It’s the question that plagues everyone from the senior pastor to the door greeters. Why are their numbers dwindling? Are more people turning away from God, or is it just a matter of bad publicity and questionable parking? Here are seven of the most common mistakes made by modern churches.
1: They Don’t Incentivize
In a world filled with cashback services and loyalty programs, it’s hard to find any consumer who will do something for nothing. While pastors and priests insist that eternal salvation should be its own reward, sometimes that just isn’t as attractive as low-rate APRs.
2: They Don’t Appreciate Newcomers
No church will admit this, of course, because they want to be seen as loving, welcoming communities. But they can often be quite standoffish to those haven’t proven themselves yet. When a group of people worship together every week for years and years, they see interlopers as just that, not potential new friends.
3: They’re Out of Touch
Headlined by aging pastors, many churches have failed to catch up with the 21st century. They don’t contribute to blogs, newsletters or viral video trends; they don’t drum up interest for their services on social media. While some pastors, like Ed Young Jr, have attempted to bridge the gap with YouTube channels and Pinterest pages, the grand majority of the congregation still has a long way to go.
4: They Judge
No one is a perfect Christian, but it can be hard to remember that when someone walks into a new church with lots of emotional baggage. Fear of being shamed for their sins keeps them safely at home, away from the spotlight, because their churches haven’t done enough to emphasis that everyone has a place in God’s kingdom.
5: They Don’t Make Their Standards Known
The church says “come as you are,” but when someone shows up in jeans while everyone else is dressed to the nines, they’re much less likely to go back next week. Likewise, if they’re expecting a quiet service only to have everyone around them stand up and sing at the thirty minute mark, they immediately link the church with humiliation and panic in their mind. That’s a hard impression to overcome even later.
6: They Don’t Encourage Diversity
Visitors of different races or sexualities can feel quite isolated when they walk into church and see no one who looks or acts like them. A growing number of women have also expressed discontent that no high-level female leaders are available for counseling gender-specific problems. When churches fail to adapt to the melting pot that is modern America, their numbers suffer substantially.
7: Their Programs Are Confusing
Where should my children go for Sunday school? How are the age groups divided? Do they need to be registered or given name tags? What about the adult services? Am I allowed to join at any time? What’s all this about a potluck? These are just some of the questions that can stump even long-term visitors when a church doesn’t have clear, written guides about their various programs and services.
There are more reasons why churches are dwindling in number, but these are the big seven. If houses of worship want to stay relevant in 2014, their shepherds need to start overhauling the system and figuring out new ways to attract a flock.