5 Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over and Over Again

mistakes churches make

It’s one thing to make mistakes in leadership.

It’s another to make the same mistakes over and over again.

Any idea what your frequent mistakes might be?

And if you have mistakes that you make, why do you keep making the same ones over and over again?

One of the reasons many leaders and organizations repeatedly make the same mistakes is because our actions spring from our viewpoint, viewpoints that in fact may be wrong.

Get the viewpoint wrong and the actions follow.

As you’ll see from the list below, the mistakes I see church leaders make repeatedly spring from a view point that can best be described this way:

What we do in the church doesn’t really matter.

The reality is nothing could be further from the truth. What we do in the church matters incredibly, because the church actually is, as Bill Hybels says, the hope of the world.

If the church has the most important mission on earth, behave like it.

But so many churches don’t.

Here are 5 mistakes I see over and over again.

The church has the most important mission on earth. Every church should behave like it. Click To Tweet

1. Thinking cheap

Too often in church, leaders carry a dollar store mindset. Get as much as you can for as little as you can and you win.

But do you?

What leaders miss is that cheap has a cost. In fact, in the long run, it’s actually more expensive.

First, you end up with inferior products, whether that’s furniture, technology or even ministry (Here, leader…do world-class children’s ministry on $140 a year).  Cheap things break earlier and more easily, and you end up replacing them frequently. So often, you don’t even save much money.

Cheap has a cost. In fact, in the long run, it's actually more expensive. Click To Tweet

Cheap even translates to team.

Paying church staff poorly is not only unbiblical, it’s stupid. When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

Do I think you should pay outrageous salaries to church leaders? Absolutely not. But you should pay people a living wage.

If you want a radically different view on why non-profits shouldn’t be cheap on salaries, Dan Pallotta makes a powerful case for decent pay in the non-profit sector.

Why do some church leaders want to underfund the most important ministry on earth?

Why do some church leaders want to underfund the most important ministry on earth? Click To Tweet

2. Starting late

I’ve been to numerous church services and events that regularly start late, after the published start time.

Why?

Maybe it’s just me, but that just oozes “Hey, what we’re doing doesn’t matter much…and we don’t really value your time.”

Some people got their kids up early, made breakfast, showered quickly and fought traffic to show up on time. When you start late, you dishonour all their effort.

I know some church leaders think they want to wait until ‘everyone is here.’ Well guess what? No matter what time you begin, people will always wander in late.

We had an ‘everyone shows up ten minutes late’ problem a few years ago. Rather than start late, we actually told people to arrive on time and then put some of the best, most creative elements in the first 5 minutes of the service.

When people showed up late, we told them “Man, it’s too bad you missed it.” That was it. We never apologized.

Guess what happened? We went from 30% of people being present when the service started to about 70% of people being present when the service started.

It’s amazing what happens when you provide great value on time. People show up.

The other 30%? Too bad they missed it….

When you provide great value on time, people show up. Click To Tweet

3. Deciding it’s good enough

Even if you invest some money in ministry, too many church leaders behave as though a moderate effort is good enough.

As Jim Collins has famously pointed out, bad is not the enemy of great (because that’s obvious). Good is the enemy of great.

A ‘good enough’ attitude can create a false sense of satisfaction, leaving a meaningful part of both your mission and potential unfulfilled.

That’s why I love that at Connexus Church, where I serve, one of our stated values is ‘Battle Mediocrity.’

I love that phrase because first of all, ‘mediocrity’ names ‘good enough’ for what it is—massively unsatisfying mediocrity. Second, ‘battle’ is a call to arms. This is a fight, and mediocre has to die. (I teach on battling mediocrity in this talk.)

God didn’t decide his work was good enough, so why should the church? He gave his best. His all. He threw the full force of his majesty not just into creation, but into redemption.

Strangely, many people will give 100% to the marketplace, a hobby or their family, and then give 60% when they serve God. Makes no sense. At all.

God didn't decide his work was good enough, so why should the church? Click To Tweet

4. Choosing easy over effective

Being effective as a leader is difficult. Which is why it’s so easy for leaders to settle when so much more is possible.

Being effective means you dig in when others retreat. It means you ask the 11th question when everyone else stopped at ten. It means you wake up early and sometimes stay up late trying to figure out how to do better.

It means you call out the best in people and ask them to bring their best energy, focus and skill to advancing the mission of the church.

That’s effective.

And it’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

Being effective means you ask the 11th question when everyone else stopped at ten. Click To Tweet

5. Thinking that conversations like these are  unspiritual

Some leaders understand why conversations like these matter to the church. But there are always some who don’t.

