Eight Habits Of An Unhealthy Church

There's a lot of variety in healthy small churches. But when it comes to unhealthy small churches, there are some surprising similarities.

Church health has nothing to do with church size.

When I say that, people often ask, “then what are some signs of a healthy church?” I provided some answers in my previous article, 8 Non-Numerical Ways To Assess The Health Of A Church.

But what about the other side? Are there negative habits that can serve as red flags to a church leader that a church may be unhealthy? There sure are. Here are the eight negative habits I run into most often.

1. An Emphasis On Nostalgia

Most broken churches are longing for a bygone time that church members have idealized to the point of idolatry. Sometimes they’re longing to go back to the way things were done in their church’s last great era. Usually, they’re misremembering it, magnifying the good and forgetting the bad. Every era has plenty of both.

Healthy churches look at what God is doing now and where he’s taking them tomorrow.

2. Constant Arguments Over Trivial Matters

There are two types of churches. Those that argue over everything, and those that get to work on mission.

You can’t do both.

Churches that argue can’t stay united on mission.

Churches on mission don’t have time to argue.

3. Constant Arguments Over Essential Matters

Even if the arguments are over important issues, they have to get settled in order to get back on mission.

Will everyone in mission-driven churches always agree? Of course not. Many of the New Testament books wouldn’t exist if the early church were always in agreement. But the constant instruction of Paul, Peter and other New Testament writers was to resolve the arguments, then get back to work.

4. No Disagreements Allowed

Unity doesn’t mean conformity.

Churches that never argue may seem better than churches that constantly argue. But a lack of any diverse opinions is almost always a sign of unbiblical, over-controlling, top-down authoritarianism, not biblical pastoring.

When we shut down all disagreements, or create an environment where no one is allowed to ask hard questions, we become more of a cult than a church.

5. Little Or No Change In Lay Leadership

Years ago, I was called to advise a church where I had previously been on staff. I hadn’t been there for over seven years, but when I walked into the room I recognized every deacon, staff member, and ministry leader at the table.

Consistency is good. But year after year with no turnover whatsoever is the sign of a stuck church and controlling leaders.

6. An Obsession With The Procedures Manual

When a pastor is obsessed with manuals, procedures and spreadsheets, they’d probably be better off as a church admin than the lead pastor. Or maybe not.

Manuals, procedures and spreadsheets have their place. But you can’t lead a church from them, you can only manage from them.

Too many churches are overmanaged and under-led.

7. Criticism of Other Ministries and Churches

You can’t make your church better by making other churches look bad. Just do the best at what Jesus called you to do.

That doesn’t mean we can’t ever comment on what makes our church unique. And it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t warn against false teaching. But constantly pointing out what others are doing wrong is no way to build a great church.

8. Making Excuses

As a champion for small churches, I’m sometimes accused of offering excuses for why some churches don’t grow. This is simply not true. As I teach regularly and have written about in one of my most popular articles, Small Churches are Not a Problem, a Virtue or an Excuse. There is no excuse not to do effective ministry, no matter the size of a church.

Now What?

Thankfully, the situation is not hopeless. There are so many positive aspects to recognize in a healthy church, which I address in Eight Priorities Of A Healthy Church.

(Photo by William Brawley | Flickr)


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