Lies We Tell Each Other in Ministry

Friends, the following is an article by Dan Hotchkiss, Alban Ministry Consultant. I felt it was important to share his thoughts with you, for as your ministry consultant I noticed that we often perpetuate these lies ourselves.

Rev. Toni G. Boehm, Ph.D. USCR Ministry Consultant 816-304-3044

USCR supports its ministries with board and leadership trainings, ask me how?

Unfortunately, we often soothe each other by ignoring well-established facts about church growth and telling reassuring lies. Here are a few of the most common:

Lie #1: Friendly churches grow. Declining churches often marvel at how many visitors show up once and don’t return. “But we’re so friendly!” Like most lies we tell ourselves, this one has a grain of truth in it: a visitor who gets a friendly greeting is more likely to return. But most church consultants know that the more vehemently leaders say their church is friendly, the more likely it will feel quite cold to visitors. When people say, “Our church is friendly,” generally they mean “My friends are here.” Visitors to “friendly” churches see the backs of people’s heads—heads gathered into tight, impenetrable groups of friends. Churches that excel at hospitality are more apt to give themselves a B+ or C– in the friendliness department—and appreciate that hospitality takes effort.

Lie #2: Growth is not about numbers. I have looked at lots of numbers over twenty years as a consultant. One of the consistent patterns is that churches are more diligent about keeping records of attendance, membership, and giving when the numbers rise than when they fall. In periods of decline, clergy and lay leaders say, “We don’t play the numbers game,” and “We are interested in quality, not quantity.” These attitudes are comforting and vaguely spiritual-sounding, but if what you are doing is worthwhile for 50 people, why wouldn’t it be twice as good to do it for 100? We pay attention to the things we measure, and a congregation that does not keep and regularly read and talk about its numbers is not likely to do what it must to keep those numbers healthy.

Lie #3: Our children are our future. I first heard this one in the 1980s, when I served a church in southeast Florida, where lots of churches had big, empty education wings. In that context, churches could thrive for decades without attracting families with children, thanks to an endless supply of new old people. Even in communities with lots of children, the chief benefit of having a strong young people’s ministry is not because “our” children will grow up to join “our” church. How many adult members of your church grew up in your Sunday school? Thanks to mobility, intermarriage, and competition from new congregations, if it’s more than five percent, you’re the exception. Having a strong ministry with youth and children is important for your congregation’s growth, not because your children will grow up to join your church, but because a strong children’s program is the key to attracting your fair share of other people’s children. Congregations grow because they engage people now, not decades in the future.

Lie #4: We grow one new member at a time. Churches oscillate around comfortable sizes because that is how many people they have space for. “Space” comes in various forms. In order of importance, the chief types of capacity that limit growth appear to be: seating, leadership style, parking, worship style, adult social and program space, and education space.

• Seating starts to limit congregation size when it’s about 80% full, on average. That means that you have to build a bigger sanctuary or (much cheaper) add a worship service long before long-time members feel uncomfortable.

• Leadership style revolves around the role of the main clergy leader (you can learn more about this from books by me, by Susan Beaumont, and by Alice Mann). One of the main ways leaders limit growth is to insist that newcomers conform to ways of “joining” that belong to the size the church is now, rather than the size it hopes to become. Did I mention that I wrote a book (see chapter 7)?

• Parking matters most in suburbs, less in rural towns and bigger cities.

• Worship style does not mean classical or folk or rock, but whether you plan for an informal family gathering where everybody knows each other (family size: median attendance up to about 100), a facilitated group discussion (pastoral size: 100–250), a professionally-led talent show (multi-celled: 250–400), or a polished all- pro episode of a goal-driven experience (professional size: 400–800 and up).

• Adult social and program space is critical, especially for churches that aspire to be communities of faith instead of merely audiences. The common practice of building sanctuaries first and leaving social and adult program spaces for the second phase risks building a passive congregation that is vulnerable to losing members when it has a change of clergy.

• Education space, sadly, is the least important limiting factor for church growth. While parents are far pickier today about where they will leave their children than they used to be, they still tolerate more crowding in the Sunday school than in the pews or parking lot. It is rare to see a sanctuary that has averaged more than 80% of its capacity for more than a couple of years, but many classrooms have been crammed much longer.

Lie #5: Our church wants to grow. In many churches (especially stable or declining ones) leaders act surprised if you ask whether they want growth. “Of course we do!” they say. This is the biggest lie of all, and the most innocent. Consider what it means to want your church to grow. For established members, growth means taking away the church they love and replacing it with something that feels strange and alien. Leaders in a small church might not qualify as leaders in a big one. Everybody knows me in a small church, but a big church has many people—maybe even the pastor—who don’t know who I am.

No one who understands what growth involves would “want” it, in the sense that we “want” pleasure or consumer goods. The only reason a sane person would want a church to grow is because they believe it has something of importance to offer other people. For that goal, some people will accept the hard work, sacrifice, and inconvenience growth requires. Church growth does not proceed from working harder or more diligently at what you are already doing. Growth means doing something new. And the first step toward doing something new is to quit kidding yourself about what you are doing now. Dan Hotchkiss consults with mission-driven groups from his home near Boston.

Traits of a Church Disrupter


This article by Thom Rainer, Ministry consultant, holds great information for us as ministers serving congregations. I remind you to read past his fundamentalist bent, and listen to the real message. As you read this, know you have support, USCR and myself, as Ministry Skills Consultant, is here to support you. 816-304-3044

Call for board & leadership training, or just to talk if you need a coach or support.

Rev. Toni G Boehm

Traits of a Church Disrupter

He is almost in every church.

In fact, the “he” may be a “she,” but I’ll use the masculine pronoun for simplicity.

He is the church disrupter. Unlike church bullies, the disrupter rarely attacks leaders directly. He is good about stirring up dissension, but he seems to always feel like “God led me to do it.” He can have a gregarious and pleasant personality (unlike the typical church bully), and can thus attract a following for a season.

The disrupter is just that. He disrupts the unity of the church. He disrupts the outward focus of the church. And he disrupts the plans of church leadership. So what are some key traits to watch in church disrupters? Here are six:

1. He often seeks positions in the church so he can get attention. So be wary if he asks to

lead the student group or the praise team or become chairman of the finance committee. He loves to exert his negative influence through key and visible positions.

2. He often votes “no” in business meetings. Again, this tactic is yet another attempt to get


3. He loves to say, “People are saying . . .” He wants you to think his issue is more

widespread than it really is. Another approach is “If we had a secret ballot vote, there would be a lot more dissenters.”

4. He tries to get followers at the church for his cause of the moment. That is another

reason he seeks positions of influence in the church.

5. He often assures the pastor and other church leaders how much he loves them and

supports them. And then he goes and stabs them in the back.

6. He loves to use “facts’ loosely for his case or cause. Accuracy is neither required nor


So how should pastors and other church leaders address the problem of church disrupters?

Allow me to suggest a few ideas.

• Determine you will love them as Christ loves you and them. It’s tough, but it can be done in Christ’s strength.

• Pray for them. Seriously.

• Be on the watch for them. They can be manipulative and deceptive; they can cause chaos before you see it coming.

• Get other leaders to help you address the disrupters and their disruption. But, be aware, they will be shocked you perceive them that way.

• As soon as possible, get them out of key leadership positions. They are a problem now, but they can become toxic later.

I have my theories on why church disrupters act the way they do, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, be wary of church disrupters. But love them and pray for them anyway.

That is the way Christ would respond.