In some circles, talking strategy is seen as ‘unspiritual.’ Instead, the goal is to not get too concerned with strategy and just try to keep everybody happy. Or to pray about things and maybe they’ll just get better.

The best prayer is rooted in action. Praying about forgiveness when you’re unwilling to forgive is pointless.

Praying for your church if you’re unwilling to act on it doesn’t make any sense either.

If we believe God is the author of our hearts, minds, souls, strength and gifts, then we should be willing to lend all of the above to further the mission.

Praying for your church if you're unwilling to act on it doesn't make any sense. Click To Tweet

Here’s Another Mistake So Many Leaders Make

Let me ask you if this sounds familiar: you see new faces at your church, but the attendance numbers come in the same, week after week. Maybe it’s 75, or 150, or 250, but no matter how much you try you cannot break past that number.

Well, you’re not alone. I’ve worked with hundreds of pastors over the last 20 years to better understand the plateaus of church growth—and how to break past them.

It’s not about just ‘working harder’ or ‘preaching better.’ And it’s not a gimmicky outreach strategy that gets people in the door but can’t keep them there. Rather, it’s a series of a few tried-and-true changes that will help get you from where you are to where God has called you to be.

Whether you lead a team of 10 or a team of 1, you need the skill & insight to break through the next growth barrier.

I’ve distilled everything you need to know into the Church Growth Masterclass. It’s everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that. But I believe you can position your church to grow. You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The five keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What Do You See?

In the meantime, I’d love to know some of the mistakes you see churches make again and again.

Scroll down and leave a comment!

35 Comments

  1. Levan Hubbard on April 11, 2019 at 10:52 am

    A mistake I have seen over and over is not dealing with issues, conflict and discord in a straight forward manner. Leaving it to just simmer and resolve itself becomes an unhealthy situation that often results in power struggles which inhibits growth

  2. Kim on August 2, 2018 at 5:55 am

    I think our church leaders speaks to us ,week after week, year after year, as if we are baby Christians. I want more. The mindset is that there could be new people present and we would be speaking in terms that would lose them. However, the Christians that would crave meat can not grow and lose interest in hearing minimalist teachings.

  3. Jon Perrin on August 1, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    Another excellent post, Carey. Even though I don’t comment on every post, I read them all. Thank you for using your God-given platform to speak the truth in love. God has called us to bring our best to the table, not holding anything back.

  4. Dennis on August 1, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    A great way to ensure first timers won’t return is to open your service with 10 minutes or so of “announcements.” Just pull out the calendar and go over every single event scheduled for the coming week and do so in “church speak” that only insiders will understand. Don’t leave out business meetings that are only for deacons, ministry leads, etc. either.
    Oh, and just let the band practice in the worship center as people enter, right up to the moment the service begins. (sour notes, starts and stops, and all) The bass player couldn’t make practice last Tuesday, so he has to get caught up on Sunday morning. Maybe some slides playing in a loop on the screens will take people’s minds off the din, right?

  5. HT on August 1, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    What do you do when your pastor is in favor of mediocrity? Good enough — no desire to grow (even though this is a five year old church plant). And has actually said “growth” is not what he’s after unless it’s growth in the body. But we need to NOT keep our growth in Christ to ourselves, and that’s what he seems to be wanting to do. Yes he talks that we need to be doing something during the week and not just coming on Sunday, but mostly it’s involving prayer and attending small group bible studies. It’s not doing any outreach unless you count giving blankets to the homeless once a year during the winter. And when you mention that tweaks need to be done to the church online site to include items that will bring us up in the search rankings (which influences whether people even know we’re around) he said “he did that.” (And I know that it wasn’t done…nor was providing links and updated information to online aggregation sites listing churches — our church has been in a new location for 3 years and Yelp and the local newspaper online site still have the old address and our website link is on neither place).

    My husband says don’t rock the boat and that (truthfully) the elders are mostly “yes men” who will go along with whatever the pastor wants and negate any new ideas. Asking people to step up and begin new ministries won’t happen here. Should we look for a new place or try to make changes?

  6. Sherman on August 1, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Carey,

    U da man. U covered my pet peeves. Love your blogs.

  7. Kiyomi on August 1, 2018 at 9:31 am

    The hypocrisy of many churches is the unfriendly and inattentive posture towards first timers and one another. The KINDEST action at church is to reach out to them and encircle them with love, joy, peace….they will want to return!!!

  8. Dave on August 1, 2018 at 8:34 am

    Thank you Carey. I really enjoyed the article. We start on time but struggle with people coming late. What were some of the elements that you put in the first five minutes of the service? Just trying to brainstorm a little but on what we can do differently. Thanks!

  9. pastor gladys hyman on August 1, 2018 at 7:28 am

    thank you, always open for greater. I welcome change. this was great to observe. a definite embrace. all of them.

