7 Thinking Errors that Hinder Church Growth

My first degree, industrial engineering, taught me to think systematically which has in turn benefited my pastoral leadership. Since then I’ve read many books on church planning and been certified through Ministry Advantage and Auxano, two strategic planning/pastoral coaching organizations. I’ve also led two churches where I’ve served through a year-long strategic planning process. So, I’m well-versed and trained in the church visioning/planning process. Yet, of all the books I’ve read on strategic planning, Will Mancini’s book, Church Unique is the best. In his chapter called “Lost on the Way to Your Own DNA,” he lists subtle thinking patterns that can hinder church growth. He calls these patterns ‘thinkholes.’ I’ve listed them here with brief definitions.

Choices of a businessman concept

Ministry “thinkholes.”

  1. The ministry treadmill: busyness eliminates time for reflection. 
    • leads to just adding more programs
  2. The competency trap: presumption that past methods will continue to work decreases appetite for learning.
    • leads to just working harder
  3. The needs based slippery slope: consumerism removes the need for discernment.
    • leads to trying to make people happy
  4. The cultural whirlpool 1: BuzzChurch-innovation short circuits self-awareness.
    • leads to just trying to be cutting edge
  5. The cultural whirlpool 2: StuckChurch-change outpaces the discipline for learning.
    • leads to glorifying the past
  6. The conference maze: success increases the temptation to copycat. 
    • leads to simply modeling best practices
  7. The denominational rut: resources disregard local uniqueness.
    • leads to just protecting theology

At times I’ve been caught up in these thinkholes. How about you?

What other thinkholes would you add to this list?

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The Controversy Behind ‘Top 10 Reasons People Don’t Tithe’

Recently I posted a blog titled “Top 10 Reasons People Don’t Tithe.” I took it from a recent sermon I preached at my church, West Park Church in London, Ontario. I didn’t expect it to go viral and certainly didn’t anticipate the controversy it generated.  Here’s the reader interaction stats on it (from my website, Google analytics, and Churchleaders.com that posted it twice) and what I learned.

CONTROVERSY red Rubber Stamp over a white background.
  • Re-tweets: almost 100
  • Facebook shares: 1124
  • Comments on Churchleaders.com: 253 at last count
  • Facebook ‘Likes’ on Churchleaders.com: 3,400 at last count
  • Pageviews on my website: 12,000 plus at last count

To put this into context, I’m not a big league blogger like some you probably read. I post twice a week primarily on church leadership. I average around 7,000 unique page views per month and I have an email list of followers of around 2,400. So, I don’t rank very high in the blogosphere.

So, when I began to see these trends, I knew something was up. Here are the insights I’ve learned from this post.

  • The concept of tithing remains very controversial. From my 35 years in ministry I knew people had differing views. However, I never knew those views would create such emotion.
  • Some people get incendiary when pastors talk about money. I was quite surprised at some of the emotion laden darts commenters threw out at pastors. The comments revealed lots of angst people carry toward pastors and money.
  • Some people can disagree agreeably. Although I didn’t read all 250 plus comments, I read enough to see that several thoughtfully shared their differing viewpoints. They made good points without SHOUTING!
  • Social media is reinforcing unhealthy ‘filterless’ communication.

    I was shocked at how mean some of the comments were. In contrast to those who agreeably disagreed with me, some commenters threw multiple verbal grenades. In our social networking world when we don’t have to talk to a real live person standing a few feet away from us, we tend to thoughtlessly speak our mind with no love to temper us. Social networking is giving people a forum to say what they want with no filters. This is not a healthy trend.

  • I support everyone’s right to dissent, even if they lack filters. Although filterless communication is not the healthiest kind, I still support everyone’s right to dissent. Unfortunately, especially in today’s politically correct world, those of us who take biblical stances on issues (i.e., on biblical marriage) are being marginalized more and more.

Why do you think this post generated so much controversy?

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Cut your Losses and Do Something Different?…the sunk cost bias

Leadership demands our time, energy, and often our financial resources. Hopefully the projects and people we invest ourselves in are worthwhile and fulfilling. Often we invest so much of ‘us’ into a project that we can’t imagine not finishing the project. When we’ve already invested considerable time and energy into something, stopping it may seem foolish. Unfortunately, we seldom ask ourselves if we really should continue investing in a project. A subtle mental trap comes into play called the sunk cost bias. Sunk cost bias simply means that because you’ve invested so much emotionally into a project, you feel that by quitting you’d waste what you’ve already invested and be a failure, even though you actually should cut your losses and re-direct your efforts.  Consider these 5 signs that the sunk cost bias might be driving some of your leadership decisions.

cut loss
  1. You have a nagging sense that you probably need to go another direction. Perhaps you’ve gotten new information or the landscape has changed and you have begun to doubt if you should continue in the current direction. And, you can’t seem to shake those doubts.
  2. You want things to change in your ministry or church, but you keep doing the same things over and over again, expecting to get different results. Einstein defined this as insanity.
  3. You know you should stop the project but fear having to explain yourself to others.
  4. You’ve poured so much into this project that that your emotional attachment has made you lose sight of your greater goals and vision.
  5. The project drains your energy rather than boosting it.

