What follows is not comprehensive and some is not original with me, having been said by others in different words. After 40+ years of active pastoral leadership in growing churches, some consulting of other pastors & churches, and a whole lot of observing a whole lot of other churches, here’s my take on the thinking patterns by declining spiritually unhealthy churches.
1. Reward Faithfulness Thinking – keeping people in leadership roles who are faithful but not fruitful. Faithfulness is obviously a good quality, but God calls us to be both faithful and fruitful. Faithfulness without fruitfulness is faithfulness often gone stale, sterile and stuck. Faithful in the right things will bring fruit. Graciously remove plodders. Generously reward producers.
2. Wishful Thinking – doing the same thing that has not worked (may have worked in the past but no longer) and keep wishing it will work. The old definition of insanity fits here–doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.
3. Big Is Bad Thinking – “we are small, but pure & deep, they are big, but sinful & shallow.” Reality is this: chronic no growth usually reveals a spiritually sick church with the sinful pride of much knowledge without outreach.
4. Victim Thinking – Satan and the world have beaten us down and stopped us from growing. Hey, God is greater! Fight the good fight, never cower with a defeatist mentality. “Victor thinking” looks at God’s power, rather than the enemy’s attacks. Set-backs are to be expected and treated as such, merely temporary setbacks.
5. If Only Thinking – if only we had more money, staff, leaders, facilities, or whatever, we could grow. No! Go for it with whatever you’ve got!
6. Pacifying Change Resisters Thinking – not taking faith risks because of fears some won’t like the change and may even leave. So let them leave (be nice about it). Why run the kingdom pleasing the most fear-ridden, faith-lacking, make-me-happy, nostalgia-driven people?
7. Copy Cat Thinking – never try anything new, let others take all the risks and then copy them. Sure, get ideas from other churches, but don’t shut off the Spirit’s creativity in you. God may call you to set the pace for others to follow you in a fresh approach. Healthy churches usually balance innovation with imitation.
8. Holy Huddle Thinking – hanging around only Christians to avoid becoming worldly. Meet so often with Christians there is no time to cultivate relationships with unbelievers. Balance is needed here–supportive Christian friendships AND stretching non-Christian friendships. Dying churches are way out of balance with negligible relationships with the lost Jesus came “to seek and to save.”
9. Classroom Thinking – we can train people to witness and serve in a ministry while they are sitting in chairs in a classroom. No way. When it comes to outreach and ministry it is all about on the job training. Learning by doing. It’s the only way. Mentors have great value only if they are effective themselves. Show snd tell works. Tell alone doesn’t.
10. Problems Thinking – talking endlessly and only about the problems. Talking about the problems depresses. Taking the next step and talking about solutions to problems brings hope and energizes. “Solutions thinking” should be a basic qualification for anyone in leadership. No one in leadership should be allowed to bring up a problem without having at least one suggested solution.
11. Global Focused Thinking – taking pride in the church focus and much of the budget supporting foreign missions to the serious neglect of reaching those in the communities around the church. The NIV omits the important word “both” (in the original) in Acts 1:8 –“you will be my witnesses [both] in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Our local Jerusalem is listed first as our first responsibility as we also reach the world God loves.
12. No Rethinking Thinking – going through the same old motions without much thought. Rethinking is the hard honest evaluating of everything — including mission fit, the strategy, the technology, the leadership, and, of course, the growth. Rethinking includes an expectation to make needed minor adjustments or even big changes.
(c) 2015 David Ward Miller