  10. Jennica Conklin on April 5, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Carey, this is another great and insightful article. I just wanted to thank you for the effort you put into each of your pieces. They are later out clearly, often have really practical steps, and you link other applicable articles to them. That is surely extra work on your behalf but I really appreciate it. Especially on podcasts, I love that you have a clear written recap with links. I’m usually driving when I listen to podcasts so knowing I’m not having to try to rely on memory for a suggested book or article, and that I can look it up when I get home is so helpful.
    My husband and I planted a church a few years ago, and by the grace of God and a lot of intentionality, we are about 250. I have experienced so many of these concepts to be spot on. Thank you for helping leaders move past unseen barriers!

  11. Charitabee on April 5, 2018 at 9:07 am

    I have actually hear a very nice, very prominent member of leadership say (when discussing a potential new hire who had better paying options) they hoped she understood that there were more important things than money and she should take this job because it would be godly service. Our church does not lack money. We have a trust that we would have to work very hard to spend it all. So not having the money to pay a decent salary was not the problem. And the church routinely requires (not in writing but the pressure is there because “we are more than employees”) hundreds of volunteer hours a year. I think the church should be one of the best places you could work, not one that uses God to shortchange you.

    • Ray on August 1, 2018 at 7:07 am

      Amen!

  12. Steve Gaither on September 3, 2017 at 7:55 am

    1 Cor. 14:26 Says, If any man…. The exclusion of all but professionals is the biggest error churches make every day. Congregants are trained to be passive observers. Look at the vast difference between what the church was doing in this snapshot verse, and what is possible today. If anyone has a teaching, an inspiration, a song, a message… ALL this must be done to edifynthe body. If the scripture is true, then edification can only happen when everyone is capable and expected to minister to the body as the Spirit leads.

    • Wayne Greulich on April 5, 2018 at 5:49 pm

      Exactly Steve. However, this just does not happen by itself – especially in our reserved, western, staunch order of service (yes, even the charismatics often have a discernible order of service, though unwritten) services.
      It has to be trained and fostered.
      I did this years ago in a church I pastored. First, in all of our services, we fostered an attitude that the Holy Spirit was in charge of the service and we sought His direction in all areas of the service. This often resulted in a different “order of service” each week.
      Second, the Lord led me to put 1 Corinthians 14:26 into practice one Sunday evening per month. I would announce for several weeks in advance that we were having this service and the I, as pastor, would not prepare anything for the service except the opening song. I encouraged EACH ONE to seek God for what HE wanted them to share, whether passage of Scripture, testimony, short teaching, Christian poetry, a requested hymn for the group to sing, a solo/group ministry of music, etc. These services started out with great hesitation. I believe it was important for me to encourage and create an atmosphere where people were safe to make mistakes or fumble as they learned to “walk.”
      After a while, people found it easy to share and three amazing side effects occurred. (1) People who had never before shared anything in a group started to share; (2) The Holy Spirit guided people to all share around a particular theme or lesson. As pastor, the Lord allowed me to see the thread that bound it all together and I started wrapping up our time together with a 5 – 10 minute sharing of appropriate Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit to the group; and (3) It began to spill out into other services and the “each one” principle began to grow into the other services of the church.

  13. Margaret Carr on March 2, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    So true on every point. I believe that “round pegs in square holes” is also a constant mistake made. People who are asked to take on roles they are not suited to.

  14. Greg Shark on March 2, 2017 at 1:21 am

    I think that a terrible mistake made by some churches is the complete ignoring of the Holy Spirit. Here I refer to churches that pander to the ‘new’ Christian, they’re afraid of chasing them away so they are not fed on the Gospel. Teach the Word!

    • Pastor Don Zlaty on April 11, 2019 at 8:55 am

      The other tragedy is a church that is more interested in being comfortable for the members than relevant to people seeking Christ….

  15. toddmckeever on March 1, 2017 at 11:45 am

    I enjoyed #1 and #4. Then as an XP I can’t wait for the day when #5 discussions are no longer seen as lesser type of discussions. Thanks for the post it was a great one.

  16. Char Seawell on December 3, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    Another mistake? Not preparing congregations for changes in leadership which sabotages the new guy (or girl). This transition contains some grieving and a wide variety of other emotions. I think a mandatory one month of having Biblical discussions of how God views leadership and what responsibilities we have to our leaders would be good. To often, I have seen churches really struggle because God brings in a leader with a different focus for mission and people’s preferences become the Biblical standard to which the Church is held hostage…and the pastor.