If any of these 5 signs are true of you, the sunk cost bias may be distorting your judgment. Consider taking these steps to evaluate whether or not you should cut your losses on some project and go a different direction.

  1. Talk to someone about your struggle who will maintain their objectivity and be honest with you.
  2. Play out the scenario if you did stop. What benefits would you gain? What new costs would you incur? What more productive project could you then invest your time and energy into?
  3. Were you to stop, who would you need to explain your decision to? How would you explain your decision? Might they actually respect you for making such a decision?
  4. Re-visit your values. Does the project align with your personal and ministry values and God’s call on your life?

How have you seen the sunk cost bias play out in your life or other people’s lives?

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4 Signs Decision Fatigue is Degrading your Decisions

When we think about fatigue, we usually think of physical tiredness…we worked too hard in the yard, we didn’t sleep well the night before, or we’re working too many hours. Fatigue certainly includes those causes, but for many Christian leaders, or any leader for that matter, another kind of fatigue can rob our energy and diminish leadership effectiveness. It’s called decision fatigue. It refers to how the quality of our decisions degrades after a long string of successive decisions. In other words, the more decisions you make, the more the quality of those decisions declines.

Judges make less favorable decisions later in the day and decision fatigue even affects consumer choices. So what might indicate that your decisions are affected by decision fatigue?

decisions

I’ve learned the effects of decision fatigue by experience.

A year and a half ago I began a new ministry as lead pastor of West Park Church in London, Ontario. It’s been a great ministry but I’ve faced a staff shortage during that time. As a result, almost every staff person reported to me which required me to make many more decision about ministry than I normally would. We recently added two outstanding new pastors and I’m thrilled at their being with us. However, during the past year and a half, I’ve seen decision fatigue sometimes affect me.

Four indicators decision fatigue may be degrading the quality of your decisions. 

  1. You make quick, impulsive decisions you later regret you made. This happens because you want to quickly get one more thing off your plate and the quick decision seems to solve the problem. However the real problem may be making the decision too quickly without sufficient information you need to make the best one.
  2. You needlessly delay decisions. This is the counterpoint to the impulsive decision. When we get mentally tired, we can easily put off a decision that needs to made now. Sometimes I’d move an email into another folder that still required a decision from me that I could have easily made right then. By doing so I actually doubled the time I spent making the decision because I still had to read the email again to make the decision. By doing so, I took up two chunks of time and two chunks of mental energy.
  3. You send thoughtless, terse emails. I probably get 150 plus emails a day, many of them requiring a decision from me at some level. I’ve found that when I’ve had to make multiple decisions during the day, toward the end of the day I’m tempted to not think as clearly before I send an email. This post points out common email errors.
  4. You get mad when someone asks you for a decision. When this happens our mental chatter sounds like this. “Great, one more decision I have to make for somebody else!” The term ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control diminishes over time when we we have already exerted lots of self control. Toward the end of the day or a week when a leader has had to make too many decisions, he may find himself losing his cool more easily, flying off the handle, or saying thing things he shouldn’t.

As you look at the number of decision you are making, to what degree does decision fatigue affect you?

In my next post I’ll suggest ways to minimize decision fatigue.

P.S. My latest book just released. It’s called Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. You can read more about it here and you can get a free chapter by signing up for my blog postings in the right hand column on this page.

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Top 10 Reasons People Don’t Tithe

Tithing is a spiritual discipline many Christians practice. In its simplest form it means giving back to God 10% of what you make. I’ve practiced it for years as a regular part of my giving. I tithe ‘plus’ to my local church and I give to other causes on top of that. However, throughout my 35 years of ministry I’ve seen 10 common reasons that church people give for not tithing. I list them below with a counter point below each.

Tithe Letterpress
  1. It’s all mine anyway. Why should I give?
    • Counter-point (CP): Everything we own is actually God’s (Ps 50.10, Ps 24.1).
  2. I give elsewhere. This is the person who counts his giving to secular causes, his time, or paying for his child’s Christian school tuition as his tithe.
    • CP: Do causes around the purposes of God get the lion’s share of your giving?
  3. Tithing is not in the New Testament. This is one of the most common.
  4. God will provide through other people. This person believes that other people will give to support the cause of Christ in their church.
    • CP: God chose to release His resources through all believers.
  5. My gifts don’t really count. This person thinks that because he can’t give much, his giving really doesn’t matter.
    • CP: Don’t minimize the size of any gift (recall the story of the poor widow in Mark 12.41-44).
  6. I don’t trust preachers. This is understandable due to the few high profile ministers who misuse God’s money.
    • CP: If you lead a church, make sure you instill the highest standards of stewardship and accountability.
  7. I only give to projects I like. This is the control freak who only gives to projects he or she can designate funds to. Some people in this category even hold back their giving in their church because they haven’t gotten their way.
    • CP: Trust your church leadership to wisely manage God’s money.
  8. I have no control over my finances. My husband does. In this case (and it’s almost always a wife in this position) her husband controls the finances and although the wife wants to give, he prohibits it.
    • CP: Rest in the Lord, He knows your heart.
  9. I will tithe when I can afford it.
  10. I’m afraid to. These people honestly fear what might happen to them or their family if they give.
    • CP: Step out in faith knowing that God promises to meet your needs.

What reasons have you heard people use to justify not giving or tithing?

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