Almost twenty years of consulting with more than 30 denominations has allowed me to see some common tactical mistakes made by church leaders. Although I have seen many mistakes, six stand out as the most common tactical mistakes made by church leaders (I have ranked them according to the damage they can do to a church’s ministry). Usually these mistakes are hallmarks of declining congregations. So if you church is declining, and you are doing any of the following, it will be in your best interest to change your tactics.
Mistake Number One
Putting a long section of announcements at the beginning of worship service is one of the most damaging things a church can do to worship. It’s like tuning into the beginning of a sitcom only to find all of the commercials loaded up front before anything else happens. Surely you have noticed that most of the good TV programs begin with a short segment designed to catch your attention and then go to a commercial. Today, young adults will start surfing the TV if a program begins with commercials. The same is true with worship – young adults tune out the moment you begin worship with announcements. Instead, begin worship with a rousing piece of music that says “Something great is going to happen here today.” If you have to do announcements, don’t lead off with them. Please.
Mistake Number Two
Making the first staff hire a Youth Director instead of hiring a Worship Leader. Most church leaders still have not gotten the message – the world we live in has one universal language – Music, and mostly Rock n Roll. If you look at the church plants that do well from the beginning the vast majority of them have either paid part time or full time worship leader. Today, music is an essential part of the message people hear. Make your first hire a worship leader who loves Jesus and understands today’s culture.
Mistake Number Three
The lead pastor in a church under five hundred in worship not personally contacting first time guests within 48 hours. It amazes me in the average dying congregation with a full time pastor, the pastor does not contact the first time visitors within 48 hours much less try to visit them in their home. I know much of the prevailing wisdom is people are likely to return to your church if the laity visits them. Not so. In churches under five hundred in worship, people are more likely to return if the lead pastor visits them and the first contact is within 48 hours. My guess is one of the reasons the lead pastor doesn’t visit the guest is because the congregation has them tied up doing non-biblical ministry such as visiting the hospitals and shut-inns. But this would be the seventh most common mistake (for more on this see the story of Stephen in Acts 6). Pastor, if your church is under five hundred in worship, visit your first time guests within 48 hours.
Mistake Number Four
This mistake pertains mostly to mainline churches- hiring an Associate Pastor who is a generalist rather than a specialist. Often the Associate wants to do everything the lead pastor does, is allowed to preach once a month, and if the church doesn’t have a youth director, is assigned the youth as part of the job description. The day of generalists is coming to an end.
Asking a paid, retired Associate Pastor to be responsible for visiting the guests. Our experience is that people under the age of 40 respond better to someone either their age or younger than they are. The only reason to have a retired pastor on the staff is to develop a ministry to the elderly or if the area in which the church is located is primarily a retirement area. Notice I didn’t say this person should visit the elderly. This is another form of this mistake. This person should develop a lay team who visit the elderly and attend to hospital visitation.
Dying or plateaued and aging churches put too much time, energy, and money into programs that have no residual benefit to the local church. I am a Kingdom person and don’t think everything a church does has to benefit the local church. Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that a dying or aging church would continue to put time energy and money into programs that do nothing to insure their viability. Some of these ministries are wonderful and probably do contribute to the overall health of the Kingdom but they don’t do anything to insure the health of congregation. Often these are ministries aimed at children and youth. When I asked, “How many adults actually wind up in church?” I’m told “No one.” Yet the church continues to pour time, energy, and money into the program while the church spirals down to its death. It’s one thing for a healthy thriving church to do ministries to children whose parents they will never see; it’s another thing for a declining church to do this. Pastor, if your church is declining or on a plateau, make sure that most of your churches time, energy, and money is going into ministries that will ensure your churches future.
Case in point. A church I was just at declined some 35% in the last four years and has nothing in place to bring in families. Yet they are involving the bulk of their leadership in an after school program that has been running for five years and has not resulted in one family coming into the church. They believe if they reach the kids they will eventually reach their families. Nonsense. It doesn’t work that way anymore.
When I offered them several ways to reach out to the unchurched in the area, their response was, “We don’t have the money nor the leaders to do any of those.” Of course they didn’t, it was all going to the after-school ministry.
They can continue this great ministry, and it is great for the kids, and go out of business in the next decade.