7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly…Mediocre

mediocre

One of the problems many churches face these days is that they’re neither great at things or terrible at things.

They’re honestly just…mediocre.

Facebook Live has made watching other churches’ services easier than ever, and as I’ve scrolled through my Sunday morning feed or visited different churches over the years, I’ve been a little amazed at what I’ve seen.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of mediocrity out there.

That probably sounds judgmental, and I’m sorry if that’s how it feels. But there’s a lot at stake here. When your church is mediocre, it should be no surprise unchurched people aren’t lining up to join you and that you’re not attracting and keeping the amazing leaders who might attend your church but don’t want to get involved because things are so sub-par.

And don’t be discouraged. Every leader and every church can be great at something, regardless of size, budget or location.

So it’s not a question of being a large church or having a million dollars. It’s a question of discovering what you can do well, how you can best express the mission of the church at the local level.

It’s a question of doing the best you can with what you have.

So, how do you know your church is mediocre? Here are 7 signs to look for.

1. You have non-singers singing and bad players playing

One sure sign you’ve settled into mediocrity is that on your music team, you have non-singers singing and bad players playing.

We’ve all seen that happen. Singers are regularly off key or flat. Musicians are struggling to keep up with chord changes or can’t quite get the rhythm right, all the while being glued to their music stands.

And the only people who seem to be enjoying it are the people on the music team. Everyone else is wincing or zoned out, or has become so used to it they’re now part of the problem.

So why does this happen?

First, too many church leaders value inclusion over gifting.

You ask a few questions and you hear things like:

Well, he really wanted to sing.

She really loves the keyboard.

He’s so passionate about music.

Yep, except they don’t have the talent to match their enthusiasm.

Drill a little deeper, and you soon discover the people who realize this is a problem are far to scared to do anything about it.

They feel paralyzed.

How do I tell them?

I’ll hurt their feelings.

Hey, they LOVE doing it. How can I tell them they don’t have the gifting?

And so we let the concrete of mediocrity harden and set because we’re too scared to do anything about it.

Instinctively you know you’ve caved into cowardice, but you just can’t muster up the nerve to have the hard conversation.

If you recognize yourself in this scenario, just know you have to make a choice.

You either choose the feelings of three people who can’t play or you choose the future and the dozens or hundreds of people you might reach if you actually improved your music.

Your call.

If you want more, here’s some further help on this very tender subject.

2. Bad Production

In addition to sub-par music, many churches settle for bad production…poor sound, poor lighting and a mediocre team running it all.

Often this is a case of trying to do too much.

You’re better off to have a few good tech things (like a great set of speakers or a few good lights) than to try to do many things poorly. Most churches overshoot their ability here, trying to get as much as possible for very little money.

When faced with limited resources (and we ALL have limited resources) investing in a few quality pieces always beats buying a lot of cheap pieces.

It’s also important to find people who know how to run what you’ve bought, or even to invest a little in bringing in an expert who can train your team on how to run it. Having a decent soundboard and excellent speakers don’t help much if your team has no idea how to run it.

When it comes to production, doing a few things well always beats doing many things poorly.

3. School Play Quality Live Streams

It’s great to see many churches go online…and many churches big and small are now streaming their services.

It’s so easy to do with Facebook Live, other streaming services and a simple camera.

But as you go online, ask yourself:  would you watch you?

Honestly, I’ll bet the answer a lot of the time is no.

Many churches suffer from what I call ‘school play’ syndrome. Their services look like an elementary school play. Not great lighting, not great production, not great sound, and a lot of sincere people who really don’t know what they’re doing.

Let’s be honest. The ONLY reason you watch a school play is because your kid is in it. And the number one question you’re asking the entire time is “when will this be over?”

So question: if your church service looks like a school play online, why are you broadcasting it?

If you’re going to be online, audio and video quality matter.

Again, you don’t need a six or seven figure solution here to make it better. Making sure your online sound is captured through a good set of mics and mixer, a few well-placed lights and a decent camera will help immensely.

If you can’t get to the point where you can broadcast the music with decent quality, maybe just broadcast the message.

