Monday Morning Insights

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    Why Churches Fail…

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    Why Churches Fail…

    Here's a post from "You See Dry Bones" and Don that made me think... Don writes:

    Regardless of who you are or what books you have read, if you attend a church, they have a vision.  I don’t care if they are a house church, mega-church, mainline, or inter-denominational; at one point, there was a vision. If it is / was a good vision, it starts with the Gospel and transformation. Everything else (aesthetics, methods, music style, etc.) comes secondary.

    It’s all down hill from here.

    The problem is, most people do not pick out what church they go to based on vision. Instead, they pick through secondary things. Very few people research what the church stands for before they go. They research the style and MAYBE the doctrinal stances.

    This leads to dissension.

    When we jump into a church with both feet only to find we, ourselves, do not align with the vision, we burn out quickly. We think of all the activities as pointless. The outreach events are not our idea of a “good,” so we dislike it (our pride comes into play here too). Soon we start bashing the church: “You know, I like the people, and the music is good, but it is too….[you fill in the blank].”

    Often, we are left with only a few people who still see the vision and chase it. The rest are just consumers. Arguments flair up between those who have completely bought into the vision, and the rest. People get upset and leave the church.

    Then the church panics.

    Continue reading here...

    What do you think?  Why do churches fail?  Is your church failing?  Why?


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    1. CS on Thu, October 15, 2009

      I think this quote from the article exposes part of the problem with this mentality about, “vision,” that has become so prolific recently:

      “The problem is, most people do not pick out what church they go to based on vision. Instead, they pick through secondary things. Very few people research what the church stands for before they go. They research the style and MAYBE the doctrinal stances.”

      The Bible never commands us to pick our churches based on vision, but adherence to theology and doctrinal truths.  So when churches are more focused on vision and qualify good teaching as a, “secondary thing,” it’s no wonder why they fail; they have incorrect priorities.  Instead, if we focused on the preaching and reading of God’s Word as a primary activity, and then put, “mission,” “vision,” or, “direction,” after that, then we’ll have the horse and cart aligned properly.


    2. Don Dudley on Thu, October 15, 2009


      I think you misunderstood my post (darn internet) a little. I firmly believe in good teaching. Actually, I have positioned myself under good teachers in and effort to be a good pastor myself.
      I do think you missed my first point about a good vision:

      “If it is / was a good vision, it starts with the Gospel and transformation”

      I know the problem stems from the Purpose Driven Vision we have seen implemented in many churches around the US. Many of the visions cast in our churches have more to do with social justice than with actual Gospel transformation. Our churches should have a vision that starts with the Great Commission and spreads out from there. It should be (but is not) a not brainer that a vision like this would be based on a foundation of prayer and Scripture.

      By saying other things “come secondary” it should be true. Another sad fact is, most churches have the look and feel (“we want to be a cool place…”) in their vision. That is pathetic and part of the failure.

      I do not know if you read the whole article or not (if not, click the link that says read more and finish it out). I think you will be able to see where I am coming from. At least a little better.

      BTW. Thanks for picking up my post!

    3. CS on Thu, October 15, 2009


      Thanks for the clarification.  While I did see your first comment about the Gospel and transformation, the juxtaposition of, “secondary matters,” in the same sentence with, “doctrinal stances,” made it sound like those fell in the same boat.  Knowing what I now know, I would have recommended writing the last sentence first in that particular paragraph.

      And, yes, the, Purpose Driven Vision (TM) system (as you put it) that has become so prolific is wrong.  People are getting so focused on things like vision, mission, and leadership that they are omitting the core things like the Gospel, theology, and doctrine.

      Thanks again for clearing things up a bit.


    4. Don Dudley on Thu, October 15, 2009

      Yea. I wish I would have thought about that before hitting the “publish” button. I can see how this may be misconstrued as having Doctrine seem secondary.
      I will take an internet face palm on that one.

    5. Peter Hamm on Thu, October 15, 2009


      minor redirect… I have to disagree (that’s been rare with us lately, eh?) about your “mis”-characterization of “purpose driven”. There is no such thing as a purpose driven vision or even, in a very real sense, a purpose-driven model.

      Purpose-driven is merely a way of understanding five purposes of the church as outlined in the great commission and great commandment.

      I know where you’re going with that, but it’s just not heretical, even if it is badly implemented, badly followed, and badly understood in a lot of churches which should know better. (I do, btw, WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with you if you say that people should be very careful of the theology of those they follow and the influences (books, conferences, speakers, etc) that they allow in.

      That said, if I join and align myself with a church whose vision and mission (stated or otherwise) aligns with my understanding of what Church should be all about, I will burn out a lot less and we will fail less than if I join and align myself with a church whose vision and direction I am not on board with…

      And I’ve done both…

      The former is better…


    6. CS on Thu, October 15, 2009


      For what it’s worth, Don was the one who brought up Purpose Driven (TM), not me.  =)

      And, no, I do not believe that the five principles of that system to which you refer are heretical.  To the contrary, they make a lot of sense.  But much like you say, it is the packaging, wrapping, and main proponents of Purpose Driven (TM) with which and with whom I have problems.  One of those trappings happens to be the call for, “vision,” as it’s been propagated lately.


