Churches are prone to make mistakes. Although these mistakes may afford short-term numerical growth, they inevitably diminish the overall health of a congregation and taint the integrity of a local church. Some of the mistakes are major and some are minor.
In other words, churches are prone to make mistakes. Although these mistakes may afford short-term numerical growth, they inevitably diminish the overall health of a congregation and taint the integrity of a local church. Some of the mistakes are major and some are minor.
What are some of the major mistakes churches make?
Churches may mistakenly believe that bigger is always better. While it is true that churches are to consistently reach out to others, it is not always true that a full house makes for a strong church. This misconception works two ways. First, members of large churches may have a sense of pseudo-success, believing that the assembly of a large group of people confirms the success of their ministry. Second, members of smaller churches often experience a sense of inferiority, believing that their small numbers make them less important or less effective than larger churches.
Actually, church size often has little to do with the effectiveness of a church’s ministry. There are strengths and weaknesses in all sizes of congregations, and perhaps churches should strive to fulfill their mission without making size comparisons.
Churches that compete with other churches are making a major mistake. I am not referring to the good-natured competitions churches have between sports teams. Neither am I referring to special events wherein a couple of neighboring churches have a healthy competitive incentive aimed at high attendance. I am referring to an ongoing negative competitive spirit that leads churches, ministers and members to publicly criticize and downgrade the ministry of other congregations.
The specific beliefs, doctrines and methodologies of churches vary in diverse ways, but the majority of churches hold tenaciously to a common center of faith. Churches make a tragic mistake when they treat other churches as foes.
Churches also make a mistake when they solicit members from other churches. If churches believe that bigger is better, and if they compete with other churches for members, they will be tempted to solicit members from within other congregations. Sometimes members of other churches are seduced with the promise of a more passionate minister, a larger music program or more specific age-group ministries.
Ministers used to call it proselytizing or “sheep-stealing” when neighboring churches came soliciting their members. Such unfortunate practices usually subvert the ministry of the local church and discredit the reputation of the ministers making such overtures. The outreach goal of a local congregation is to invite residents who are unaffiliated with a church and those who are new in the community into the shared life of the congregation.
A healthy congregation is empowered to worship, evangelize and perform missions and ministries that complement the work of other congregations. Churches seeking long-term growth and holistic congregational health would be wise to avoid the major mistakes associated with unhealthy competitive practices.
Barry Howard is senior minister of First Baptist Church in Corbin, Ky.
Pastor at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also serves as a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, live in Brookhaven, Georgia.