Last week as part of our leadership development we had a group of 45 people engage in a ‘Ways to Kill the Church’ brainstorm, inspired by the book, Kill the Company. They imagined they were a rival church plant, moving in across the street from us. It was shocking how many ideas they came up with to put our church out of business.
The exercise got me thinking. Here are my baker’s dozen, in no particular order, of tried and true ways to kill a church.
In fact, there’s no shortages of churches practicing any number of these:
- Take It for Granted: Don’t bother with evangelism, or at least assume it’s the pastor’s job. Instead assume there will always be plenty of people in your community who are interested in going to church, who think (feel duty-bound) that church going is important. Assume young people will return to church when they marry and have kids. FYI: All those traditional trends are rapidly declining.
- Refuse to Adapt: Stop asking the questions that got asked when the church first began and grew, ie, ‘What does our community need that we can offer? What questions is our community asking to which the Gospel might have an answer? How can we best incarnate the Gospel for the people in our community?’ Instead of adapting how you do church to fit your community, insist on doing ministry and worship ‘the way we’ve always done it.’
- Major in the Minors: Spend the majority of your time, money, communication, energy and volunteer resources promoting activities that either have nothing to do with your mission (spreading the Gospel and making disciples of it) or actively and inadvertently frustrate your mission. Before you know it, you’ll have a huge chunk of your congregation who can’t even speak a single sentence about God without blushing or saying ‘that’s private.’ Congregational death is just around the corner.
- Don’t Partner with Your Pastors and Staff: See them as ‘labor’ and the membership as ‘management.’ Think it’s their job to do the ministry of Christ while your role is to attend, participate and evaluate how well your Jesus-Flavored-Country Club is run. When the church does’t grow and thrive- because it can’t if the members are not engaged in ministry- you can blame the staff. It’s a wonderfully self-fulfilling posture.
- Subconsciously Insist on Homogeneity: Say ‘we welcome everyone’ when you actually mean: ‘We welcome everyone so long as they dress like us, act like us, speak like us, vote like us, worship like us and want to do church just like us.’
- Assume Faith: Take it for granted that people who’ve been sitting in the pews for 50 years, who helped start your church and who’ve served in leadership have ever been converted to the Gospel, know Jesus Christ personally and can engage in genuine religious conversation. Odds are many of them haven’t and can’t.
- Neglect the Young: Fail to make them a priority of the church’s ministry. Worry instead about what the church is doing for you and your peers. Fail to disciple them and catechize them rigorously. Give them a Jesus-lite Christianity because that’s what you prefer. They’re looking for an adventure and something to give their lives to.
- Make Mission All About $: Don’t engage hands-on in work with the poor in your community or the world. Don’t take risks or get out of your comfort zone. Don’t go to places in the world to see with your own eyes how the Church and the Gospel can change lives and communities. That can be too transformative. Instead if you want to kill your church, make mission primarily about raising money for and giving money to (good) charitable causes that will impact people you will never meet. If you’re a denomination, insist that the local church give their money to denominationally approved mission ministries staffed by professional missionaries. That way the local church has neither the time nor the resources to develop organically its own hands-on mission ministries.
- Bureaucracy: Don’t ask or expect people, especially leaders, to learn how to pray or read the bible or articulate why Jesus is important in their lives. Instead set up committees- lots of them- and ask people to vote on things that could just as easily be decided by consensus-building. Who needs to lose the shirt off their back when all you need to do is raise your hand yay or nay to follow Jesus. If you’re a denomination, you can speed the killing by replicating it on a much larger scale, saddling pastors and congregations with forms, reports, procedures etc that sap a church’s clarity of focus, a staff’s time and energy and a pastor’s willingness to be creative.
- Value Communications Over Character: Believe that a particular strategy, ministry program or communication method will overcome a lack of vital faith and hospitality in the congregation. In other words, believe that the commercial you put out about the congregation can distract from the lack of a converted character in the congregation.
- Make Your Mission Making Your Members Happy: Incidentally, if you want to kill your church then keep on using the term ‘member.’ It’s a terrifically helpful word, much better than, say, ‘servant,’ that conjures all sorts of assumptions about special privileges and status. It creates an unspoken insider/outsider dynamic. It invites people to boast about how many years they’ve been a member, which invites sharing about how much they’ve given and served too. Implication: you’ve not been here as long, given as much, served as much so be quiet. If you want to kill your church, for the love of God don’t say ‘our constituency is our surrounding community.’ And don’t ask ‘How can we best serve our community?’ Instead make your mission keeping your members happy. Pastors, the best way to accomplish that is to maintain the status quo and never, ever, ever say no.