How To (Unintentionally) Frustrate A Church, Part 1

Note - Watch for Part 2 in next week’s E-news: How To (Intentionally) Liberate A Church

We see it all the time. More churches are doing it than not. They don’t mean to; simply following typical congregational development patterns. What’s ironic is that one could not script the predictable outcome of high frustration any better. It’s like they are unintentionally following a plan to frustrate themselves. In fact, the following is a handy equation for describing the actions which inevitably produce high levels of frustration, regardless of denomination.

The Church Life Frustration Equation

No equation is perfect, yet when trying to comprehend the high frustration levels in congregational life, this one provides helpful guidance. Let’s break it down for clarity’s sake.

First, most churches were designed, taking shape and form, during the 20th century. They inherited an organizational model, an ethos, a culture which largely reflected the understanding of organizations from their cultural context. Unremarkably, churches were organized much like other non-profits or educational institutions from their time and place in history. As a result, these churches resonate with those who still view life from a 20th century cultural mindset. None of this is surprising or unusual so far.
But the second step is where the seeds of frustration are planted (Find more on this in Shift: Three Big Moves For The 20th Century Church, pp 11-44).

Many churches are disappointed in their “return on investment” these days. So they address this concern with a typical approach…increasing effort. Try harder, apply more effort, challenge everyone to volunteer, double-down on declining programs, and ramp up the intensity in everything you are doing. Make sure everyone is working that 20th century church model as vigorously as possible…and here’s the key to this step…all the while promising this extra effort will increase numbers, thereby ramping up expectations. Churches tend to practice the belief that increased effort produces greater results, even though the paradigm itself is outdated and irrelevant. Pairing unachievable expectations with increased effort is key to this second step, paving the road to inevitable frustration.

Now churches are positioned for the third step, which is really not a step at all. We need not do a thing to enact step three, for we already live in a Postmodern context. We are already immersed in a culture which doesn’t reflect the prevailing themes of pre-2000. No longer is this culture much interested in organizations and their development, nor in big numbers. New themes like authenticity, substance, transformational action, robust relationships, and indigenous solutions are rising. Most churches are not constructed to proactively engage these themes.

The result….the power of The Church Life Frustration Equation kicks in, leading directly to Sky High Frustration. Unfortunately, this is the equation operating beneath the operations of far too many congregations. The evidence is seen in the abandonment of the church by many previously active members. Other signs of its presence are the unhelpful tendency toward blaming leaders, excessive emotional reactions, and louder calls to action. When these things happen they are clear indicators we are successfully (unintentionally) frustrating a church.

May all our church frustration skills go the way of all things.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA