Common Church Problems (No 1 in a series)

I’ve dealt with a wide range of church issues over my career. I’m well-equipped to offer insight and suggestions because many of these challenges are similar to those I’ve encountered elsewhere.

So, what are the typical issues facing churches?
Do you know of any that might affect your church?

Without a clear vision and strategy, people are likely to do their own thing. If there is no clear vision, there will be division – literally, two visions. Organizational drift and leadership that is based on reaction rather than intention are the outcomes. Uncertainty and disorientation pervade as a result of a lack of a clear guiding image. This issue is far too common. Clarity, purpose and direction, are all provided by a vision. The nature of vision should be prophetic; that is, focused on the future and coming from God’s heart. A vision statement can be beneficial, but only when it is more than clever words on a piece of paper.
If your church has a clear vision but no progress, your strategy might not be aligned with it. Saying you’re going somewhere is one thing but it takes consistent and enduring action to move towards that goal.

We are going nowhere if the culture doesn’t support the vision. A clear vision helps us understand what we’re trying to accomplish. However, the culture determines the growth and will play a significant role in our vision’s success or failure. Culture must be developed intentionally and strategically, with clear values rooted in what we believe about our mission and vision.
People’s hearts and minds cannot be changed by a vision statement, but culture does have the power to do this. However if people fail to adopt beliefs and behaviours that are consistent with the church’s vision, in other words if they are not discipled, we will see the culture clashes and culture gaps which cause leaders to feel defeated and frustrated.  We have to disciple – teach, model, share and reinforce our core values.

Structures must encourage, rather than prevent growth. Church structure should be organic and flexible to grow with where God is leading. It is about who you are and what you do, and is reflected in your policies, procedures and systems.  Structure can facilitate God’s blessings, resources, and opportunities but excessive, or insufficient, structure can undermine the same.  A church should not be built around structure. Instead, structure ought to act like a trellis, supporting the development of a culture that serves the vision.
Sometimes churches have historic and traditional ministry activities that impede their expansion.

The church is the only organisation which, by definition, exists for those who are not a part of it. The church will eventually dwindle and disappear if it fails to prioritise taking the good news of the gospel to those who have not yet accepted it. You can take a quick inventory of your ministries by asking, “How many of our ministries serve those outside of the church?”
We set ourselves up for failure when we devote our resources and time to making those around us happy. Examining how we can serve the world and spread the kingdom through word and deed is better, and more biblical. If you look around the church and see no new faces, recognise that as a problem.

Often the discipleship of members is inadequate. In most cases there is no churchwide plan to people grow into Christian, because there is no culture of discipleship.
The ministries and programs are not bad, in and of themselves, but, often, they are hit-and-miss in terms of discipleship. People are empowered to take specific actions when there is a clear path. They should have access to resources, opportunities, tools, and people that will help them develop their faith.

There is too much hesitation regarding digital ministry, including our internal and external communications. Technology is constantly evolving, but when it comes to online ministry, many churches are not moving with the trends and falling further behind. WE don’t just need a static church website we need to find ways of doing digital ministry well.
This is the way forward, regardless of what you think about social media, the internet, and digital ministry. There are difficulties associated with technology and social media and it has the potential to cause a great deal of harm; however, this is not an issue pertaining to the church; rather, it is an issue pertaining to society. It can also bring a lot of opportunities and benefits.

Teams can increase ministry effectiveness, but difficult issues arise when teams are imbalanced. This could be caused by uneven power dynamics, control, a lack of empowerment, a lack of awareness of dysfunctions in leadership styles, teams with too few gifts or experiences, or teams with gifting gaps. As previously stated, the culture of a church is shaped by its leadership teams, so a dysfunctional team leads to a dysfunctional culture. That’s why the New Testament has a lot to say about who belongs on a church leadership team and who shouldn’t. Identifying your team’s temperaments, ministry interests, and leadership styles are excellent first steps.

There is a declining pool of leaders in the church at the moment. Sometimes that is because there are no new leaders coming forward, sometimes because the leadership training is ineffective and sometimes because we fail to hand leadership on to those who can grow into it. We want leaders who are pretty much like us, who won’t shake things up too much or take us off in a new direction.
Sometimes the problem is from the other side – there are more things that need a lead than there are leaders to take them on.  There are too many ministries going on at once. It is better to wait for a leader than to start ministry too quickly.  Churches should be intentional in creating leadership pipelines to find, educate, and promote leaders to various levels of ministry leadership; leadership pipelines that start at the fringes guided by values like equality, diversity and inclusion.

Regardless of the issue which your church is facing, it is not new and you are not alone. Others will have dealt with it and come out on the other side. Often it is helpful to gain an outsider’s perspective in order to better understand the real issues.

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