Unfortunately if we were to pick an emoji to describe most churches, the “meh” would likely be the most common. Depending on where you look, anywhere from 65%-80% of churches are stagnated or declining. Hundreds of churches close every month, while hundreds more are on life support and draining through generations of savings in the bank.
Meh just exists. As we look around the church landscape, our hearts should break at the number of churches who are content to simply exist. They’re not doing anything, they’re not impacting their communities, and if they closed down tomorrow no one would even notice. Churches that exist have the same routine: doors open, people come in, stand, sit, sing, sit, listen, leave. The next week they repeat, and the next, and the next.
If we were to list out the symptoms of a “Meh” church, I would say these are the seven:
The preaching lacks conviction - Preaching with conviction doesn’t mean brow-beating people or screaming at them. Preaching with conviction means that it is obvious to everyone in the room that the pastor believes what he is preaching and that the passage has gripped him. Pastors who preach without conviction are the first sign of a Meh church, because the opportunity to share God’s word becomes a routine or exercise, not an impassioned and overflowing joy to hear what God has said.
There is no vision - Vision isn’t bound to a statement or a slogan, and it doesn’t have to be printed on a poster. Vision is where a church has an idea or dream of where they want to go. A church with vision has an idea of where they want to go, the community they want to reach, the impact they want to have. A Meh church goes week to week, at best month to month. They use those signs that say “Attendance this week… Attendance last week,” and people look and decide how things are going based on that.
Busyness as a Substitute - Hamster wheels, treadmills, and NASCAR all have one thing in common: a lot of energy is used to go absolutely nowhere. No matter how hard the hamster or the Busch brothers push, in the end they’ve gone nowhere. When churches have busy schedules and tons of activities, they might be missing the point of what it means to schedule. Busy gives the appearance of effectiveness, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. Busy means things are added to a crowded calendar without a filter of asking “Why?”
Programs & Ministries Continue Unquestioned - Not everything we do in a church or ministry is supposed to last forever. In fact the only thing is gathering for corporate worship (preaching, worship, giving, serving). Beyond that, everything has a life cycle, and an expiration date. Sometimes churches keep things going well past their expiration date (I’m looking at you Puppets!) and continue to invest resources, money, volunteers, and time to something that’s not effective anymore. Meh churches just let things keep going and don’t make the hard decision to put an expired program to pasture.
Time & Money Priorities are Inward Focused - What a church spends its time and money on will speak louder than what it publishes and says. When a church’s calendar and budget are oversaturated with inreach and inward focus, the church has spoken volumes about its engagement in the community. When we over-direct resources towards ourselves, we’re essentially trying to keep everyone happy. Meh churches don’t care about lost people or their communities, as long as they have a good time together.
Leadership is a closed, not revolving, door - On one hand we should be glad for people who serve faithfully in leadership for years, if not decades. But at the same time, if we’re not seeing new faces in leadership, serving on committees, nominated for deacon, and stepping into more responsibility, we’ve become a Meh church. Meh churches don’t look for new leaders or fresh faces because “it’s not broke.” A revolving door for leaders keeps ideas fresh, prevents burnout, and develops more faithful leaders. A closed door keeps things the way they are.
Pastoral Tenures are Short - Tenure isn’t always an indicator, but if a church is burning through pastors every 3-5 years, there might be another option than “they used us as a stepping stone.” Pastoring a Meh church is difficult. Very few pastors come into a church with the approach of “I just want to exist, tend the garden, marry & bury, and preach some messages.” Pastors want to lead, they want to reach their community, they want to baptize, they want to disciple, they want to grow. A Meh church can cause a pastor to burn out keeping up with the busyness, or to walk away for another opportunity because they’ve tried all they could do.
What do you see in Meh churches? How else can churches move from Meh and being content to exist towards health and effectiveness?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.