Category Archives: Difficult Issues

Seven Sentences We Never Expected to Hear in Churches in 2020

By Thom Rainer

I can only imagine how we would have responded in 2019 if someone had told us we needed to be prepared not to gather in-person in worship services for several months in 2020. Indeed, if we had been given a glimpse of this crazy year ahead of time, we would have thought the world had gone crazy.

It probably has. 

Look at these seven sentences we hear in churches today. We could have never predicted them. 

  1. “We need to decide if we are going to require masks in church.” If I had heard this sentence would be common in churches, I probably would have wondered if we are having mandatory costume parties in 2020. With the different masks used today, maybe we are.
  2. “We can’t take the offering anymore.” Really? I think many leaders would have freaked out if they heard financial support would become dependent on digital giving. Probably many more would have been surprised how many members were willing to move to digital giving.
  3. “We can no longer have the stand and greet time.” This issue was contentious in many churches before 2020. While many churches held tenaciously to this tradition, it was fading overall. But, imagine if we outright banned it in churches. That has happened for the most part. In case you’re wondering, I’m really okay with this development.
  4. “We need to measure our streaming views over 30 seconds.” For sure, a few churches were doing live streaming services prior to 2020, but they were a distinct minority in number. I don’t think any of us anticipated that streaming views would become a common church metric.
  5. “We need to arrange our worship center seating to accommodate social distancing.” Prior to 2020, I would have thought social distancing was only something we introverts practiced. Now it is something church leaders plan on a regular basis.
  6. “We need to move all of our small groups to meet on Zoom.” If most church members had heard this statement in 2019, they may have wondered if small groups would be in some drug-induced state. Zoom? What is that?
  7. “We will no longer visit church members in the hospital.” This development in 2020 is painful both to those confined to the hospital and to those in the church who really want to care for these members. It is indeed one of the tragedies of the pandemic.

Who would have predicted the articulation of these sentences in churches prior to 2020? It has been a strange year. It has been a painful year.

What unexpected sentences would you add?

This article was originally published at ChurchAnswers.com. Thom S. Rainer serves as founder and CEO of Church Answers. Dr. Rainer publishes a daily blog and podcast at ChurchAnswers.com and can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Don’t Let the Angry Ten Percent Control the Direction of Your Church

By Thom S. Rainer

In any organization of size, there are likely angry people.

They are unhappy with the organization. They don’t like change. They don’t like the leader.

But here’s the catch: In most organizations, they are a distinct minority. I use the quantifier of ten percent more anecdotally than not, but I would conjecture most organizations, including churches, would have a number close to that.

In churches, I see pastors, again and again, yield to the pressures and criticisms of the ten percent. I get it. I’ve been there and done that. May I suggest some perspectives on this issue? Perspectives are not solutions, but they can help us persevere when the ten percent get really loud.

  • Ten percent can seem like a lot of people. Indeed, if your church has 200 active members, 20 loud critics can seem really loud. Brad Waggoner calls it “the power of negativity.” He says the negative person has a tenfold voice in the organization compared to the neutral and positive people.
  • Realize that the ten percent will take advantage of any forum you give them. They love to speak up in business meetings. They love to be the big voice in listening sessions and surveys. In fact, listening sessions can make the rest of the organization demoralized as the more positive members think the negative people are the norm.
  • The ten percent want you to think there are more of them. They will use phrases like, “Everyone says . . .” or “People are saying . . .” They not only can be negative; they can be downright deceitful.
  • While you want to have open communications, the ten percent will often dominate the rest of the voices in the church. Such is the reason you need to be careful about giving them the platforms and opportunities to spread their negativity.
  • The ten percent love social media. They are often the most vicious when they are hiding behind a keyboard. If you wonder why you are getting sick of social media, it’s because the ten percent live there. They love the megaphone that makes their voices seem louder than they really are.
  • The ten percent often are on church rotations. If they can’t get their way, they will move to another church where they can spread their negativity. Be cautious of people who want to transfer to your church if they have nothing but negative things to say about their current church.
  • The ten percent often lead church splits. They will be happy at their new place  . . . until they don’t get their way completely. They will then be ready to spread their negativity at the new congregation. Such is the reason so few church splits do well.

