Are You Killing Your Church? 6 things that can destroy community
Have you ever tried to kill something, but no matter what you tried it just hung around, almost like it was taunting you? I have this tree that I have been waging war against. It may be the most hated tree in North America. It’s a Sweet Gum tree. This little monster looks lovely. It’s a big healthy tree, but before you start to feel sorry for the innocent little plant, let me tell you about why I hate it. It drops fruits that, if stepped on in bare feet, causes you to bite your lip, otherwise you will say something that will make your grandma blush. These little monsters go by many names including ‘sticker balls’, ‘monkey balls’ and my favorite, ‘goblin bombs’. I’ve tried a variety of things to kill the tree, but it is made of hearty stock. Every time it seems unscathed by my feeble attempts to bring it down.
Unlike the terroristic tree, your church is much easier to kill. In fact, many church leaders are inadvertently killing their church without even realizing it. Over the years, we have worked with a wide array of churches and here are a few of the things we have seen creep in that are destroying them from the inside:
Churches are unique and each one has a slightly different calling. If your church doesn’t have a clear picture of who they are and what makes them different from the church down the road, the chances are your people don’t know either. Communicating a clear mission and DNA gives your people something to rally around. Know who you are and share it frequently with your people. The people in the crowd that nod their heads while you talk about your vision – they are your tribe. Invest in them.
Thanks, but we’ve got this
You’ve built this church through blood, sweat and prayer and there was a time when you were involved in everything. It can be hard to let others lead. I’m not sure what’s harder, allowing people to do it wrong or watching them do it better than you did? Churches that don’t invite people to lead, give them real authority, and enough rope to make you a bit nervous run the risk of becoming a spectator church. Develop a culture of engagement and you will see ownership grow in response.
Did you hear what he said?
For whatever reason, churches seem to have a fair bit of drama. It can be really hard to stay clear of the drama and do it in a way that is affirming of your more dramatic people. Some churches shut it down hard and fast, and that can leave a wake of bodies in the path. Others, in an attempt to care for people’s needs and concerns, get sucked into mission-diverting nonsense. A few questions that have helped me clarify how to engage are ‘Does this conversation affirm the dignity of the person being discussed?’ and ‘Is this issue something that is core to who we are, or just someone expressing something that bugs them?’ How I answer those questions drives my response and engagement.
You got a problem with me?
Conversely, there are times when we have to take on a troublemaker. Too often we want to be nice and what we are really doing is using that as an excuse to avoid conflict. There are times when the best thing you can say is ‘Wow. You don’t seem happy here. I’m not sure this is the right place for you.’ You may even have to be more direct for some folks. When I get to that point, I have usually been emotionally engaged in the issue (a.k.a. annoyed or even downright angry) and I have to work extra hard to stay focused on being firm but not shaming. Again, God created that person with dignity and I need to protect that, even if I am asking them to leave.
What have you done for me lately?
I’ve seen this more than I wish. It can be easy to treat people as a means to an end. Do the people that give more have more voice in the church? How do you respond when a faithful volunteer says they need to take a break for a while? The ways that this issue surfaces are often subtle, but people notice. I’ve visited more than one church over the years where within weeks someone has said ‘We’re going to put you to work”. Our works do not add anything to our value to God, and our churches should be striving to reflect that same posture, even if it is hard.
You’re not from around here
The church is a big tent, not an exclusive country club. It can be easy to start using insider language, and communicate that strangers aren’t welcome. Sometimes it can be little things, like not having an effective follow-up plan for visitors, leaving connection largely up to them. Other times it can come in more direct ways like communicating ‘we don’t wear jeans around here.’ I even read an extreme case recently where a visitor was shot to death in church for sitting in someone else’s seat. Visiting a church for the first time can be a bit scary, especially when you don’t know anyone. How are you going out of your way to extend an extravagant welcome to visitors?
The fact that Jesus entrusted his beloved church to us is amazing and a great responsibility. While many of these examples are extreme, unless we are vigilant protectors of God’s church, these can begin to creep into our cultures.
How are you protecting the health of your church culture?