadn’t, the only change would have been a quick death rather than a slow, lingering death.

So the next time a consultant offers a recommendation that makes sense, instead of saying you can’t afford it, remember these two stories and take a new look at your resources.

Question: How have you had to make changes to keep first things first? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.