This overview is just one of many perspectives rather than solutions. If you feel like most people are against you in your church, you are likely wrong. It’s probably the ten percent. But they do have the loudest voices in your congregation.

 

This article was originally published at ChurchAnswers.com. Thom S. Rainer serves as founder and CEO of Church Answers. Dr. Rainer publishes a daily blog and podcast at ChurchAnswers.com and can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

TEN UNFAIR EXPECTATIONS OF PASTORS’ WIVES

By Thom Rainer

The pastor’s wife in many churches carries heavy burdens.

Sometimes they are impossible expectations.

To be fair, this post could refer to any church staff person, male or female, so it could be called ministers’ spouses. For simplicity, and because I primarily hear from this group of people, I refer to them as pastors’ wives.

So what are some of these unfair expectations? Here are the top ten expectations imposed upon these ladies.

  1. “I am expected to attend every function at the church.” One wife told us that church members resent it when she is seen doing anything outside the church.
  2. “Many church members expect me to know everything that is happening in the church.” In other words, they should know everything their pastor/husband knows.
  3. “We have several church members who feel free to complain to me about my husband.” So her church has several members who are lacking in emotional intelligence.
  4. “Church members utilize me as a de facto assistant to my husband, giving me messages for him.” One wife shared with us that she received eleven messages to give to her husband after a specific worship service.
  5. “I am still amazed how many church members expect me to function as an employee of the church.” Some are expected to lead music or play piano. Others are expected to act in a specific ministry employee role such as student or children’s director.
  6. “Some of the members expect our children to be perfect and act perfect.” One wife explained that she and her husband were new to a church when a church member confronted them about their misbehaving children. Their outlandish sin was running in the church after a worship service.
  7. “I am always supposed to be perfectly made up and dressed when I leave the house.” A church member expressed her dismay to a pastor’s wife who ran into a grocery store without makeup. You can’t make this stuff up.
  8. “I have no freedom at our church to be anything but perfectly emotionally composed.” This story really got to me. A deacon chastised a pastor’s wife for shedding tears at church four days after her dad died.
  9. “I think some of our church members expect my family to take a vow of poverty.”She was specifically referring to the criticism she received for purchasing a six-year-old minivan after her third child was born.
  10. “So many church members expect me to be their best friend.” And obviously a pastor’s wife can’t be the best friend to everyone, so she disappoints or angers others.

These are some of the comments we have received at this blog over the years from pastors’ wives. And it seems as though these trials are more gender biased. For example, the husband of a children’s minister commented that he rarely has the pressure and expectations that he sees imposed upon female spouses.

But more than other staff positions, the pastor is naturally the focus of attention and, often, criticism.

And the pastor’s family, by extension, becomes the focus of unfair and unreasonable expectations.

 

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on September 4, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

TEN REASONS IT IS MORE DIFFICULT TO BE A PASTOR TODAY

I can’t tell pastors today how difficult it was when I was a pastor.

To the contrary, I have to be honest and tell them it is more difficult now.

All three of my sons went into vocational ministry after serving in the business world. One of them is in seminary administration and two of them are pastors. I never pushed them in that direction. I knew they could not make it unless they were certain God called them.

Yes, it is indeed more difficult to be a pastor today than earlier years. At least ten major issues led to these challenges.

