I spoke recently with a church board who described what I can best articulate as a general malaise in the congregation: rumblings, complaints, critical spirits and non involvement in ministry. The congregation runs around three hundred and the leaders are sensing they are not in a good place.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique situation. Some in the congregation are probably feeling like they are smaller fish in a bigger pond as the church has grown and it irritates them. Others miss the “family” nature of the congregation when it was small. Growth does not always bring just good things to a church – it can often bring certain uneasiness as well to some.
Rumblings, complaints, critical spirits and malaise are also indicators that the congregation does not have a compelling mission and vision that unites it in ministry. In the absence of this, people turn inward and often go south in their attitudes. One of the most important things leaders can do in this situation is to clarify who they aspire to be under Christ as a church and lead the congregation into real ministry endeavors that are focused outward to the unreached community. Missional congregations have a lot less time and need for the intramural conflicts that are so common.
In situations of malaise what I usually find is that leaders have not well defined who they believe God wants their church to be. There is not clarity around mission, around non-negotiable guiding principles that determine behavior, around a central ministry focus that identifies what they need to be about every day or around a definition of spiritual transformation that define the end goal of ministry. These are actually the four sides of a ministry sandbox (see the book Leading From the Sandbox, chapters two, three and four).
Lack of such clarity leads to ambiguity and a lack of intentional, missional direction for the congregation – a dangerous place to be. Without clarity everyone defines what the church should be which is a recipe for conflict and bickering. Clarity brings focus on the right and healthy things the congregation should be about and rules out certain behaviors.
Malaise and discontent is a sure indicator that leaders have some work to do to clarify, define a God honoring church culture and lead missionally. Leaders set the ministry agenda and direction for a church, in the absence of which others will set their own agendas and it is not always pretty.