Here's Why You Can't Motivate Your Church (& How to Do It)
I hear these complaints from church leaders all the time:
“No one want’s to do anything!”
“The people don’t support the events.”
“We tried, but no one showed up…”
At times, the frustration can get so overwhelming that we are tempted to actually judge the spirituality of the church.
“If they were serious about their faith…”
“People aren’t committed anymore.”
“Back in my day we didn’t have this problem!”
Now grant it, these statements are not entirely false. Our church is dead. And a dead church is simply the outflow of dead individual church members. However, as leaders we don’t have the luxury of pointing fingers or passing blame. We have to find solutions. Real and lasting solutions. That is why we are leaders.
The first step toward solving any problem is to properly identify its epicentre. Where is it coming from? What is the source? If your church members don’t support events, if they don’t participate in evangelism and if they don’t buy into your attempts at creating a strategy to reach your community then you have to find out why. Those are mere symptoms of a deeper problem. And it is through conversation and one on one, face to face dialogue that the real issues can emerge. You can’t simply guess as a leader. You can’t go on “gut” or “feeling”. Opinion has to be dropped. Facts alone will help you push ahead.
Because every church is different there is no way to write a blog that accurately diagnoses the source of the problem in every single one of them. The source is going to differ. Sometimes the source is a historical wound. Sometimes is a theological warp. And sometimes the problem may be you. If it is, listen pray for guidance and grow. The people will respect you for it.
However, there is one theme that is recurrent in many churches I have been to and I want to bring it up here. If you keep this in mind, along with having those needed conversations, I believe you will unearth the core issues and resolve them.
So here is the recurring theme I have witnessed in countless churches. Imagine you have a car sitting in your garage. You never drive it but it’s a classic so you don’t want it to break-down from inactivity. However, you just don’t have the time to take care of it. Naturally, you hire someone to come to your house once a week and make sure the engine is oiled, the coolant topped off, the transmission fluid clean and the battery healthy. You have this person take the car for a small spin around the block - nothing eventful - and then they go home. Job done.
This person has done nothing spectacular. They did not take the car to a car show. They did not sign up to a charity drive. They did not hire it out for romantic dates. They simply maintained it. That’s what you hired them for. Nothing more.
The person described above is exactly how the vast majority of church members see the nominated church leadership team. They don’t have time. They don’t have energy. But they don’t want to let go of the church. So year after year they nominate people to maintain the church’s engine and take it for a small, uneventful spins. Nothing more.
In short, most churches don’t perceive of their nominated leaders as real leaders. They perceive them as a maintenance crew.
So when the leaders get together and plan to take the car to a show (follow the metaphor here), or sign up to a charity drive or hire it out to weddings the members who nominated them just sit back and watch. They don’t dive into the process because that’s not what they had in mind when they nominated you. They don’t get pumped about the new possibilities because when they voted you into office, they were not thinking about new possibilities. They were simply going through the motions of putting people into positions that would keep the machine oiled. Nothing more.
So here is why you can’t motivate your church as a leader - because few people even see you as a leader to begin with. In their mind, you are there to oil the machine and that’s it. They weren’t expecting a revolution when they voted you in. In fact, they weren’t even asking for one. So if you decide to start one, they are not following you because its not what they had in mind when they approved your name for the office. You are an engine-oiler. And so long as you do that well they will vote you back in year after year.
So how can you change this? The solution is simple but it requires some high level commitment. You can’t change this mindset over-night. It will take time and repetition. The process can last up to 3 years before the culture begins to change. But it is worth it. Here is the process I use in my churches.
Create a mission plan for your church with your leaders.
Have every leader write a one page document on how their particular ministry is going to fulfil that mission. Then, have each leader meet with their respective team and communicate the contents of that document to them.
Ask the team members to then discuss the mission with their families and friends in the church. Give them a time-frame to do this in.
Celebrate your leaders and the difference they are making in front of the church. Use their example to inspire the rest of the members.
When Nominating Committee returns, invite the members and committee to think in terms of kingdom building and not in terms of maintenance. If new leaders are nominated have them agree to the document from step 2 as a condition of accepting the roll. Then repeat steps 3 and 4.
So what exactly is this process accomplishing? Two things. First, it is enabling the mission of the church to go from the leaders to the people. Think of water trickling from the top of the mountain down to the valley. That’s what you are doing here. The mission and vision should not remain at the top of the mountain with the elected leaders. It needs to trickle down into the valley of the people.
Second, this process is rewiring the minds of church members to expect results from their leaders and to view them as leaders, not machine-oilers. Over time, as the process repeats the new expectation and process settles in and the people begin electing leaders with the desire for forward movement. And once that culture is in place, you will no longer have to motivate your church as a leader, because the very fact that you are in your position is the result of motivated people who are ready for you to lead them to the next level.