By Carey Nieuwhof

There’s a lot of church bashing that happens these days. I get that. Some of it is deserved.

Like me, maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of people feel justified in dismissing the church as anything between a complete disappointment and otherwise useless.

Doubtless people have been hurt in the church and hurt by the church, and for that I feel terrible.

But it’s one thing to have a bad experience or a series of bad experiences. It’s another to hang on to them for far longer than you should, especially when you have a role in them that you refuse to see.

So in the hopes of clarifying a few things and helping us all move through whatever hang ups might be lingering, here are 5 things people blame their church for…but shouldn’t.


Most church leaders have heard this before from someone who’s new at your church. I went to X church for 2 years but I just didn’t grow there. Now I’ve come here. Hopefully I’ll grow!

I’ve heard this so many times at one point I believed the logic. Until I realised that we were this person’s fifth church in 6 years, and they didn’t grow at any of them. Which makes you ask the question…is it really the church, or could it be them?

I came to the realisation years ago that I’m responsible for my spiritual growth. Nobody can make me grow. And honestly, no one can keep me from growing because no one can actually control my thoughts, my heart and my mind. I can offer them to God in free surrender whenever I want.

Understand, the church can help, but it’s not responsible for your spiritual growth. You are.


You meet a lot of people in ministry, both paid and volunteer, who will tell you the church burned them out. As someone who has burned out while leading a church, it would be tempting for me to say “For sure…my church burned me out. You should see the demands people made on me as a pastor and leader!”

But I would never say that.

You know who burned me out?

I did. 

I am responsible for my burnout. I pushed too hard for too long. I didn’t deal with underlying issues. I burned myself out.

Now, granted, I think ministry can be confusing, and I think it’s easier to burn out in ministry than in other vocations. But I’m responsible. And so, honestly, are you.


I’ve heard many Christians say “I’m so cynical after working at/attending several churches.”

And for sure, any student of human nature can become cynical.

But the church didn’t make you cynical. You let your heart grow hard. You chose to believe certain things about people, about God, about life, and it built a crust around something that used to be alive and vibrant.

The biggest challenge in life is to see life for what it really is but keeping your heart fully engaged. God loves to help people do that.

I fight cynicism daily. And if anyone makes me cynical, it’s me…not you, not God, not culture, not the church. I want my heart to be alive and celebrating each day. That’s a choice I make with God’s help.


It’s easy to hold a grudge. Get hurt (and yes, I’ve been hurt by people in the church too) and hang onto it long enough, and grudges will form.

Soon you’ll not want to hear someone’s name, let alone run into them in the supermarket.

Too many people in the church or who walked away from the church carry unforgiveness and blame the church for it.

What are you hanging onto from a bad church experience that you need to let go of?

Forgiveness is the one of most Christian things people can do. Yet it’s what far too many Christians withhold from one another.

I love how Mark Twain phrased it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”


I hesitate to write this one. I’m a church leader. I do everything I can to help people find faith in Jesus Christ.

I also realise I’m far from perfect, that our church is not perfect, and that there never will be perfection on this side of heaven.

It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I went to church but it was so bad/so hypocritical/so shallow I lost my faith.” I realise we don’t always do a good job. In fact, sometimes churches do a terrible job. Sometimes I do a terrible job.

But as you’ve seen throughout this piece, nobody else makes you lose your faith. That was or is a choice you made. It is.

And it’s a choice I make every day. To believe when there are more than a few reasons not to. To love when people don’t love me back. To forgive when it’s easier to hang on to the hurt. To trust when there’s probably a few reasons to stop trusting.

So if you want to believe again…believe again.


Now let me give you a challenge. I realise many of you have been hurt by the church. I realise many of you have grown cynical. And that’s true of people who have left the church and who are in the church.

Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.

The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organisations, but they’re also chosen organisations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.

I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world has enough cynics and critics.

We need people and we need leaders who deal hope.

Would you be one of them? Maybe get involved again? Or join a church and decide to work toward a better future? Or start a church of your own? That would be incredible. Really…it would! We need more optimists and more people ready to make the world a better place.

Church Health Quiz 2


By Chuck Lawless on Feb 13, 2019

Can your church leaders describe what a “disciple” looks like in your church? If they can’t describe what you hope to produce in your members, it’s likely that your overall goal is nebulous. That lack of clarity will hinder your church’s discipleship.