The question worth asking is: am I helping people come to Christ by sharing this, or am I keeping people from Christ by sharing this?

Maybe ask a few unchurched people who will tell you the truth to evaluate your stream.

And don’t get discouraged, you may be a few tweaks or simple purchases away from being school-play quality.

All of this should help you accomplish the mission, not hinder the mission. And I’m just not sure school play quality broadcasts help much in most cases.

4. A Lame Website

Another sure sign you’ve settled for mediocrity is your website.

Many churches build it and forget it. Sure, hopefully you update it with the current series and a few announcements, but no one has really taken the time to think through it deeply.

Chances are everyone who visits your church for the first time in person has been to your website first.

After all, that’s exactly how you behave. You never go to a restaurant, hotel or even city without first checking it out online, and any new person is going to check your church out online before they visit.

Act like that’s true. Invest like that’s true. Think like that’s the case.

The home page of your website should be built with your guest in mind.

If you don’t have a First Time, New Here, or Plan a Visit option with location and services on your front page, you’re not thinking about your first-time guest.

The most visited pages of your website will almost always be your home page, your message content and (believe it or not), your staff or team page. Making sure those are designed with the guest in mind can make the difference of someone deciding to come or to stay away.

Mediocre churches are reluctant to invest time or money into their website. Smart churches do both.

5. Your Info Isn’t Current

Few things tell you a church is mediocre more than out of date information.

Whether it’s your church sign advertising an event from last month, or still wishing everyone a happy 4th of July in August, or your church website or podcast is three weeks late on uploading the current sermons, having out of date information screams “we don’t really care” to anyone passing by.

And for sure there are reasons. The sign guy was sick. Or that unreliable website volunteer once again needs reminding. But again, all of that screams mediocrity.

You’ll have a hard time recruiting high capacity volunteers (and new people) into a culture that does a lot of shrugging and constantly sighs “oh well.”

6. You’re Resigned to This

Maybe as you’ve read through this post you think there’s no way out. You’ve resigned yourself to this.

Don’t. The surest way to ensure a mediocre future is to resign yourself to a mediocre present.

I started in very small churches with not a lot of top-tier talent. I get what it’s like to have to start with almost nothing.

But if you focus on the best you have at the moment, and bring all of that to your mission, you will create a better future.

Eventually, more and more talented people will emerge from the crowd and new people will join your mission, and soon you’ll be so much further ahead.

Was our band always great? No.

Was every singer always on key? Nope.

Did every volunteer always crush it? Of course not.

But we did the best we could with what we had.

And you’ll soon discover if you do the best you can with what you have, your best keeps getting better.

The path to an excellent future is this: constantly improve an average present.

I have two full units in my Breaking 200 online course that will show you how to spot, recruit and develop the talent you have in your church that will move you into a far more excellent future.

There are principles I learned as I led our church from small and rather unskilled in most ministry areas to where we are today (larger and with many gifted leaders).

You can learn more and gain instant access to Breaking 200 here.

7. You’re Afraid to Change

So maybe you don’t want to resign yourself and your church to mediocrity, but you’re afraid to change.

I get that.

But change bridges the gap between what is and what could be. It bridges the gap between a not-great present and better future.

At some point you have to ask yourself, what should I fear more as a leader: change, or never accomplishing the mission?

Now go and accomplish your mission.

If you need practical help leading change, try this.

Any Other Signs?

Any other signs you’ve seen that a church is mediocre?

How have you beaten mediocrity in your church?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

38 Comments

  1. Jennifer McSparin on August 19, 2018 at 9:23 am

    It appears you are confusing church with an entertainment venue.

    • Sue on August 19, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      Exactly!! None of what you said matters. What tou daid is what is wrong woth the church today!!

  2. JD on August 19, 2018 at 7:57 am

    Saying “I’m sorry if that’s how it feels to you” is not actually an apology – it’s a cop out. Your opinion is that these churches (viewed on line) are mediocre. You are welcome to your opinion – but it is in no way FACT because it is YOUR opinion.

