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9 Surefire Ways to Make Your Church Completely Ineffective

Very few leaders go into church leadership as pastors, staff, board members or volunteers hoping to be ineffective.

And yet so many churches and church leaders end up that way—ineffective.

You might be stuck in a church like that right now. Or even if you would say your church is ‘effective’ overall, there’s a very good chance there are areas of your ministry that aren’t. Or maybe you realize you’ve become less effective than you used to be.

Why is that?

Sometimes it’s because people have lost faith or lost their faithfulness. But often that’s not the case.

I see many churches populated with people who love God but have become completely ineffective.

And often the issues are behind that are practical, and fixable.

If you’re willing to go where most leaders don’t go, that is.

 how to make your church ineffective

9 Ways to Make Your Church Ineffective

What do I mean by ‘ineffectiveness’? Great question.

I simply mean not accomplishing what you set out to accomplish.

For most of us in church world, that means something like leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus and growing by becoming a church unchurched people love to attend.  At least that’s what we’ve set out to accomplish (it’s kind of the universal mission of the church). I imagine you are not that far off.

So, with that in mind, here are 9 ways to lose your effectiveness in ministry.

1. Don’t dream

The church should be the place where dreams are born and where dreams soar.

In far too many cases, churches have become the place where dreams die.

People with imagination, hope and optimism get squashed enough times that they stop dreaming.

And eventually, an ineffective church is marked as a place where people have long since abandoned thriving and are focused on merely surviving.

Want to be ineffective? Kill dreams.

2. Focus on yourself

Ineffective churches are almost always self-focused.

The natural mission of the church (and almost every healthy organization for that matter) has an outward thrust to it.

But many unhealthy organizations lose their focus on outsiders and instead focus on insiders.

I realize you might be pushing back on this and thinking Well, we can’t just ignore our insiders…we can’t ignore ourselves.

Change gears for a second. Do you know any people who focus exclusively on themselves?

That’s right. We call them self-absorbed, or selfish. And nobody really thinks hanging out with them is fun.

Why would anyone feel differently about a church that behaves that way?

3. Try to keep everybody happy

Trying to keep everyone happy is a recipe for misery. Yet so many churches serve dinner from that cookbook everyday.

You can’t keep everybody happy. You won’t keep everyone happy.

In fact, you will do the opposite: you will make everyone miserable. It doesn’t work in your family, so why would it work in your church?

Operating out of your convictions, with some empathy and sensitivity for those who see differently, is a far better approach.

Still not convinced?

I wrote more about why your church isn’t for everyone in this post.

I honestly wish more churches would just get on with trying to reach a certain group of people, realizing that in the process they will reach far more than that.

4. Squabble

I really want to walk into a great church fight. Said no unchurched person ever.

Squabbling, faction and division in the church has killed our evangelism efforts as effectively as anything.

So stop it. Just stop it.

Confess. Repent.

What if our churches became places of humility, grace and forgiveness?

Could you imagine?

5. Make mediocrity your standard

So solve a few problems and you’ll be more effective.

But as long as you’re mediocre, you’ll never reach your potential.

And for some strange reason, churches seems to love mediocrity.

Barely good enough seems to be good enough for many church leaders. Rather than try to do something well, churches have become famous for doing almost nothing well.

Why?

I think at the heart of it is a tension between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

This often comes up in places like a music team when someone who can’t sing wants to sing, and many church leaders cave to the pressure. (There’s a strategy around that, by the way.)

Last year, our church adopted 6 values. One of my personal favourites is “Battle Mediocrity: Am I allowing what’s good to stand in the way of what could be great?”

I could camp on that all day.

6. Treat every Sunday like just another Sunday

If you’re bored heading into next Sunday, why wouldn’t everyone else be?

In the church, every Sunday is resurrection Sunday. The same power that was at work to raise Jesus from the dead is the same power that is at work in us. (And no, I didn’t make that up.)

If every Sunday is boring to you a leader, maybe you haven’t read the Bible. Or don’t know God. Or don’t get amazed by seeing what happens when God gets involved in someone’s life.

7. Never articulate a strategy

Passion is one thing…and you’ve got to have passion.

But passion combined with an effective strategy is explosive.

Many churches are afraid to articulate a strategy because it’s divisive. Leaders are afraid that not everyone will like it. And that’s true. But see point #3 above.

Ironically, you will eventually become more effective because your strategy is a little controversial. In fact, a clear strategy is one of the secrets to creating a highly motivated team.