  1. Does your church have a required membership class? A membership class begins discipleship early, and it sets expectations for further discipling as a member of a local body.
  2. Does the church have a church covenant that is up-to-date, relevant, and utilized? A covenant that only hangs on the wall is nothing more than a picture in a frame. Churches with legitimate covenants also typically have a strategy to help members fulfil the covenant.
  3. How does the number of additions compare to the church’s increase/decrease in attendance over the past year? If the church gained 25 new members, but the corresponding attendance figures show an increase of only five, further assessment is needed. It’s possible the church’s back door is so wide open you’re losing almost as many people as you’re gaining.
  4. Are new believers discipled immediately? Young believers are sometimes the most teachable members of a church. Healthy churches start discipling them before they figure out they can be members without being discipled.
  5. Are your members growing in godliness? This one’s more difficult to evaluate, but churches that produce disciples produce men and women who reject temptations and follow God fully.
  6. Does the church offer small groups that include equipping and accountability for holy living? If you read yesterday’s post, you know that I recommend small groups that warmly invite the unchurched to participate. At the same time, I also encourage churches to have small groups that allow for significant life-on-life interaction and serious accountability.
  7. Does the church have an intentional strategy for teaching spiritual disciplines? Discipling churches don’t just tell folks to read the Word, pray, fast, and do other spiritual disciplines; instead, they teach and lead them to make disciplines a part of their lives.
  8. Is the pastoral staff mentoring other believers? If the leaders of the church aren’t pouring their lives into other believers, they will lack credibility in asking others to do so. Strong discipleship churches are led by mentor-pastors.
  9. Does the church have someone responsible to follow up with members who fall away? The longer a church member is AWOL, the more likely it is he or she will not return. Healthy churches have someone in charge of holding a net so no one falls too far.
  10. Is the church strategically discipling teens and children?  Discipling congregations recognize that good discipleship begins early. They intentionally connect older members with younger members to promote mutual spiritual growth.
  11. Is your church sending out the next generation of church leaders and missionaries? This question looks toward the results of good discipleship: is your church growing believers who love God and long for others to know Him? Are you teaching them to give their lives for the spread of the gospel?

So, is your church a discipling church?

Church Health Quiz 1

Is Your Church an Evangelistic Church?

By Chuck Lawless on Feb 12, 2019 01:00 am
For years, I’ve studied evangelistic churches. Based on those studies, here are some simple questions to evaluate your church’s evangelistic health:

  1. Are staff and lay leaders expected to evangelize? Are they held accountable? If the church’s leaders don’t do evangelism, the church won’t evangelize, either.
  2. Is the growth of the church primarily conversion growth? Transfer growth? Biological growth?  Evangelistic churches grow by reaching non-believers more than by “swapping sheep” or increasing their nursery attendance.
  3. Do you know how many people are saved (as much as you can tell) through your church’s ministry? Strong churches know these numbers, and they genuinely grieve when no one is saved through their efforts.
  4. Does the church regularly offer evangelism training? Simply telling members to evangelize without teaching them how to connect with non-believers, share their testimony, etc., seldom results in ongoing evangelism. You must provide the training.
  5. Are new members and new believers quickly trained and encouraged to share their story? The longer a church waits to help new believers evangelize, the more likely it is they will get negatively cocooned in the church.
  6. Does the church offer small groups in which unchurched folks would feel comfortable participating? To answer this question, you have to talk to recent unchurched guests. Don’t assume that your church members are the best persons to determine if their groups welcome non-believers.
  7. What is the church’s ratio of new believers to longer-term believers? If new believers are hard to find, the congregation may not be strongly evangelistic.
  8. When was the last time you heard a conversion testimony at your church? Churches that emphasize evangelism also emphasize telling their stories personally and publicly.
  9. Does your church intentionally pray about evangelism? Paul said his prayer for Israel was that they be saved (Rom. 10:1). He asked others to pray he would speak the gospel clearly and boldly as God opened doors (Eph. 6:18-20; Col. 4:2-4). Evangelistic churches pray (often by name) for believers to proclaim and non-believers to believe.
  10. Does the church really celebrate the new birth of believers? Baptism that illustrates conversion ought to be a time of joy, even while illustrating the seriousness of a commitment to Christ. Learn to celebrate.
  11. Does the church capitalize on its web presence to share the gospel? The Internet allows us to touch the world with the gospel, but I seldom find a church website that grabs the attention of seeking non-believers and clearly directs them to the plan of salvation.

Does the senior pastor lead the way? No matter what title you use for this leader, the primary preacher must set the example for the church. I’ve never seen an evangelistic church without an evangelistic leader. Ever.

Reaching New People Audio Webinars

Here are some Audio Webinars from the Reaching New People Network





Mission Article: Thriving Rural Congregations

By Allen Stanton  February 7, 2019

This is American again, but has some good points

Recently, I had dinner with a group of rural pastors to hear about their ministries. One by one, the pastors stood, gave their name, their church and their years of service. Then, invariably, each pastor’s face dropped.