    The goal of church is not to attract and keep “amazing leaders”. Why would you think that it is? Is that what Jesus did in his ministry or did He have a mediocre church too (in your opinion)?

    The statement that church is about the leaders is likely intended to keep up this narrative about leadership being important to the heart of the Gospel. What that does is promote the idea that a certain class of the Jesus children deserve special attention and accolades (i.e. leaders). This promotes hero worship (idol) and power drunkenness in leaders.

    The certain class that deserved special attention from Jesus himself was the 1 of the 99 who wandered.

    Also, I could not read the rest of your post – since the opener was so mediocre in giving me a reason to spend another 10 minutes hearing your “advice.”

  3. Bruce N H on August 18, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    You forgot the part about failing to actually teach anything out of the Bible. Why in the world would I get up on a Sunday morning to hear a feel-good self-help message? Why would I want financial advice from my pastor when I could go to, um, a financial advisor who actually does this for a living? Why would I go for a concert that is a watered down version of what I could get from an actual concert? No, I go to hear about Christ, crucified for my sins and risen for my justification. The rest is set dressing.

  4. Bunny on August 18, 2018 at 3:33 pm

    I have years of experience on worship teams. I have been on teams with the best in production values, musicianship, all the bells and whistles. I am presently on a team in a small church where according to you we would be classified as mediocre. Most of the time we do not even have a drummer.

    I would not trade where I was for anything. People pour out their hearts to God, the team loves the Lord with all their heart and they are there to worship Him, not perform….all the things you talk about would be fine if you were talking about a corporation. Which maybe you are.

    But the Body of Christ is a family not an organization or a corporation. The values we have should be family values not corporate values. People do not care how slick production values are when they are hurting because a loved one is sick, or they are having a crisis of faith, or they are lonely. The loneliest I have ever been was in a megachurch with the very best of everything. But all I needed and all I wanted was Jesus and my church family. Really.

  5. Steve Simms on August 9, 2018 at 7:36 am

    Go beyond mediocre church! Google: Beyond Church Bible Ekklesia.

  6. Alternate View on August 5, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Has it dawned on you that a lot of folks really don’t care as much about the music as church leaders think they do? Although anecdotal, in every church I’ve attended for a lengthy span or served in, there’s a large contingency of people who actually don’t care how the music is.

    And first-time guests especially don’t care about the music. In fact, most find the music very weird. Whether it’s a wonderfully produced, album-matching rendition of “Oceans” or an off-key, all-six-verses marathon of hymn #452, people who’ve never stepped in a church before, honestly, find the music weird. They won’t know the songs… they’ll feel odd for not knowing the songs… and they won’t likely participate. So, at some capacity, the production level and talent level really isn’t as big a deal to the average Joe as it is to the church leader.

    And what’s the point of our worship, anyway? Amos 5 offers some harsh criticism for the people of faith who put more emphasis on the production of their worship over the purpose of their worship.

    A mediocre church is one that cares more about how its service looks to everyone instead of how good the fruit of their lives tastes to the world.

    • Jeff on August 5, 2018 at 8:47 pm

      ^ This.

  7. […] 7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly… Mediocre by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  8. Thomas on July 30, 2018 at 10:59 am

    I visit a lot of churches and when I see mediocrity it’s really sad. Yes, it’s all about the Gospel and the power of the Spirit in congregations – agreed. And, when churches don’t care about the little things, they’re probably not caring that much about the bigger things. Weeds in the parking lot, overgrown bushes, finger prints on the windows, dead crickets in the men’s room, announcements on the screen that are two weeks old, praise teams that look bored, and really bad coffee (I’ve seen all them all)… these things SCREAM “We don’t care.” If a church doesn’t care about the little things like these, my guess is that they won’t be caring much about new people walking in the door either.

    • ML on August 2, 2018 at 12:00 am

      This is one of the most arrogant and least insightful blogs I have read about church ministry. When post-article commenters feel justified in discussing weeds in the parking lot, overgrown bushes and finger prints on church windows – it is a sign that the original content has missed the mark. Unfortunately, it is the continuation of this surface level quasi-spiritualism that resonates with the Old-School-Legalist (why the July 4th reference when you speak out of a church in Barrie, ON, Canada?) and disengages the younger generation of Christ followers who want nothing to do with it, and thus, the Church.