  1. The advent of social media. As a consequence, private criticisms have become public forums. The fish bowl life of a pastor’s family is now 24/7.
  2. Podcast pastors. When I was a pastor, there were only a few well-known television pastors as points of comparison to my inferiority. Today, church members have hundreds, if not thousands, of pastors on podcast they compare to their own pastors.
  3. Diminished respect for pastors. When I was a pastor, most people held my vocation in high esteem, even those not in church. Such is not the case today.
  4. Generational conflict in the church. While there has always been some generational conflict in the church, it is more pervasive and intense today.
  5. Leadership expectations. Pastors are expected today to have more leadership and business skills. We constantly hear from pastors, “They didn’t teach me that at seminary.”
  6. Demise of the program-driven church. In past years, church solutions were simpler. Churches were more homogeneous, and programmatic solutions could be used in almost any context. Today churches are more complex and contexts are more varied.
  7. Rise of the “nones.” There is a significant increase in the numbers of people who have no religious affiliation. The demise of cultural Christianity means it is more difficult to lead churches to growth.
  8. Cultural change. The pace of change is breathtaking, and much more challenging today. It is exceedingly more difficult today for pastors to stay abreast with the changes around them.
  9. More frustrated church members. Largely because of the cultural change noted above, church members are more frustrated and confused. They often take out their frustrations on pastors and other church leaders.
  10. Bad matches with churches. In earlier years, there was considerable homogeneity from church to church, particularly within denominations and affiliated church groups. Today churches are much more diverse. A pastor who led well in one context may fare poorly in another unless there is a concerted effort to find the right match for a church and pastor.

These ten reasons are not statements of doom and gloom; they are simply statements of reality. Serving as pastor in a church today has more challenges than it did years ago.

But challenges in ministry are common throughout the history from the first church to today. Such is the reason no pastors can lead well without the power, strength, and leadership of the One who called them.

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 1, 2017. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Five Reasons Church Announcements Cause Problems

5 Reasons

If your church has never experienced problems with church announcements, there is no need for you to read the rest of this post.

If your church is like the 95 percent of congregations that do struggle with announcements, please continue reading.

To be clear, I am speaking of verbal announcements made during a worship service. For this post, I am not concerned specifically about the digital announcements that appear on a church website, a screen before or after worship services, or a church newsletter. This issue is all about those times when someone stands up to speak to the entire congregation.

So what’s the big deal about church announcements? How could something so innocuous cause problems? Here are five reasons:

  1. Someone’s announcement is left out. On more than one occasion, announcements are left out either inadvertently or by design. A person feels slighted because his or her area of ministry or activity is particularly important to them.
  2. Someone’s announcement gets more emphasis than others. The reasons are the same as noted above. I actually heard one woman say she timed each individual announcement to prove the pastor showed favoritism. Sigh.
  3. The announcements take too long. More than one congregant has become frustrated due to the length of the announcements, especially if the issue in number four takes place.
  4. The announcements interrupt the flow of worship. Perhaps the worst time to have verbal announcements is after the worship service has begun. While singing, preaching, and the offertory definitely reflect acts of worship, it’s hard to see how the announcements fit in that category. If you have to make announcements, precede the worship service with them.
  5. Most people forget announcements. Try an experiment. Talk to someone you saw in the worship service one or two days later. See if he or she remembers the announcements. Probably not.

Some of these same issues play out in digital venues as well. People get angry or get their feelings hurt because of the placement or perceived priority of announcements on the church’s website or social media accounts.

The churches that seem to be handling the verbal announcements best are actually doing them on a very limited basis. The leaders make sure the announcements are important to the entire congregation, and that they reflect clearly a major issue for the church. Other announcements go to the newsletter or to the web site.

Unless there is an overriding reason, announcements that pertain to a small portion of the membership really should not be considered church announcements in any form. Usually there is no reason why the leader of that group cannot contact every person individually.

It is sad that announcements can be such sources of contention. It is a reflection of a self-centered “me attitude.”

But unfortunately the issue is very real in many churches.

Let me know what you think.

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on April 11, 2016. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Why Some Churches Choose to Die

Why-Some-Churches-Choose-to-Die

By Thom Rainer

The conversation surprised me.

