The Shrinking Church
Dumbing Down: How Church Leadership Has Set Up the Exodus


Prologue and Introduction: Intent  and  PurposeThe Shrinking Church

This thread of articles is for clergy and leaders of mainline protestant churches. The purpose is to recognize systemic dysfunctions and leadership gaps that are limiting the effectiveness of the local church and many times are in the way of true and effective ministries. For the full statement, see Post #1 of the ongoing series. The intent is to promote dialogue through, and awareness of, possibilities for growing healthy ministries of any kind.


Post #5:
Dumbing Down: How Church Leadership Has Set Up the Exodus

A New Way of Thinking About Church Leadership

New Mindset New Results

It’s Time for a New Mindset in Leadership


The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan values and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism. – Reinhold Niebuhr

Is the massive exodus from the church due to the dumbing down over the years? What are ways we have dumbed down and is the trend reversible?

The statistics show that all the major denominations are losing members at an alarming rate. There’s little if any connection with Millennials. The choirs are aging without the infusion of younger voices. Members are separated into fragments divided by opinion, and not unified by faith, tradition, or spiritual focus.

We criticize others who don’t think or act like we do or sanctioned them. We are against “others” who are not as we are. Throughout history, there’s been one group after another that we are against giving privileges to, such as these:

Members have become so disagreeable that many have forgotten the source of the disagreement. We’ve disagreed within our congregations and we’ve disagreed with the culture to lock out people who “don’t belong.” We’ve gone from the model of grace and love, and judging people on their private lives.

Leaders have set up this judgmental culture because we have dumbed down and minimized our vision. We’ve brought in badly conceived and performed “contemporary music” to “attract the young people.” Our “traditional” worship is no longer consistent with our tradition, and it’s not relevant to life as experienced by people in the pews.

Many pastors don’t study worship or leadership in seminary, and they continue to do what they have inherited or have seen modeled, mandating content and bossing church musicians without the skills, knowledge, or understanding of music in worship. Church musicians are petulant and churlish, pushing for their way as music being the end, rather than serving the worship.

The void has been created by ineffective leadership. The system is broken and nobody is naming it. The church consultants are doing more harm than solving problems. They are the “answer men” who give advice…the same kind of advice to each organization…one size, therefore, fits all. The consultant model is broken…as it has been for quite a while.

When Marva Dawn wrote Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down quite some time ago, she not only traced the past, but she defined the future…where we are now. The first chapter in her book gives painful details of how education has dumbed down over the decades. Alfie Kohn, in different words, describes the dumbing down of standardized testing as ethnic cleansing of the culture.

What are the ways we, as a church, have “Dumbed Down”?

  • Music – style over content
  • Worship – attempting to please, rather than listen to God
  • Mission – dumbing to the “No Mission” Mission Statement of the Great Commission
  • Children’s Sermons – what John Leith calls “a form of child abuse”
  • Politeness – being polite as a substitute for being honest and kind

It’s the leader’s duty and delight to set the pace and the tone for the team and define the vision and objectives. The pastor is the spiritual leader of the congregation, and not the CEO, as commonly practiced. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the pastor is charged with ordering the life of the congregation, among other things. How does this pastor order dysfunction? How does this pastor reconcile the conflict between being CEO and being the spiritual leader of the flock? A void in leadership skills only makes things worse.

God must really grieve over what we have done to God’s church.

Please comment below.

Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership StrategistTM

Read about me on Forbes

(c) 2022, Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

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