Just so you know, I speak from experience.
There was a time when my church did well. One Sunday we had to bring out more chairs there were so many people. That was cool.
Except the entire time my church was “doing well” and I preached to filled chairs, I felt completely compromised and miserable. I was preaching a party line and had actually no idea what I was talking about.
I began reading the Bible obsessively. I saw things I never saw before. I began preaching those things. People began to leave slowly. But there was one thing I did which completely pulled the rug out from under everything and the church has not yet recovered. And, just so you know, this was ten years ago now.
If you’d like to know how I ruined my church in one month, or would like to try it yourself (it was exciting), here’s how you do it.
1) Identify your church’s pet program. This is the thing your church is most proud of, what it brags about most. This is the thing that takes up people’s time and money and energy. For us it was a youth group. Our youth group was almost twice the size of our church.
2) Analyze that program. Get involved in it. Study what it’s doing, who is doing what, and look at the actual results. And this is key: the results. The church determined the results were great “It’s twice the size of our church! Look at all the people we have coming!” They also said “Look at all the kids who are being saved!” So I did.
Here’s what I saw
*”saved” meant “kids who said the prayer.” I listened to Gospel presentations and the Bible lessons. I heard all the speakers in our group and what they taught. There’s no way these kids were being saved. Not possible given the level of fluff that passed for teaching.
*the church’s job, according to Ephesians 4, is to grow people into Christ. This was not happening.
*one reason it wasn’t happening is because I noticed a disturbing trend among the leaders of the group: they were not grown in Christ or growing in Christ. They were doing their time, mostly with a bad attitude. One leader was arrested for DUI and drug possession. One leader was pregnant and not married. One leader was going through a divorce and constantly bragging about how great it was and how it was God’s will. One leader was making other leaders and kids cry every week by verbal bullying. Other leaders merely complained about having to attend and do anything.
3) Share your observations with a couple people. I talked to the board about what I saw. They examined it and came to the same conclusions. We decided to pull the plug until our leadership got their act together. Before we start “leading” other people’s kids, we need our leaders to be mature. Where exactly are our leaders leading them?
4) Pull the plug. I announced to the church that we would take a year off for our leaders to grow up. That we wouldn’t start the program again until I saw committed, spiritually mature leaders leading it.
I was hoping that it would truly work. Everyone was “so excited” about the program, surely they would be excited to take this opportunity to make it better?! Ha.
Half the church left over this issue. No one talked to me about how they could improve their spiritual growth. No one asked how they could help. Nope, they all just walked out the door and never came back.
Here’s the thing: behind many successful church programs are a bunch of people who really don’t care. They care about feeling like they are doing good stuff in a church that counts for brownie points with God. They care about the attention and feels they get. But if spiritual needs or responsibilities are brought up, people drop it quick.
Most churches have that “thing” they are proud of. Examine the pride. Most of our leaders felt their leadership compensated for their sin. So they kept sinning. It was ugly what they were doing. But they felt good because, “Look, we work with kids for Jesus!” There were no spiritual results from this group. As ten years have gone by, I know the kids who came and I see devastating results that clearly demonstrate nothing good was coming out of that group. Irrefutable evidence that I was correct.
And all the leaders who left? They still haven’t dealt with their sin and most of their lives are a mess too.
The stuff churches pass off as “successful” demands your attention, pastor. Truly look at what your church is doing. If what your church is doing leads to no spiritual fruit, and even in our case, seemed to be detrimental to spiritual fruit, drop it. It’s not helping anything. It’s merely giving penance for guilt ridden “volunteers.”
You’d think the church would rally around righteousness! You won’t think that if you try this one time.
Trust me: we have too many churches. Call your church out sometime. If it gets driven into the ground and destroyed, that’s ok, that’s evidence it wasn’t doing anything helpful anyway.
I’ve often kicked around the idea of being a Church Destruction Consultant; Lord knows we need fewer churches. Make it happen!