Things that Don’t Work in Church Anymore

Recently Cary Nieuwhof wrote a blog post entitled, 9 Things that Worked in the Church a Decade Ago that Don’t Today. Carey listed 9 things that don’t work in church anymore, along with some brief explanation. Much of what he posted I agree with, but there were times when I wish he had added a little more information in order to clarify. Many of us aren’t the lead pastor but are responsible for the “nuts and bolts” of equipping the church to make disciples. I thought I would share Carey’s 9 points and add some of my own thoughts from my own perspective. Hopefully it will help you as you continue to do the work of equipping the church to make disciples.

Here is a list of Carey’s 9 things, with some comments from me. Feel free to add your comments and additional thoughts as well.

  • Relying on an automatic return to church. Carey mentions the assumption that we all once lived by: when young adults marry and have children, they will return to church. With the collapse of the traditional, and might I add, theologically correct view of marriage, this assumption has grown very weak. He advocates that this is not the case anymore. He states that, “You can’t assume families will reach out to you, so you need to reach out to them.” Also, those families you reach out to might not look like the traditional families many of us grew up in. This sounds a lot like having an intentional evangelism strategy that targets young families. The operative word is intentional. We currently operate under assumptions that have robbed most churches of their intentionality.
We currently operate under assumptions that have robbed most churches of their intentionality.
  • Appealing to people out of guilt or obligation. I agree with Carey that the number of people feeling guilty about missing church on Sunday is shrinking. Even among regular church attendees, it is estimated that they miss 2 out of 4 Sundays a month. While we must hold up the standard of not forsaking the gathering of the church, we have to help people understand “why” today. We need to give them a purpose for being in attendance. Even then, this challenge is going to be even stronger. It used to be that we dreaded snow days, stormy days, or holidays. Now we dread fall breaks, spring breaks, sunny days, sports days, presidents day, teacher work-days, etc. It seems that every chance people have to leave town for the weekend, they take it.
  • Being better than other churches. Being better than the church down the road has simply shifted the Christian population and taught them a consumer mentality. It hasn’t done much to change the hearts of the lost. The lost don’t care how good your church is. They learn more about your church by the way professing believers from your church act and talk about their faith. This is the game-changer in my opinion. Carey states that being better isn’t as good as being different. I would be curious to know how he defines different. It makes for a great tweet but doesn’t give us much of a solution. Plus, we can be different and be wrong. Being different for difference sake isn’t what we should be focusing on. We should focus on being the church God intended for us to be, based upon sound theological conviction instead of shallow cultural expectations.
  • Gimmicks. I think we all know that cute gimmicks only last for a season and actually might communicate more that we are a marketing organization than the family of God. I like what Carey says, “If you play the ‘next Sunday will be better than last Sunday game,’ you eventually end up losing and lying (because it can’t be).”
  • Inauthentic leadership. Carey states that, “People’s fake detectors are set at a higher lever than ever.” I wholeheartedly agree. We must truly be authentic. You can’t fake authenticity. It can only come as we learn to love others as Christ loves them.
    You can’t fake authenticity
  • A self-centered mission. This could include the pastor’s self centeredness or the church’s. In either case, we need to have a Kingdom perspective. If we think we are the kingpins’ then we will lose people’s attention and their hearts. We must remember that “pride always comes before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  I once was asked what is the greatest issue I have observed as I have traveled and worked with churches around the country. My response was, “Success is our greatest enemy because of what it seems to produce – pride and arrogance.”

Success is our greatest enemy because of what it seems to produce – pride and arrogance
  • Random programming. More isn’t necessarily better. As a church grows, so can its busyness. This isn’t all bad but it must be evaluated. This can actually hinder the church’s ability to be on mission with God in reaching the community. Turf wars can ignite, budgets can be stretched thin, and people just get tired. Focused and purposeful programming is vital.
  • Assuming people know what their next step is. I have observed something I never thought I would observe: people don’t know how to join the church. Once they join, they don’t know what to do to get plugged in. What we once assumed people understood, they no longer do. Leaders must clarify and clearly communicate the steps people can take to follow Christ, join the church, become involved in a group, and serve through the church. It needs to be communicated in multiple ways and through multiple venues. It also should reinforce how it relates to the vision/mission of the church.
  • Relying on what you’ve learned in the past. Carey does remind us that biblical knowledge, truth, and theology don’t change. I am glad he stated this. I believe we should always be learning about church practice but let me add a caution. If you don’t know what you learned or didn’t learn anything in the past, then you won’t have a filter for understanding what works and what doesn’t in the present. Most coaches have playbooks they have used for years. Yet, along the way they tweak, adjust and add new plays as they learn and grow. However, their basic playbook doesn’t change. What I have observed is that most church leaders have never developed a proven playbook, so they jump from one idea to the other without ever developing proven “plays” that work wherever they are serving. We must keep learning, but we must be grounded in a solid understanding of basic church leadership principles as well.

Thanks Cary Nieuwhof for spurring on our thinking. I hope my thoughts regarding Carey’s blog post will spur on more thinking as you continue to learn how to better equip the church to make disciples!


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3 thoughts on “Things that Don’t Work in Church Anymore

  1. Daryl Roger Eldridge on Reply

    I’d like to hear specific ways in which the pastor/staff/church reflects a self-serving mission. I spoke with a young businessman who feels his mission is in the workplace, but that is not valued by the church. What other ways do we communicate a self-serving mission?

    1. John McClendon on Reply

      Good question Daryl. I feel we, as church leaders, should always be aware that we are preparing our church to be on mission in the workplace, community, and home. Regarding specific ways to do this; it is difficult to determine. We always seem to look for ways to maintain the machine we call church so we applaud the service of those who serve inside the walls while unintentionally ignoring the work of those who are serving effectively through their jobs and other venues outside the walls of the church. Perhaps incorporating this into our vision and our expectations for service. Possibly giving people a chance to talk about how God is at work in their workplace, communicating from the pulpit and other venues the value of always being on mission, and publicly affirming those who are being salt and light in the community. Just some additional thoughts. Thanks Daryl!

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