I’ve worked with many different kinds of churches with all sorts of church problems. Many challenges and issues these churches face are similar to others I’ve come across in other settings, meaning I’m well equipped to bring insight and recommendations to the church leadership. First, we’ll use my Church Health Assessment to identify core issues that are hindering their work. Then we’ll develop strategies that will address their particular church problem so they can move towards increased church health.
So what are these common church problems? Do you recognise any affecting your church?
1. Vision and strategy that aren’t aligned
Scripture is clear that without vision, people are more likely to turn to their own way. The lack of a clear vision leads to division – literally, two visions. The result is organisational drift and leadership that comes from a place of reaction, rather than intention. Disunity and confusion reign because of an unclear or non-existent guiding picture. It’s a significant church problem, and one I encounter all too much. A vision brings clarity, direction, and a sense of destination. Vision should be prophetic in nature; meaning it is future-orientated and originates from the heart of God. It’s good to have a vision statement, but only if that statement is more than an empty piece of paper. It should be used as a compass for the church to set its ministry direction too.
If your church has a clear vision but there is no progress, it could be because your strategy isn’t lined up with it. It’s one thing to say you are heading somewhere. But it’s another thing entirely if you don’t take consistent and sustained steps that will help you move in the right direction towards that destination.
2. A culture that works against the vision
Clear vision is essential because it helps us understand what we are pursuing. But our culture is a growth engine and will be a huge part of whether we see our vision succeed or not. Culture needs to be intentionally and strategically developed, manifesting clear core values that are rooted in what we feel our mission and vision are. We can have a desired culture but it might not be the essential one we must have to see success. A vision statement doesn’t change people’s hearts and minds but the power of culture can and does. But without cultural reinforcement, modelling and teaching and training people in our core values, we will see increasing examples of culture clashes and culture gaps as people fail to adopt beliefs and behaviours in line with the vision of the church. That’s a common church problem that results in leaders feeling deflated and frustrated.
3. A structure that restricts growth instead of releasing it
Churches need organic structure that can adapt and evolve with each season God leads them into. By structure, I am referring to your ‘who’ and your ‘what’ – what you do and who you have. It also includes systems, processes, and policies. A lack of structure will cap church growth as God’s blessings, resources, and opportunities are wasted, but it’s also true that over-structure will do the same thing by restricting, squeezing, and inflexibly responding to what God is doing. Structure should not be the central element of a church. Rather, structure should function as a greenhouse, facilitating the growth of the culture that itself is serving the vision.
Structure-centred churches will have ministry activity running that has become ineffective but for some reason continues, or they will be lacking in planning and organisation, or they will be politically centred around a board or committee, or perhaps they will be tradition-bound or bureaucratic. Either way, these church problems will all hinder the growth of a church.
4. Lack of a clear outreach focus
We’re called to reach the lost. Churches, by their very definition, exist for those who are not part of them. If we lose the heart, or mind, or priority to continue to take the gospel to those who haven’t embraced it then eventually our church will dwindle and fade away. A quick inventory of your ministries will help you take an acid test of your level of outreach focus: how many serve people in your church, and how many serve people outside your church?
If we spend our ministry resources and time keeping those with us happy, we set ourselves up for a fall. Because as soon as they are no longer happy, they will leave. It is better, and more biblical, to look at how we can serve the community and world around us and share the good news of the kingdom in word and action. It’s a significant church problem when you look around and there are no new faces – and the faces we’re looking at are familiar to us, yet a little bit older. It’s a cycle that needs to end.
5. Failure to authentically disciple people
Discipleship may be happening in your church. There could be ones and twos here and there. Perhaps a few groups meet for a bit before they peter out. But in my experience, this is the exception rather than the norm. There is a culture of discipleship and so there isn’t a churchwide plan or process to help newcomers and regulars deepen their level of maturity.
Programs and ministries are good (mostly!) but a clear path enables and empowers people to take specific steps. These steps should be designed to give them access to tools, resources, opportunities, and people that will help them grow in their faith. Spiritual formation is essential for a healthy church – so much so that there are five key biblical areas of spiritual health that impact all people in your church.
6. Uncertainty around digital ministry, including our internal and external communications
Technology is always moving forwards and increasingly, things are online. We can buy, sell, bank, and communicate online. Music and TV are online. You are reading this online, showing that we now access information primarily online. But many churches are behind the curve when it comes to online ministry. Yet, they need to be embracing it. Jesus went to where the people were, and whether you like it or not, people are on social media. An online presence is non-negotiable now. And I don’t just mean a church website that just sits there. Technology and digital ministry are one of the future church trends I’ve identified and I speak more about some practical suggestions there.
So whatever you think about social media, the internet, and digital ministry, it’s the way forward. Yes, there are challenges about it and it can bring a great deal of harm – but that isn’t a church problem, that’s a society problem. It can also bring a great deal of good and opportunities. Get your digital ministry right, and you’ll reach more people, and different people as well, and you’ll reach them in new ways you would never have been able to do before.
7. Imbalanced church leadership teams
Teams multiply the effectiveness of ministry. Yet it’s not uncommon for me to need to become involved in issues with a leadership team. And this doesn’t always mean disagreement and disunity – although it can! Leaders shape teams, and teams shape the church – especially in the area of culture. Whether it’s because leaders are seeking to maximise their particular leadership skillset, or teams are wanting to grow in how they function more effectively together, teams are an essential part of church life.
Problems arise with imbalanced teams, meaning many things. This could include power dynamics being uneven, there is control, a lack of empowerment, lack of awareness of leadership style dysfunctions, teams that are too narrow in gifting or experience, or teams that are experiencing gifting gaps. As I said earlier, church leadership teams shape culture so a dysfunctional team creates a dysfunctional culture. It’s why the New Testament has a lot to say on who should and shouldn’t be part of a church leadership team.
8. Ineffective training & releasing of new leaders
I’d be rich if I received money every time a church leader told me they don’t have enough leaders. Not because they are wrong – they probably aren’t. But it’s often because there are too many ministries running at that point in the church’s life cycle. It’s better to wait for a leader before you launch a ministry than it is to launch a ministry and fill it with a leader who doesn’t have what is needed. What often happens is that the church leader ends up needing to step in. With multiple priorities, the senior leader is torn from pillar to post between various responsibilities and none of them get the best of the leader. The ministries suffer, and the leader suffers from discouragement and even burnout.
It’s little wonder I spend many coaching sessions helping churches develop leadership pipelines to identify, train and release leaders into various levels of ministry leadership. The church problem, in reality, isn’t that churches need more leaders – it’s that they need the right leaders leading the right things.
Each of these issues significantly impacts church health. So how healthy is your church? I’ve created a free tool to give you a snapshot of your overall level of church and ministry health, and some recommendations for the next steps. It will examine the issues I’ve outlined above, as well as others many churches are facing. Gaining a picture of your current reality helps you know what you need to do next. You can access this free church health check by clicking here.
Whatever your church problem, you aren’t alone. There will be others who have addressed it and come out of the other side. Sometimes you need an outside perspective to help shed some light on the real issues in order to map out a way forward. To find out how I have helped churches like yours with issues like the ones listed above – and others – you can learn more about what I could do for you by clicking here.