“Mary has been doing that ministry for years, we really need to keep it going.”
“I know the building could use some repair, but we need to let the deacon in charge of that area do it. He’ll get around to it eventually.”
“A former member made that table by hand. I know it’s old, but we should really keep using it.”
“It may not look very appealing, but Jim worked hard on that design, we should use it.”
These types of phrases are repeated in church leadership meetings all over the country and all of them find their commonality in this thought: We don’t want to upset anyone.
Keeping church members happy seems like a great idea, but in reality this insidious belief system is killing churches. There are two major ways this issue manifests itself, two ways that, if left unchecked, will result in the dying out of countless congregations.
It Keeps Us From Needed Change
Change is inevitable, but some will fight its inevitability with everything they have until they can’t fight any longer. As it turns out, basing decisions on the happiness of members is a great way to fight against change.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a dilapidated bulletin board that needs changing, a ministry that is no longer effective, furniture that’s outdated, or curriculum covering “today’s* issues” (*”today’s” being issues in the 1970s). If someone worked hard on it, or has passion for it, or donated it, or used it to great effect in the past we need to keep it around so we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.
Each of these things may seem small on their own, but together they really add up. Aside from things forever remaining as they always have been, your church members who desire to breathe new life into the congregation are shown that their change is not necessary, and even unwelcome. We wonder why younger families don’t want anything to do with church, but hey, at least the guy who keeps the tract racks filled and the lady who puts rose stickers on visitors is still happy!
When we make decisions based on “will this upset anybody” we leave ourselves crippled, stagnant, and unable to enact meaningful change within our churches.
It Keeps Our Focus Totally Inward
Churches that regularly ask the question, “will this upset anybody in our church?” are churches that have forgotten our God given mandate to “make disciples” (Mt. 28:19) and love others as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34). Churches focused only on the happiness of those inside aren’t capable of bringing new people into the fold. As much as these churches may preach the need to reach out to others within the community, their inward focus keeps them from any real efforts in actually reaching out to their community.
When we make decisions based on “will this upset anybody” we turn our attention so inward that we forget about those on the outside we need to be reaching.
Why is the member pleasing mentality so deadly to church growth? It’s deadly because it mixes refusal to change with a tremendous lack of outward focus. Churches consumed with only the pleasing of people on the inside keep new people from coming in and chug along in their old ways until everyone is either dead or gone. Ironically, these churches are often set on the member pleasing mentality because they don’t want their congregation to shrink.
When presented with the opportunity to please a crowd, Jesus handled things very differently than we do.
John 6 showcases the increasing popularity of Jesus among the Jewish people. His speaking was so powerful that crowds came from all over and followed him everywhere just to hear the next radical thing he had to say. On one occasion, when the crowd became hungry, Jesus took five loaves and two fish and turned it into an all you can eat buffet (John 6:5-14). The next day, the crowd went looking for Jesus, but not because they needed more of his teaching, they just wanted more of his food (6:25-26).
Instead of doing what would’ve pleased these people (providing them more food), Jesus told them what they needed to hear even though it caused disputing and offense (John 6:52, 60-61). The immediate result? “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked” with Jesus (6:66). The ultimate result? The Twelve stuck with him and went on to convert thousands with the glorious message of Jesus (John 6:67-69; Acts 2:41, 47).
Instead of being focused on keeping saved people happy, let’s focus on doing all we can to bring lost people to Jesus, even if it means making some people in our churches upset.