. . . Are your problems above or below the waterline?

I’m a DIY (do-it-yourself) kind of guy. If I can figure out how to make, repair or assemble it, I’ll likely take on the task (you remember my boating adventures). But there are times when I misdiagnose the problem to start with and, boy, is that ever frustrating. Wasting time, money and energy to “fix” the wrong problem really irritates me. Usually this happens when I don’t take time to troubleshoot and diagnose the situation properly.

In church work troubleshooting is even more important. Souls and ministries are at stake!  We can’t afford to misdiagnose the things that hinder a church’s ministry.  Ministry is too demanding for wasted effort and Satan would gladly misdirect us from the real reasons for a church’s difficulties.

One of the things we’ve learned at Blessing Point is that ministry damage tends to show up below the waterline. Much like the famous Titanic, a church’s visible ministry (programs, staff and funding, etc.) lies above the waterline. However, carrying the metaphor further, the bulk of an iceberg is submerged and the damage it causes is below the waterline. The “below the waterline” issues have to do with spiritual dynamics and corporate pain, things like trust, humility, energy, unity, etc. which do not submit themselves to pragmatic “problem-solving” such as restructuring  (the equivalent of moving  the deck chairs around), firing the captain or the ship’s officers as it sinks.

Here are ten common church maladies, with the typical “above the waterline” troubleshooting, followed by a below the waterline consideration. See if they help you discern the difference in your own ministry.

We have few visitors. (Above the Waterline)  Is our church hard to find? Is our signage readable as cars drive by? (Below the Waterline) Has anything painful happened in the history of our church to limit God’s blessing on our ministry?

People visit our church but don’t stay. (Above the Waterline) Are we friendly enough? Do we have the right programs to attract and keep people? (Below the Waterline) What do people sense when they visit our church? Does our church have fun together and is joy in the atmosphere when we gather together?

Our Pastors have short tenures.  (Above the Waterline) What is the condition of the parsonage? Do we compensate our pastors at a livable wage? (Below the Waterline) Have our pastors and their families carried undo stress as they ministered among us?

Finances are not what they should be. (Above the Waterline) Are we facing a short term challenge that has temporarily depleted our resources? (Below the Waterline) Has trust in our church’s leadership waned and giving reflects this?

We can’t attract young people. (Above the Waterline) Is it time for a new youth pastor, again?  (Below the Waterline) Are leaders at our church too busy putting out fires to support the youth ministry?

We see few, if any, conversions. (Above the Waterline) Do we need to give more invitations during worship? Are our people adequately trained in personal evangelism? (Below the Waterline) Is our church relationally healthy enough for God to trust us with new believers?

Our church has conflict. (Above the Waterline) Do we need to train our people how to resolve conflict biblically? (Below the Waterline) Does our church suffer from repeated episodes of corporate pain, such as heated congregational or board meetings?

We struggle to find leaders. (Above the Waterline) Do we need to implement a leadership training process?  (Below the Waterline) Are previous leaders in our church eager and enthusiastic about serving in the future? If not, why not?

We need a new vision. (Above the Waterline) What books are available to help us define our mission, vision and ministry model? (Below the Waterline) Does our church need to be healed before our ministry can gain traction?

Satan is afflicting our ministry. (Above the Waterline) Do we need more teaching on spiritual warfare? How can we improve our church’s corporate prayer life? (Below the Waterline) Are we discerning the Body correctly (1 Cor. 11)? What has allowed Satan to have a foothold on our ministry?

“Below the waterline” questions help you to know if there is underlying damage that needs to be addressed before your church will function fruitfully. If you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to address your church’s issues with pragmatic, “above the waterline” solutions, it may be time to look below the surface. Contact us to see about diagnosing the true condition of your church through composite scoring of our ChurchScan Inventory.

Have you ever seen a church misdiagnose it’s problems? What was the result? We welcome your comments.

Rev. Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries. Blessing Point works to heal local churches that have been wounded by painful crises. Barnard is the author of the recently released book, Diagnosing the Heart of Your Church – How Church Leaders Can Assess Systemic Corporate Dysfunction.



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