Finally, if you have a clear strategy, your team will become more passionate about it. (You can’t become passionate about fuzz, after all.)

This post will walk you through the process of getting your church passionate about your mission vision and strategy.

But first, of course, you need to articulate a strategy, as scary as that might sound.

8. Avoid all risk

Christians teach their kids stories like David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, and then spend all their time trying to make sure no one gets hurt, nothing gets lost, and everyone is ‘safe’ in the end.

The disconnect is profound if you think about it.

Read the Bible. Live the opposite way: Don’t trust God. Play it safe. Live an insignificant life. Risk nothing. 

How do you know whether you’re trusting God or just being stupid? I outlined that distinction here.

But for the most part, we’re just not trusting God nearly enough.

9. Decide you don’t like unchurched people

Too many churches have defined themselves by what they’re against, not what they’re for.

If you really don’t like the people you’re trying to reach, why would they hang out with you? Seriously.

That’s one of the reasons I love what Gwinnett Church is doing with their #forgwinnett campaign.  Seriously, you should check it out..

Do you love your neighbours? Really love them? Or do you judge them, look down on them, think you’re better than they are?

Love ’em, and you’re likely to reach them.

Don’t and you won’t.

Not judging unchurched people is one of the 9 signs you’re ready to actually reach unchurched people. (Here are the other 8).

Any Other Ways?

Any other sure-fire ways to make a church completely ineffective?

Or, alternatively, what you have done that has helped?

Scroll down and let me know in the comments!

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  • Marie

    To preach to all to be the church outside the walls and then not follow suit as a church. How about tithing. Scream 10% 10% 10% and then when you look at the church budget for missions your line item is less than 10% giving forward.

  • DixieFlorida

    In these list stories, I get the feeling that the solutions are created first, then the problems are created to match them.

  • hollyhouse

    Whew , there is sooo much I disagree with here . What we do at church should be to please God FIRST of all . Whether it is worship , outreach , discipleship, ministry or missions to name a few . My experience for too long has been that the church has become pragmatic. Let’s focus on what appears to work … Not what honors God . If we focus on “what appears to work,” does that not have a subtle underlying assumption that somehow God needs our help ? I’m seeing so much current culture (not redeemed ) influencing the way in which we try to reach the lost culture. It’s not working. Living in an entertainment saturated culture has very much so made sad assumptions about the powerfulness of the gospel preached plain and simple to lost man. It is … The plain gospel being presented to sinful man . God doesn’t need our help to make it palletable .

  • Josie Croft-Fox

    Good article. Very well put together😃👍

  • CFFHoward

    I don’t think it can be said enough Carey, that churches who are bound by traditions be they denominational or within the local churches are bound from reaching their potential! Howard Gunter, pastor Community Family Fellowship

  • Jordan Green

    This is real great Carey. As a service producer, I’m very fond of #5! ; ) If you are gonna do it, do it great!

    Excellent worship/production = Excellent gift to the Lord (IMO)

  • Tim Harrison

    Carey, thank you for your thoughtful reflections. From my experience and observations, here are a couple of other surefire ways to make your church ineffective. Please excuse my sarcasm:
    – Don’t learn from other churches, especially churches very different from yours. Protestants cannot learn anything from Catholics or Pentecostals.
    – View other churches as your competitors. Your people are fickle, and easily won over by the greatest, newest and freshest thing out there. That new church plant is a threat.

    OK, one more: Embrace a theology of scarcity. There’s barely enough money, people and energy to do what you’re already doing.

  • susie

    Charge children to participate in church events! That will get rid of them fast!

    • Yes. Turning off the parents robs kids of opportunities.

    • Tim Harrison

      Or publicly declare that the current church leadership already raised their kids, and now it’s the job of these new parents to pay for children and youth ministry.

    • christoph

      We have a VBS at our church. I think each family has to pay just like a day camp

      • Minnie

        Its not a good plan. When our church use to do VBS we would charge $10/kid. I didn’t like it because I know that some people can’t even afford to put food in their kid’s mouths. We had a scholarship program and some will use it but many that are too prideful will not and those people and children need to be reached. VBS should be a ministry. If you can’t afford it as a church you shouldn’t do it.

