People aren’t giving enough.
People aren’t attending enough.
People aren’t volunteering enough.
These are the complaints I hear most often from other pastors when we’re talking about the frustrations they have with church members.
Before we go any further, let me state categorically that I have met very few people who love others as much as pastors love their church members.
But, just like our biological families, that doesn’t mean that everything is smooth all the time.
There are frustrations.
Some are more than frustrations, they’re dangerous. Like controlling members, angry members and outright abusive members. (Along with church members who can say the same things about their pastor. Something I’ll write about soon.)
Thankfully, those situations are not as frequent as they may seem.
For the most part, church members and pastors love each other, support each other, and get along well. But, even in the best situations, these three complaints can be a source of aggravation.
Let’s look at them one at a time.
1. People aren’t giving enough
Church donations are dropping. The average number of tithers and the amount given by typical donors is less year-over-year and decade-over-decade. And it’s not showing signs of recovery yet.
Pastors aren’t in ministry for the money (“what money?!”, I can hear pastors laughing). In fact, most polls show that pastors are among the lowest paid professionals, especially for our average educational level. (This is not a complaint, but it needs to be mentioned when we’re talking church finance, because the preachers who make the headlines are not typical.)
When the funds are tight and keep getting tighter, it’s a frustration. And I’ve never seen them as tight as they are right now – in churches everywhere.
2. People aren’t attending enough
The stats are in. And they’re dropping.
According to some important research by Thom Rainer and Lifeway, “About 20 years ago, a church member was considered active in the church if he or she attended three times a week. Today, a church member is considered active in the church if he or she attends three times a month.”
As I saw in some recent meetings in the northeast US states (and as I see every day where I live in California), in many places the stats are even lower than that.
3. People aren’t volunteering enough
It’s called the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Principle. In most groups, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people.
In a lot of churches, it’s closer to 90/10.
Before Fixing The Problem
It’s easy to name these problems, jump to some possible solutions, then complain about churches and pastors that are too slow to adapt.
Too easy. And not right.
What’s harder is to pause for a moment and acknowledge the pain being experienced by so many good, godly, prayerful, hard-working pastors and churches.
If this is you, I want you to know that a lot of us have felt and still feel these pains with you.
Even as I’m about to write about some possible solutions to these issues, I realize that implementing them is not as easy as writing about them.
So don’t despair. Hold your head high. Take a breath. Say a prayer. And keep reading.
You’re not in this alone.
Addressing These Frustrations
Before we talk about what to do, let’s take a moment to mention what not to do.
We have to stop complaining. Stop criticizing. Stop yelling that the sky is falling.
Complaining will get us nowhere.
Instead, we need to recommit fully to four important steps:
1. Ask better questions
Instead of wondering “what’s wrong with Christians today!?” we need to start asking “what can we do to adapt to these new realities?”
If people aren’t giving, attending or volunteering as much as they used to, we need to ask “why?” Sincerely and honestly. With a genuine desire to discover solutions together, not to jump in with clever, pre-packaged answers.
2. Listen sympathetically
We need to hear people’s hearts, not just their words.
When people are hurting, they tend not to be able to express their pain in coherent, logical sentences. Instead, they come out in “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26 – ESV).
This makes them open to an easy attack. If all we’re trying to do is win an argument, we can win it. But we’ll lose the person in the process.
Sitting, listening and empathizing with hurting people is an essential step in helping them heal.
Loving people is always more important than winning arguments.
3. Adapt our church structures to fit our changing realities
We have to stop asking people to fit into our idea of what church is.
Most of our buildings, schedules and events were designed to meet the needs of people who lived in a very different time than the one we live in now.
God’s Word is universal and eternal. It will always speak to the hearts of people. But the institutions we’ve built around it are not universal or eternal.
What Jesus said about the Sabbath might very well be said about our church structures. People weren’t built for them, they need to be built for people.
All for the glory of God.
4. Disciple and release church members
In too many of our churches, we’ve replaced discipleship with sermons, classes, obligations and events.
This is the nature of institutions. They begin by serving a noble cause – in this case to disciple people. But within a generation or two (sometimes less) they start serving themselves.
The church needs to get back to our prime mandate. Loving Jesus, loving others and discipling people to serve God together.
A Change Of Heart
Too often, we’re asking for the wrong solutions.
Our desires need to change.
Forget trying to convince people to give, attend and volunteer more.
They need to fall in love with Jesus again – or for the first time.
And so do we.
Pastors, preachers, teachers and other church leaders, we need to find our first love again. Our time, effort, energy and prayers have to shift. It can’t be about church attendance, offerings or volunteers any more.
We have to stop worrying about propping up institutions that may have had their day.
We need to fall in love with Jesus again. When we do that, others will see it, respond to it – and our offerings, attendance and volunteerism won’t be an issue any more.
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