“Our church only worships about 20,” the first pastor said. The dismay and anxiety rippled throughout the room as each pastor shared their worship attendance. The next church reported an aging congregation of 60. Another pastor serving on a multi-church charge reported that one of their churches only had about 12 people on a Sunday morning.

The pastors were understandably frustrated. They had tried the latest church growth strategies. They’d read the numerous blogs about leadership and had attended the best continuing education events, none of which really spoke to their contexts. Regardless, the enviable metric of “growth” seemed to elude them.

While these pastors all serve rural areas, their contexts are distinct. Some serve in communities that have entered into a period of seeming stagnation, a perception driven in equal parts by changes in the economy and the prevailing narratives about what it means to be rural. It has been decades since agriculture had been a leading industry in their communities, and now its replacement, manufacturing, is declining as well.

For others, though, rural ministry requires managing rapid change. Drawn by the allure of affordable property, a willingness to commute, and proximity to natural attractions, retirees are flocking from cities to these rural communities. This new population brings a shifting culture, and, in some places, an impending change from the designation of rural to suburban.

Conversations on church vitality usually hold up a few key metrics, emphasizing an increase in worship attendance and a large number of youth and young adults.[i] But there are obvious questions about how rural congregations can utilize these measures of vitality within their changing communities. How should a congregation whose growth is spurred by an influx of retirees respond when told they need to have more children involved? Or, when a congregation of 20 has a strong missional presence in a declining community, how are they to answer the critique that their church is stagnant or even dying?

In my office, I keep a post-it with a short phrase that I often hear from my colleagues in rural economic development: “If you’ve seen one rural county, you’ve seen one rural county.” Because rural communities are complex, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It stands to reason, then, that rural congregations need an equally flexible marker for their vitality. Rural congregations occupy the centers of busy town squares and dot the sides of unpopulated state roads. Bound together only by the label “rural,” vitality must look different in these different spaces.

In working with churches and other rural leaders, I have found that thriving rural congregations share three key pillars of vitality.[ii] These are not metrics in and of themselves, but areas in which rural congregations should strive to develop context-specific measurements in order to set clear goals.

First, thriving rural congregations demonstrate a clear theological identity. These congregations conduct worship services and foster conversations that connect their parishioners’ faith with their weekly lives.

This theological identity also carries a deep theology of place. They know their own history, and in their own language they can tell the story of what God is doing in their community. They remember both pain and joy and hold together the tension that runs between sorrow, repentance and hope.

This theology of place serves as more than idle memory. Instead, it builds the foundation for the second key trait: thriving rural congregations understand their local communities as a place to cultivate, announce and invite others to participate in the Kingdom of God. They understand that they have a responsibility to the surrounding community.

Bottom of Form

This may look different in each congregation. In some places, this may be organic as members hear and respond to what they see in the community. Or, churches may develop ongoing missional programming. The result is that the congregation strives to face outward, yearning to see how they might be a part of God’s new creation.

Lastly, thriving rural congregations are sustainable. At its most basic level, congregations are able to pay their bills and keep the lights on. This presents a unique challenge—and opportunity—for many churches as giving patterns continue to change. It’s commonly reported that younger generations have less disposable income and a skepticism of institutions, resulting in lower tithes. Meanwhile, the 2018 tax reforms are likely to spur an overall reduction in charitable giving.[iii]

In many rural areas, bi-vocational pastors are becoming standard, creating opportunities to deepen the congregation’s commitment to their place. Programming budgets are also decreasing, which means that pastors will need to be more adept at cultivating partnerships with other organizations and funders. These are challenges, but they are also opportunities for new modes of ministry.

At the end of our dinner, I asked our rural pastors to share stories of where God was at work through them. With excitement, they shared stories of their small congregations raising money for community-based literacy programs. They shared their commitment to preserving and sharing the history of their 150-year-old, one-room church that once doubled as the schoolhouse for African-American students. They shared stories of their few high school students who had become active leaders. These are places of important and life-giving ministry.

Church vitality is not simply about growing a church, though that may be a natural outcome. Neither are these vital churches limited to the growing suburbs that surround our major cities. Thriving rural congregations have a deep commitment to seeing and being a part of what God is doing in the world around them. They offer a reminder that the narrative we often tell about rural ministry is misinformed. Being a rural church does not mean being a church on life support. Instead, they are places of meaningful and impactful transformation.

[i] Take, for instance, the UMC Call to Action: Vital Congregations Research Project. De Wetter, David, et al.. Towers Watson, 2010.

[ii] These cores represent a commonality in several reports, including the Thriving Rural Communities Summative Evaluation Report and work compiled by GBHEM.

[iii] Fox, Richard, and Joshua Headly. “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—What Nonprofits Need to Know,” Philanthropy Journal News, 29 Jan. 2018.