  • Karen

    Develop a inner circle clique within the leadership and allow no one but ‘select’ people to be a part of deeper ministry.
    Of course churches have to be selective about those in leadership roles, but at the same time, God uses all kinds of people to do His work… He invites even the most unlikely to play critical roles in His story. (Moses, Paul, Daniel, Rahab etc etc) When people at the top pick and choose based on how much they fit into an arbitrary mold then it communicates an air that says ‘it’s fine if you come, but you’re not really a part of this church.’

    • Brent

      Yep…this one is happening more and more as we produce a class of people who think they “get it” and the others are just sheep who are supposed to be along for the ride.

      Frankly, far too often they end up being people who look like me, think like me, have the same interests as me, etc. For me the wonder of the Kingdom is that people with a multiplicity of differences…people who would not normally come together in the every day course of life…become brothers and sisters in Christ as they move forward together with the work of the Kingdom.

      • Yes people are always a sign of trouble ahead. Thanks!

  • eric schansberg

    don’t go and make disciple-makers; just focus on doing church

    • Jeff

      That’s a task non of us are exempt from. The thing about people who complain about Church is they’re responsible for the light they did or did not reflect while where Christ placed them.

      • Jeff

        A loving-God will either draw you to a “good” Church or make the Church He’s drawing you to “good.”

    • davebaldwin

      So hard isn’t Eric. I like your distinction (although unstated) between disciples and disciple-makers. Many churches want to produce disciples, but not disciple-makers. I love your passion here.
      Blessings,
      Dave

  • guest

    Isn’t focussing on being effective actually being focussed on self?

    • Jeff

      He’s not just talking about synergy…I find a lot of it useful and able to put into practice just like some of the things you probably say are useful and can be put into practice. Look, does the persecuted church in Iran need this? Probably not. We have shallow faith here and people like Carey help the rest of us have a better church life so we can grow in our faith, in peace, so someday we won’t be so shallow. Ya know?

    • No, I don’t think so. Effectively people are almost never focused on themselves. Ineffective people are.

      • Jeff

        It took me a while after that comment to see the wisdom in it. In order to gain our life, we need to care nothing for it. In order to be exalted, we need to truly humble ourselves. In order to gain the desires of our hearts, we need to seek the Lord. So in order to be truly effective, we need to care nothing about ourselves, seek the Lord, and humble ourselves before the cause of Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the Church. Wow.

  • Cheryl

    Shut down all the discerners in your trust circle. That will stop everything dead in it’s tracks.

    • It sure would. Man, that’s a scary picture for me. So rely on my circle.

      • christoph

        I posted something somewhere. Somehow it got on Facebook. And people contact me what a bad guy I am. Not sorry what I said, just that it got on FB. So many do their best that people do not rock the boat

  • guest

    Any place at all for preaching Christ for the forgiveness of sins to Christians and non Christians alike?

    • It’s the bedrock of all I practice. I don’t include prayer, scripture etc in each of my posts because then they would all be the same.

  • Tonya

    There are 2 things that turned me from wanting to go to church. Being focused more on current members than doing mission work and having to have meetings to figure out who will be welcomed to worship in the church. And to be honest I was also bored.

    • Tonya…sorry to hear that. I really hope and pray you find a healthy church environment you are excited to be a part of.

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  • Eli Warren McLaughlin

    Make it all about isms. Calvinism Arminianism Pretribism postribism midtribism milleniumism amilleniumism.

    • I agree. It always amazes me when people are more passionate about what we disagree on than on what we agree on.

      • Jeff

        You know what’s ironic about all of those things you just mentioned? In one way or another those are all things that have the potential to motivate us to live a Christ-honoring life. If I believe that God chose me and therefore I would have always chosen God, I need to lean on Christ so I can live up to God’s choice. If I believe that I chose God and God always have had chosen me, I need to make sure I’m making the best of that choice and I’m not lukewarm or better off choosing sin for a while longer. (Never a wise choice) And whether it’s Pretrib where I need to make sure I’m making the best of the time I have before He comes or Posttribe and Midtrib where I need to have a strong faith so I can survive God’s furry….I still need to get my comfort from Christ. Milleniumism and Amilleniumism are both responses to God’s promises of either a literal or a symbolic millennial reign and that reminds me that God is a God of promises and they’re always fulfilled…thus so are His threats. So these are things to motivate us. What do we do instead? We invent a Heaven or “isms” or a Heaven for people who don’t like “isms” and we completely overlook the fact that the Christ-like walk was made so hard for a reason….so Christ is our only source of comfort.

