27 BIG Mistakes Churches Make Every Day

We are one week into the Pentecost season. We just celebrated the birthday of the Church.

This week is a good week to take a look at how we operate as the people of God.

Here’s a list of things we often do without thinking twice.

1. We rely on offerings as our sole support.
What else is there?
There may be ways of doing ministry that develop cash flow. They often take investment to get them up and running . . . and that’s where plans stop.

2. We fail to communicate the costs of being a Christian community.
We are often great at planning. Many of the people voting on these ideas have no idea what they cost and rely on someone else paying the bill. Church members can walk away from their responsibilities any time! Communicate potential benefits and actively enlist support from everyone.

3. We often fail to help members understand that they can contribute in non-monetary ways.
We talk about giving of ourselves, our time and our possessions but concentrate on dollars.

4. We never discuss our failures.
Did we fail to accept new members last year? Did we fail to baptize? Is attendance down? Is giving down? Are programs attracting the same few people? Solutions to these problems cannot be found if we don’t acknowledge their existence.

5. We don’t address discontent.
It happens in every church. But often the only way of dealing with discontent is to let those who express concerns marinate in their own juice. We don’t even notice that they stop contributing and later stop coming. And then their relatives stop giving and coming. And then their friends stop giving and coming. Sometimes we notice but breathe a sigh of relief. It may seem like a problem is solved—or is it?

6. We look only to clergy for answers.
Sometimes clergy have the answers. Sometimes they are struggling to find solutions like the rest of us.

7. Lay experience is undervalued.
Do you have teachers, doctors, community leaders, students, contractors, writers, photographers, marketers, and business people in your congregation? Are they able to use their skills?

8. We fail to keep in touch with members who left or moved.
There may have been a reason for this back when it cost money to mail newsletters. There is no excuse today. The people who are loyal to you are valuable no matter where they live. Add them to your email list.

9. We often underestimate the cost of providing resources to the community.
Communities come to expect free when dealing with churches—and that leads to hard times for the churches. Churches once benefitted from consideration of vendors, but that is rare these days. So churches pay full freight while others still expect free from them.

10. We fail to budget for mission.
We put a great deal of emphasis on our mission statements but when we approve our budgets we allow nothing for implementation.

11. We fail to expand our databases beyond our members.
Ask everyone who comes in contact with your congregation for two basic pieces of information—First name and email address. This is for starters. As you get to know them, add their addresses, phone and organization name. Marketers know this information is gold. It’s important for evangelists, too.

12. We put too low a priority on education.
Many churches have very little in the way of educational offerings—especially for adults. If adults won’t come to traditional Bible studies, find another way to teach. Weave learning into everything you do. A congregation with a firm foundation in their faith is better equipped to serve.

13. We fail to keep a secular church calendar.
Members live in the secular world six days a week. It’s important for churches to recognize secular holidays and community days such as graduation or the neighborhood block party, homecoming, or walkathon. It helps make the events you plan more successful and it broadcasts that you care about the community.

14. We put scripture into the hands of our members but we don’t put the governing rules of the church into their hands.
It is surprising that often even clergy do not know how their constitutions read. When conflicts occur the members who have read the rules are often cast as the “bad guys.”

15. We fail to understand the value of our communities to the neighborhood.
This is usually our own fault. We tend to step back, especially when times are tough. When we disengage from our communities, we lose the confidence of our neighbors.

16. We fail to dream big dreams.
Our faith is built upon stories of underdogs who prevail and miracles, but we have lost confidence in our own place in this ongoing faith story. Progress often starts with a dream—and it often comes from the most unlikely places.

17. We dismiss fiscal responsibility with “But we’re a church.”
Sometimes that means we have to try harder!

18. We fail to laugh at ourselves.
Pity the poor church secretaries whose bulletin bloopers have been the focus of church humor for decades. Would we laugh as long and hard if we published lists of sermon bloopers?  We all make mistakes. Admit them. Laugh at them. Learn from them.

19. We fail to follow up on our successes.
Did your church follow up your big Easter breakfast or Homecoming with a personal message to everyone who attended? It’s a great way to stay in touch and let people know they are valued. Consider follow-up campaigns. For example: Hi, Sheldon and Donna: It was great to spend time with you and your family at Easter breakfast. We hope you’ll join us for worship on Pentecost. It’s the birthday of the church and it won’t seem complete without you!

20. We forget that not everyone knows the inside scoop.

Do you run notices like “Contact Anita with questions.” Does everyone know who Anita is? Always look at your promotional information with the eye of a first-time visitor.

21. Sometimes we don’t share enough of our inside stories.
People might be interested to know some of your members’ individual situations and service projects. Make sure that sharing is OK, but know that the faith journeys of members are great opportunities for witness.

22. We tend to think that we cannot negotiate in our dealings.
When this becomes the expectation it creates low morale Why bother? Approach the people you are working with confidence and documented plans — and negotiate! That’s how transformation happens!

23. We fail to respond.
Have you ever left an email message on a church website? Did you get an answer? Our congregation has written a dozen letters to our denomination and the national church that have gone unanswered. The duty to communicate or respond is easily passed off or forgotten, especially when modeled by leaders who have better things to do.

24. We don’t ask questions.
The church is a safe haven for those with less than noble motives—even for criminals. We all want to think the best of one another. Embezzlement happens. Sexual abuse happens. Theft happens. Infidelity happens. False witness abounds. These are often camouflaged with charisma and ostentatious good deeds. Sometimes we suspect. Sometimes we know. Often we abide. The Church is just beginning to discover the cost. Your insurance payments reflect it. But the cost to fellowship is immeasurable.

25. We accept less than honest answers to our questions.
No one in church life likes to question or argue. We tend to accept what we are told and complain privately. Foster an environment that provides honest answers to the most challenging questions. Over time it will improve your credibility among members and outsiders.

26. We accept failure.
The Church may be the only organization that applauds the status quo. If nothing bad is happening or things are slipping “just a little” but everyone is content, than we calculate that the cost of asking for better performance as a risky investment. Ten years later we realize the slope is steeper than we thought.

27. We try to please everyone.
It’s impossible. But often we bend over backwards to please and sometimes forget who we are Whom we serve.