  17. Chris Davies on July 23, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    This is spot on,Carey. I really think the mentality of some pastors should change. It’s NOT good thing to pay your staff poorly. It’s even painful to see that some wealthy Pastors do this. I know a Pastor who has 4 cars but his second-in command does not have one. I really don’t get it. Thanks for this great stuff.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 24, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      Thanks Chris. Man, that scenario is crazy!

      • Jessica Dyck on April 5, 2018 at 7:32 am

        Just wanted to mention that it was actually Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest who first said, “that the good is the enemy of the best.” It is an important principle to remember in all aspects of Christian living.

  18. […] Joel and I have been meditating on an article we read by Carey Nieuwhof, 5 Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over And Over Again. Specifically, he […]

  19. Paul Shepherd on July 16, 2016 at 7:59 am

    Carey – Long time reader, first time poster.

    Thank you for your frank perspective. “When you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. Love that! Sure some people (pastors) will be offended b/c they don’t make more – but your point is dead-on. How many pastors aren’t ready for retirement, because they failed to properly provide for their future….even under the label of “suffering for the Lord?” I don’t think that leaves the greatest testimony. Especially to their children.

    I praise God for people who lay it all down and don’t have all they need. That is the heart of a missionary. However I think there are other hidden “costs” when we aren’t able to fully take care of our families that go overlooked. Family stress, Kids resent the church, future pastors growing up in the church see the hardship and are turned away by it…etc…

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 16, 2016 at 8:49 am

      Great insights Paul..and it’s fantastic to hear from you. Thanks for posting!

  20. […] 5 Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over And Over Again by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  21. […] the church, the person and the world, he is knocking them out of the park. In a recent post titled, Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over And Over Again (which if you haven’t read yet, then click the link…we’ll wait here), Nieuwhof […]

  22. tiny on July 9, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    There is always a Cost to doing Business, and Spreading Truth and the Good News is no different. Many in the Congregation will respond to this need, and the result is that we are certainly Blessed with our Volunteers and Givers. When it comes to purchasing … one has to remember that the Cheap always pays Twice. But always, it doesn’t matter in what Organization, You have the Givers and the Takers. When it comes to offering Construction or Cleaning Services, we have what you would call the “STP” Group … “Same Ten People” …. The 5% of the People doing 95% of the Work. …. Our Pastor spent Four Good Sermons on Tithing and Service ….. so much for that effort. A person doesn’t mind being a Willing Servant, but it is the Clicks that is disturbing … with some .. it is more important to know that you know how important they are and what position they hold …. The Board Loves their Political Arena … Big Talk… accomplish nothing…. my view is that I am Not here for a Popularity Contest … I am here to do what is right. The “STP” Group have been working diligently to play catch up on many neglected issues, that should have been address many Years ago….. My Rant…. May God Bless!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 16, 2016 at 8:50 am

      That’s quite a rant. I’ve found with some work it’s not that hard to get a lot more people engaged. Hope you find that too!

  23. Weekend Leadership Roundup | on July 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

    […] 5 Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over and Over Again – Carey Nieuhoff […]

  24. Jim Duggan on July 7, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Hey, buddy. Thanks for calling me a monkey! LOL. But seriously, once again you’ve touched the heart of important church issues. Stewardship demands excellence. Ours is service to GOD; even our best falls short of what He deserves, how dare we settle for less than our best. Thom Rainer has paraphrase Jim Collins by saying “It’s a sin to be good when God has called you to be great.”

  25. | Five Fold Bible on July 7, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    […] the church, the person and the world, he is knocking them out of the park. In a recent post titled, Basic Mistakes Churches Make Over And Over Again (which if you haven’t read yet, then click the link…we’ll wait here), Nieuwhof […]

  26. Nathan Walter on July 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Great thoughts.

    Regarding #1, I was once told that there is a large difference between being frugal and being cheap. I see a lot of churches, especially ones that tend to have larger budgets than I’m used to seeing, spend lavishly and luxuriously. This can lead to mistrust among those who are giving money to the church. They begin to wonder why the church is so “careless” with funds and why there is a need for the most expensive version of an item.

    I have learned two really valuable lessons about going “cheap” on resources in my ministry:

    1. I have been amazed to know that when you can tap into the abilities of your congregation, you can save a ton of money. People in the church can repair, replace, and restore things in ways you wouldn’t believe. Sometimes, instead of researching costs on things, pastors ought to research the resources within their church.

    2. Lavish spending can get out of control really quick. You spend top dollar for one event or one ministry, all of a sudden, there is the mindset that you have to match that for every event. Other ministries begin demanding similar funds. While not every ministry or event is deserving of equal funds, it can lead to a tough situation. Good communication about where the money is going and why can really help.

    I appreciated this article.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 16, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Really great distinctions. Thank you Nathan!

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