      I’ve grown up in Christian community and am a Pastor’s kid. I hate to say it, but you could have the best vocalists, instrumentalists, light show and be streaming in 4K over your website; but when that unchurched friend you bring to that high level production comes and hears the first Christian-term-laden-phrase of the first song , they will see it as overwhelmingly “lame”. It is grace and love and acceptance that builds community. And it is caring for people despite their “mediocrity” that encourages them toward a relationship with Christ – not the expectation of exceptionalism.

      I do however, agree with the author’s last point: “You’re Afraid to Change”. Maybe he should take his own advice, discard this tired way of thinking, and try his maligned ‘School Play’ model. After all, I can’t think of a better example of a time when one puts aside their own pride, agenda and expectation to attend strictly out of love for the one they long to celebrate in the midst of likeminded people.

  9. dm on July 27, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Everything is executed to a high standard in the production, worship service, etc., but there is no GENUINE love and care from the congregation for newcomers or people who don’t ‘fit in’. It is all relegated to the Connections Ministry. I Corinthians 13.

  10. Nathan Smith on July 27, 2018 at 11:07 am

    Or your Church is mediocre because you’re a mediocre leader and need to stop marinating in abstract Church ‘science’ once in a while and act spiritual now and then.

  11. […] 7 Signs Your Church Is Honestly…Mediocre by Carey Nieuwhof on CareyNieuwhof.com. Sometimes the truth hurts. […]

  12. Gone, but not Done on July 27, 2018 at 8:26 am

    Ask yourself,
    1- How much (what percentage of) staff time, budget and energy go into creating that Sunday morning ‘worship’ experience?

    2- Is it realistic to expect that all/most churches should be ‘professional’ grade entertainers on a Sunday morning?

    3- Now ask yourself how was it possible that a bunch of refugees from Jerusalem who likely fled with little or few possessions into Antioch and other regional cities, could possibly have been instrumental in actually precipitating the most explosive growth of the Church in history?

    (if your answer is ‘the Holy Spirit’, I’ll give you that one but, wouldn’t/ shouldn’t it be the same today?)

    Now ask yourself,

    4- In a world of declining church attendance, the rise of the totally unchurched (here in a land of churches) consider “Is your ‘Emperor’ (Sunday morning church) is actually wearing any clothes?”

    (How do I know it’s your Emperor? — It’s the one thing that you will not lay down! and, no, I’m not saying Christians shouldn’t gather together…)

    Per this blog post, the primary thing we should be doing seems to be ‘putting on a reeeelly Great Show!–churches across the land are to out do one another in a brief concert and compelling? speech– but, my friends, it’s not working)

  13. Bernard Blackmon on July 27, 2018 at 8:12 am

    I read so many of your blogs. Usually I say in my head that is some good thoughts and words. Today, I wanted to not just say it within, but post. That is some good thoughts and words. I can see myself in it and striving not to remain there.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 4, 2018 at 5:12 am

      Thanks Bernard!

  14. Fenella Liddell on July 26, 2018 at 10:38 pm

    A generation ago, Dr. F. B. Meyer said this about the local church: “It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the Head Physician and Nurse; but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soldier of which should have some post or duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quitting.”
    Len Buttner

    • Tony on July 31, 2018 at 5:35 pm

      Finella Lidell: impressive… …but what does it mean?

  15. Michelle Nolan on July 26, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Great post! I agree. My husband and I are Pastoring now in Colorado Springs. It’s tough but having people endure worship with people who aren’t skilled vocally or musically. It’s painful for everyone worshipping. I went to Bible School so why do we “feel bad” when someone isn’t skilled well and we have to say it’s not a fit. With tact and sensitivity we could suggest voice lessons, or music lessons. Developing our talents for everyone is a call not just those behind the pulpit.