I was recently meeting with about a dozen members of a church that was on the precipice of closing. During their perceived “good old days,” the average worship attendance was in the 40s and 50s. Now the church attendance was in the teens. The church was on metaphorical life support.

I shared with them some items of urgency that might give them some glimmer of hope. So I was surprised when one of the members asked me a question that seemed to come from nowhere: “Will we have to sing from screens instead of hymnals?” she asked with a tinge of anger.

I never responded directly to the question. It was too late. The few members were of one mind about an issue so peripheral I had never anticipated it. I left saddened.

The church had chosen to die.

The Need and the Passion

It is my life and ministry passion to help churches, particularly struggling churches, to revitalize. One of the greatest needs of churches today is to choose to live and to thrive.

Unfortunately, many congregations are choosing to die. For certain, they are not calling a business meeting and making a motion to die. Their choices are more subtle and, often, more incremental. But the end result is the same.

Churches are choosing to die.

Five Deadly Choices

So what are churches doing specifically that leads to their demise? Here are five of the more common choices.

  1. They refuse to face reality. I was in a dying church recently. The congregational average attendance was 425 seven years ago. Today it is 185. I could find no one in the church who thought the trends were bad. They were in a state of delusion and denial.
  2. They are more concerned about greater comfort than the Great Commission.Church membership has become self-serving. The church is more like a country club than the body of Christ. People are “paying dues” to get what they want in the church. It’s all about their preferences and desires.
  3. They are unwilling to accept responsibility. It’s the fault of culture. All the new churches in town are to blame. If someone wants to come to our church, they know where we are. People just don’t want to come to church anymore. Excuses and more excuses. I have never been in a community that is nearly fully churched. There are many people to reach. Excuses preclude obedience.
  4. They are too busy fighting and criticizing. If we could take the energy of church critics and antagonists into reaching people with the gospel, our churches would become evangelistic forces. Unfortunately in many churches, members expend most of their energies criticizing leadership and others, and fighting over trivial issues.
  5. They are confusing non-negotiables with negotiables. Almost ten years ago, a couple of men who live near me asked to visit with me in my home. They wanted me to consider visiting their church. One of the men told me their church was one of the few in the area defending the faith. I asked him what he meant by that. He explained that the faith was one particular Bible translation and traditional hymns. I wasn’t sure what happened to the bodily resurrection and substitutionary atonement. The church died within seven years.

Choosing to Live Rather Than Die

Most churches have choices to live or die. We use the word “revitalize” because it means to live again. I hope you will join me in this passion to see unhealthy churches become healthy, to see churches choose to live.

As one way of being a part of this movement of revitalization, I have teamed up with Revitalized Churches in Florida to offer the best resources we can to help in this cause. They are once again offering the resource that has helped hundreds of churches move toward revitalization.

Those churches have chosen to live.

Such is my prayer for your church.

 

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on November 4, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

10 Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Pastor Right After the Sermon

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By Thom Rainer

I’ve actually assembled more than ten things church members have told pastors immediately after they preached. But these are ten responses where pastors have had the most visceral reactions.

  1. “I am going to be late for lunch because you preached so long.”
  2. “You must not have had much time to prepare that sermon.”
  3. “My former pastor preached a much better sermon from that text.”
  4. “I wish {fill in the blank} would have heard that sermon.”
  5. “You act like you weren’t feeling well while you preached.”
  6. “I’m sorry I fell asleep while you were preaching. Your voice just puts me to sleep.”
  7. “Your subject/verb agreement was incorrect three times in your sermon.”
  8. “I wish you wouldn’t preach from the Old Testament.”
  9. “Let me tell you what you missed in your sermon.”
  10. “Are we ever going to be done with this sermon series?”

Pastors often take 10 to 20 hours to prepare a sermon. They pray for God to speak through them. They preach with conviction and fervency. And then they hear one of these sentences.

These ten responses are close approximations of what pastors have actually told me. I am sure there are many more. Let us hear what they are.

 

ThomRainer

 

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on March 2, 2015. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

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