  • Eli Warren McLaughlin

    Rote, repetitive services. Sing some songs,take collection,announcements, pastor tells humorous anecdotal sermonette that he got from a book, another song,go home. Stay away from the actual word of God. Repeat until empty.

    • Jeff

      People (and when I say people I mean myself) don’t usually change until a major crisis occurs. (i.e. I didn’t want to live until I thought I was going to die) God is doing amazing things in America by slowly allowing “persecution” to take place. I just wish we could stop screaming bloody murder and see the blessing in it.

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  • Mark

    Make your church an affiliation group where you implement the newest trends, track responses and use metrics. Exchange seeking God for seeking what’s hip and cool and trendy. Make the church’s goal “relevancy.”

    • Thanks Mark….irrelevancy isn’t a great alternative either, but you’re right, we can become obsessed with the wrong things quite easily.

  • Mark

    Don’t allow for ideas to be contributed by everyone. People of a certain generation and mindset believe that you “pay to play.” This is prevalent in politics but also in churches. He who did not donate a lot of money has not purchased the rights to have his idea be taken seriously.

    Also, don’t ask anyone younger for advice on reaching the young. Let the people many years removed from young and just starting out be consulted. They only know what might have worked in the 50s or 70s not today.

    • Jeff

      I’m not sure what you were trying to say because a lot of things tend to go over my head. But what I find most fascinating about tradition is this: the tradition-maker is not the same as the tradition-keeper. One was looking forward to what lies ahead and the other was looking back to what lies behind. At least that’s been my experience. The thing is: they’re both equally wrong if their hope is on earth. As Christians, hope isn’t in the past or in the near future but . . . today. Today is the day that the Lord has made and today is the day that we can help other’s trust in the past work of Christ for what lies ahead in our eternal futures. I’m not suggesting that we live for today but instead suggest we take it one day at a time. We only need enough manna for one day.

      • Jeff

        By “today,” I should have said in our eternal future in Heaven. I must have thought that was an unspeakable hope. So unspeakable I couldn’t even mention it. LOL

    • Thanks Mark…paying to play is bad idea no matter where it shows up. Thanks. I love Jeff’s idea of tradition-maker v. tradition-keeper. Cool thinking.

      • Jeff

        Another thing that fascinates me is life. I like the subject of Heaven and I like imagining how it will be and how we will view this life and one of the things that strikes me isn’t the murder or eve that I have to eat food or else. The thing that strikes me is this: that I can toss a word battering ram at you that can hurt you and throw you into the pit of despair or depression or even just stress you out a little. There’s so much to benefit from Scripture about Heaven and one of them is that we will be constantly refreshed and renewed and content and we truly won’t need or want anything that we don’t already have. But to look back at earth …. here we risk someone turning away from Christ or never coming to faith in the first place. That just makes this life seem so barbaric and brutal and caveman-like and dangerous The irony of course is, I believe, how wise many of the mentally slow will be known to have been (by the true standard of wisdom) for understanding love and generosity and how they believe if they have something – why can’t I? or you? or the next person? And just think how foolish we are going to look with our fully developed brains and how we hid our sin with “intelligence” or “freedom” or “our rights.” But I guess may of us were meant to know and love Christ with our “handicaps” and find a bit of romance in the risk.

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  • Larry Frank

    Love the Mediocrity value statement. Just curious, what are the rest of the 6 values?

    • For sure!

      They are:

      Build Alignment
      Pursue Health
      Make it Happen
      Battle Mediocrity
      Choose Trust
      Take the Low Place

      hope this helps!

  • Elizabeth

    For me, it is services that seem tailored to make people feel good. They are exactly 45 mins (with plenty of members cueing the pastor that he needs to wrap up so the second service can start) and sermons that focus on how to make you feel good in your faith. I want to be challenged and grow in knowledge, not simply leave feeling “filled up”. Good feelings are great, but they are gone in a few hours, knowledge and challenges to examine my life stay with me all week.

    • Thanks Elizabeth. Well I’m thinking your church is effective in one sense if people are lined up to attend. But I see your point…it’s disappointing in another sense. And yes, people want to be challenged. You’re right.

      • Mark

        But at the end of the day, isn’t “effectiveness” measured by disciples being made? Not professions but people who genuinely desire to know God (more than knowledge)? We have fallen into the trap of consumerism and giving people what they want. That “leads” them straight into themselves. As a pastor, I’m less interested in how many people are showing up and more concerned about how many are desiring to be conformed to Christ.