  16. William Miller on July 26, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks

  17. Sam on July 26, 2018 at 11:12 am

    We’re in the Atlanta area, so you don’t have to go very far to be at a church where the music is good, production is good, etc. But I think points 5-7 are much more important to growth than 1-4. Your music, production, needs to be good enough but you don’t have to keep up with bigger churches with more resources in order to bring in new people (I’ve learned that it’s best to stay within your means to accomplish this: we do an acoustic service with minimal production because we can do that well right now. We would not be able to do a more produced service with excellence). What 5-7 emphasize are including new people: you have to give good, inviting info to make new people feel comfortable and know how to become engaged, you have to be willing to change to bring in new folks because new people change your community if they truly become a part of it, and you can’t be resigned to how things have always looked because that will get the results that you’ve always gotten. I think most growth on Sunday mornings comes from personal invitation and people feeling like they’re valued, and the people in our church will invite friends if they feel like their friends will enjoy the experience and be valued by the people in the room.

  18. Paul Sankey on July 26, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Great post, though as a pastor of a church revitalization I think that a ‘mediocre ‘period can still be an upgrade of where a church once was, and is just a transition season on the journey from awful to impacting.

    • Dee on July 26, 2018 at 11:19 am

      from awful to awesome?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 4, 2018 at 5:11 am

      That’s true Paul. Good point! As long as it’s not the resting place or destination. 🙂

  19. Josh Poe on July 26, 2018 at 8:12 am

    – You’re inward focused
    – You don’t have healthy numbers (visitors, salvations, baptisms, etc)
    – You have meetings with no clear action plan
    – You’re always rushing last minute / not prepared
    – You often try to buy your way out of problems (adding unnecessary staff that you can get volunteers for)
    – You’re doing everything yourself and not delegating
    – You’re sharing tasks and not vision.

    • Josh Poe on July 26, 2018 at 8:18 am

      We have helped beat mediocrity
      #1- By having a great leader who invests in our staffs leadership weekly. Our staff meetings are focused around personal spiritual growth and leadership
      #2 – Looking at the health of the church. Numbers compared to previous years. Ask why if they are off.
      #3 – Not being afraid of change or afraid to try things outside of the box
      #4 – Having a core value of being outward focused

  20. Halcyon on July 26, 2018 at 7:59 am

    Just wondered why there is no mention of prioritising the presence of God or doing the works of the Father or encouraging encounters with God? Churches grow when God is there.

    • Dean on July 26, 2018 at 11:32 am

      Thanks! Emphasis on outward things may help you notice mediocrity in the outward things, but the greatest “show” in the world won’t make up for the One who said, “abide in Me and I in you…”

    • Paul Wilkes on July 27, 2018 at 6:52 am

      My sentiments too!

  21. Will on July 26, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Other signs:
    You’re preoccupied with keeping people happy rather than reaching out to engage new people.
    You’re more focused on Christians than the spiritually searching.
    You’re afraid some people might leave if you…
    You’ve lost faith in the power of the gospel to impact society and transform lives.
    You believe that you can’t set a high bar because you’re working with “volunteers”

    …to name a few more

  22. Scott on July 26, 2018 at 7:10 am

    How can mediocre people grow and get better in their ministry if they are not given an opportunity to serve?

    • Josh Poe on July 26, 2018 at 8:25 am

      Hey Scott! A couple thingsI believe…

      #1 – Everyone has a ministry. For me my first ministry is my family. Before working for a church, my 2nd ministry was my job. Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”

      #2 – There are plenty of opportunities to serve.
      On a personal side -Mathew 9:35-38, “35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

      On a church / ministry side if you’re not in a church leadership position, just jump in and help. Often times church leadership forgets to do simple things like… ask for help. Just jump in when you see an opportunity/need.

      • Scott on July 26, 2018 at 8:37 am

        Hi Josh, Thank you! 🙂

      • Tony on July 31, 2018 at 5:41 pm

        Josh: That’s good!

  23. Denn Guptill on July 26, 2018 at 6:55 am

    Thanks Carey, a great reminder of Cromell’s words “He who ceases to be better, ceases to be good.”

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