    7. Peter Hamm on Thu, October 15, 2009


      (here I go again)...

      I can’t disagree with that.


    8. Don Dudley on Fri, October 16, 2009

      Hmm.  I guess a little more explanation is needed.

      I worked several years at a church in the Willow Creek association. Our church looked and acted as Willow Creek.  At one of the Willow Creek conferences, our youth minister was given “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry” by Doug Fields. The youth minister turned the entire youth area turned into Saddle Back jr.
      The problem is not an issue of the heart behind Purpose Driven branding. The problem is the cloning that has come out of it. People often believe all they need to do is write a five point vision statement and role with it. I would also like to point out my above reference to Willow Creek as people follow a similar path. They clone them (this is also true with Acts 29, the SBC, and Church of Christ). 
      Cloning is not godly. Praying for God’s purpose for your church and allowing Him to guide your vision is important. More important than programming and methodologies.
      Can we use Purpose Driven materials to guide us? Sure (although I personally do not recommend it), but it should not be our end-all. Our goals should not be “to be the next Saddle Back.”

    9. CS on Fri, October 16, 2009


      The cloning of churches isn’t bad in and of itself, but its the materials and methods that are used to do so that cause problems.  For example, many churches would testify as Peter and I did that those five original principles make sense.  But I would say that the premises behind Willow Creek and Saddleback and how they have chosen to try to implement them are wrong.  Their main avenues for carrying these ideas forth are not biblical and have many errors.

      If there is a good church with a sound platform and it can be carried over to another location with no problems, I’m all for it.  But the underlying structures of Willow Creek and Saddleback are flawed and should not be replicated.


    10. Peter Hamm on Fri, October 16, 2009

      CS writes [But I would say that the premises behind Willow Creek and Saddleback and how they have chosen to try to implement them are wrong.] As part of the REVEAL study we got a little “inside scoop” (we were one of the dozen churches featured at the REVEAL conference)... and so, I can’t disagree more with your perspective on Willow. Totally class act people who are seeking to follow God and his Word… Wish you could see it from my perspective.

    11. CS on Fri, October 16, 2009


      I know that this discussion could deviate into the premise behind their Reveal study and Hybels’, “apology,” pretty quickly, but I want to focus on one point.  Many of the churches that used this study were found lacking in results after following the model set forth by the WCA.  I look at the outcome of the Reveal study where a big, notable church like Granger said that over half of their congregation does not believe that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and wonder about their premises that they have followed.  And this was echoed in many other churches (it sounds like yours was not one, which is good to hear).

      Hybels founded his church by surveying the public and delivering to them what they wanted.  And then they learned that while people who are not Christians or who may be dabbling in Christianity enjoy their services, they fail to produce true, living-for-Jesus Christians.  In their own words, they called this, “a huge gap.”  This is not a biblical model for ecclesiology and should not have been used in the first place. 

      And we could also talk about Leadership Summits and other things they have done and their results, too, but this would open a Pandora’s Box.

      Don’t get me wrong, Hybels and his staff sure seem like nice people, but I will continue saying that their model is full of error.


    12. JAN on Sat, October 17, 2009

      I was on staff at a church that attended Willow Creek conferences ( I was there too).  Over and over again that told the attendees to take what would work for their church and community culture.  The people who attended the conference did not listen and decided that our church should BE Willow Creek.  This was not Willow Creek’s fault, but the fault of those who were looking for a formula to make the church “work”.  Of course it landed bust on it’s hiney and did some great harm to the church.  I remember saying over and over “Willow Creek is so white, we are so not.  We are so Southern California, and they are so Illinois” 

      Another church we served at did the same thing.  They were enamored with the big buildings the programs, the trappings if you will of “success”.  And to this day they are still trying to be Willow Creek as it was then.

      Is this human nature?  Probably

      Is this vision.  I don’t think so.  Vision should come from above.  And I people God will give us a specific vision for our particular ministry in that time and place and given moment.  It may change.

      Will it be influenced by other ministries?  I hope so. Why reinvent the wheel?  But it should be God given first and only implemented after much prayer and time and thought.

      If it’s God given, it will be Biblical.

      Just my two cents.

    13. JAN on Sat, October 17, 2009

      Sorry for all the typos. I think faster than I type!

    14. Casey Sabella on Mon, October 19, 2009

      Not sure how we got to Willow Creek from the article, but I agree with the premise. A church without vision will fail regardless of how sincerely people study their bibles and strive for doctrinal purity. The gift of leadership presupposes the ability to point towards an achievable goal while relying on God. If a leader does not articulate a vision, they are either not a leader or don’t want one.

    15. Daniel Moore on Mon, October 19, 2009

      Interesting discussion.  I read the books.  Attended the seminars.  Got the T-shirts.  Even shook hands with Rick Warren.  Can’t copy Saddleback or Willow Creek.  We are just a country church.  Can’t really “target a group” cause when we do, other folks decide to come.  Hmmm.  Tried the vision thing but instead decided on “Go make disciples,” Love one another (and the neighbor, the enemy, the stranger, family, and God),”  “Study to show thyself approved…”  Seems to work.  Oh, we ask ourselves a lot, “What would Jesus do…” then go do it.

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