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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

16 Dec '12

What happens when churches lose their way

Posted by T.J. Addington in unhealthy churches, unhealthy leaders
Many of us have experience with churches that lose their way. This happens when there is no longer a compelling vision, when there is not a discernible or consistent direction, when focus and clarity have been lost and leaders cannot answer the important questions of direction, mission, vision, and what we are after. It could be defined as mission malaise with serious consequences that are often not noticed until it is too late.

There are several symptoms of churches that lose their way. If you sense this is happening it is critical to deal with it as quickly as possible because the longer it lasts the more difficult it is to bring health and missional focus back.

Here are symptoms to watch for:

A clearly defined direction and vision is no longer being articulated. When this happens you know that whatever ministry vision was once present has dissipated and leaders have not been able to come to clarity on what is next. It is a dangerous place to be.

A restlessness is felt in the congregation by key leaders. Some people are not bothered by lack of direction and missional energy but good leaders are. That restlessness is felt in raising questions of direction and vision and sometimes pressure put on the senior pastor and the board.

Good leaders quietly leave. One of the most dangerous issues for churches that have lost their way is that good leaders and people who have been deeply involved in ministry over the years quietly leave the congregation. They usually don't make a statement but they want to be in a place where there is missional passion. Life is short and they want to be a part of a congregation that is serious about reaching their community and world. The sad thing is that when the church wakes up (if it does), the very people who could have helped them move forward are now gone.

Politics and infighting increases. When people are not focused on missional issues they start focusing inward and often get involved in petty conflicts that would never have arisen if we had more important issues to tackle. Church conflict is often a symptom of a church that has lost its way.  

Plateau and decline. When a church loses its way it usually stops growing, loses ministry energy and often starts to lose people as mentioned above. 

The explanations of leaders for lack of ministry energy, decline and people leaving does not make sense. Pastors and leaders of churches that lose their way often circle the wagons and either cast blame on others (often those who have left), circumstances or spiritualize the issue. When their explanations don't make sense to the average individual you can extrapolate that they know they are in trouble but don't know the way out. 

If your church has lost its way take action sooner rather than later. The longer you wait to deal with the need to re-envision and re-energize ministry the harder it will be. It is never easy to admit that you are in a bad place but until we face reality we cannot move on toward health.