        • Eleanor Little

          Amen

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  • Tandy Adams

    Don’t allow members to use their gifts which were given to them for the edification of the church. I have seen churches become completely ineffective
    when the pastor or other leaders think they have to do everything. It can be driven by ego or could just be what they think the church expects. It doesn’t matter why, but when members of the Body are not allowed to act in their giftedness, then the whole body suffers. (Just like if your eyes don’t work, you are blind, when a member doesn’t function as they should, it handicaps the whole Body). members relegate themselves to just showing up and become ineffective, thus so does the church.

    • Yep…that wil do it, won’t it Tandy? Thank you!

    • Eleanor Little

      I definitely agree

  • Jeff

    I think I heard a study by Harvard that productive people don’t actually think about being productive. They’re purpose oriented. (i.e. I want to get this promotion because I want to give more to my Church, etc..) So I think it boils down to where we are with Jesus Christ. Do we fight or do we spend our time telling Christ that “Look, Lord, this guy satan has no CLUE how bad of a sinner I am. ” Am I completely struck by the fact that the Gospel is like the best news ever of ever and everyone needs to know and grow? Am I dead serious? I have a mental illness and I hear voices that I think are demonic and they would drag me down for months and years – convincing me I’m a reprobate. I still maintain that I was worse than a devil worshiper. The day I heard it was never too late for anyone to believe….I was on fire.

    • Love this Jeff. We should be awestruck by what we get to preach and to do, every single day.

      • Jeff

        I’d like my headstone to read: “margin of error: +/- %100”

  • Jeff

    Jack, I think most politics is nothing more than a bunch of hurt people over-reacting. One side seems to want to outlaw air and the other seems to want to boost up production of carbon dioxide. One actually thinks they’re right and the other actually thinks they’re all that’s left.

  • Jack

    I know! Sell false security and blind faith, then marry it with conservative political activism and overt bigotry and sexism. If you want to do good in this world, the first thing you should do is bulldoze your church building and start living your life for others.

  • His

    Pastors are often afraid to step on toes as in doing so fear stepping on their own paycheck. (What happened to obedience and trusting the Lord?) Pastors and congregations spend wayyy too little time in prayer, confession, repentance, which blocks intimacy with our Father! How can someone who has little intimacy with Jesus share His love???? We need relationship with Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. Both seem to be missing in today’s Church.

    • Parts of his church for sure, I agree. I love pastors willing to put everything on the line. Such a great leadership quality. And discipleship quality.

  • Bill

    There is yet another way. When new members start to show up, make sure that the lead gossip gets to them to explain that “so and so left because of the pastor.” Works like a charm; new members leave without explanation and get totally turned off to church.

  • CJ

    I would add, “don’t have a budget for new risk.” I’ve served in churches were they want growth but aren’t willing to outline a plan or give any budgets to department heads or present the need to the whole church body. New risk often require new money.

    • I think you’ll get a lot of agreement on that one CJ. Thanks!

  • Doppelgänger

    I think there can also be a subtle shift when shepherd leaders begin to look at their flock as assets to help them achieve an agenda. Yes leaders must cast vision, set the agenda… lead. But people know when they’re a valuable part of the team or just a pawn in the game. I’ve had too many experiences (in secular world and church world) where momentum stalls because the guy at the top begins to treat those under him as frustrating minions. Churches become ineffective when the mantra becomes “Jesus was a servant, so be Christ-like and serve me!”

    • That’s true. And it’s sad when that’s true.

      Fortunately I think it’s the exception, not the rule.

  • Grant

    Sometimes I think pastors are more concerned about upsetting people than about pleasing Jesus. Our aim as pastors is to partner in what Jesus is doing in building His church.

    These are good pointers towards reinstalling much of what we know, but often gets neglected when we go through the motions of doing church.

    Thanks for the reminder.

    • Thanks Grant. For sure, we need to please God and lead people. That’s where the challenge comes in. Either is easy. Doing both is difficult.

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  • Jojo

    “People with imagination, hope and optimism get squashed enough times that they stop dreaming.

    And eventually, an ineffective church is marked as a place where people have long since abandoned thriving and are focused on merely surviving.”

    This is so true! I would also suggest that sometimes dreamers are squashed because instead of being grateful for the unique perspective dreamers bring there is fear that they are not “safe”. Being safe will bore a dreamer to death!

    • So true JoJo. Safe can often being boring to dreamers. 🙂