The Biggest Goal Setting Mistakes that Pastors Make

We have set some audacious goals this year and need you all to help us get the message out about returning the church to the priesthood of all believers. We are getting many views every day of the site. If you wish to help us in anyway do look at our page how can you help us.

It’s the beginning of another year and pastors have either decided that setting goals is unbiblical, a waste of time, or they already have a list for the coming year. Debates aside, whether your church sets goals or not, you might want to rethink the way you operate after reading this list of common goal setting mistakes.

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1. Independent goal setting rather than involving others
People are always more committed to something when they are involved in the planning process. However, when it comes to making future plans for their church, many pastors feel it is their personal responsibility, and they choose to exclude others from the process. If I told you to lose 20kg next year, you would protest, make excuses, and explain why it was too hard or unrealistic. However, if you initiated the goal and I offered to support you, your level of excitement would be noticeably higher.

Right now, many pastors are reading this with the usual objections. I will address the objections in more detail during a future blog, but now that I have your attention, let’s fast forward with suggestions, for those who might choose to involve others.

Where do you start?

I suggest that you meet with a cross-section of members from your congregation and also people in your community. How many city majors have ever been asked “How can our church bless this city?” You should consider talking with business owners, parents, singles, youth, children’s ministers, and any other significant groups in your church or city. You could meet with people one to one, or in small groups. Potentially, all members can be given the opportunity to share their ideas through surveys, or by talking with group leaders. You might also discover that if you combine a planning session with prayer, and use an outside facilitator, that a greater flow of ideas can happen within a larger group setting. How does your church involve others in yearly planning? Share your experiences with us.

2. A focus on numerical growth rather than church health
When leaders set goals, they will often look through last years attendance figures, and then increase the numbers to represent a step of faith. If last years average Sunday attendance was 100, they might believe for 120 this year. If there were three baptisms last year, they might believe for four baptisms this year. If there were four home fellowship groups last year, they might aim for five this coming year. While there is nothing wrong with numerical growth, a better approach is to focus on improving the health of the church, because healthy churches are always growing churches.

There are many elements that contribute toward a healthy growing church. I would recommend downloading the Church Excellence Framework which is FREE, and outlines biblical principles that contribute to a church’s health. An example of a goal that focuses on the health of a church could be: “By April this year, we will improve the quality of the discipleship process, by teaching people how to share their faith”. How the teaching takes place is another discussion, but I suggest that is a far more effective goal than just announcing your desire to see twice as many people in church.

3. Not addressing the most urgent need
If you own an indoor plant, you could set a goal to water it everyday, place it in an expensive pot, and fertilize it once a month, but if the most important need was more sunlight, the plant would still die. Churches are very much the same. Every church has things they do well, and things they do poorly. A church might have 50 different goals, but if they don’t address the biggest need, they will still fail to grow. One of the reasons pastors dislike ‘church growth’ material, is that it often exposes their weaknesses, and no one enjoys their “apparent” failures being exposed. Completing a questionnaire and discovering a list of 100 changes you need to make, can be very confronting, and it’s much easier to toss the results in the bin, and create an excuse to stay the same.

The most liberating advice I can offer, is to focus on one thing at a time. If you look around your back yard, you will often see plants that are totally neglected but still living. What keeps them alive? They continue to survive because they have the minimum requirements to support life. If you give any plant water, soil, and sunlight, usually it will grow to some extent. However, if you were to take a soil sample, and add the minerals that the soil was lacking, you would see an explosion of growth. Your church is no different. If you continue addressing the weakest areas over a long enough period of time, you will experience growth. (Jn 15:2; 1 Cor 3:6; Act 6:1-5)

4. Setting comfortable goals rather than confronting the root issues
The Church Excellence Framework can help you identify the most urgent needs, but it still requires brutal honestly. Sometimes the most urgent needs get swept under the carpet because it is too uncomfortable to deal with them. The most uncomfortable areas to address, always involve people. Negative communication between staff, the way leaders communicate, and the way things are organised, are all very common issues in any group. In a previous role, I worked with businesses that often had great facilities, the best equipment, good staff, but very poor communication processes. As a result, the businesses failed to be as productive as they could have been. Bad communication was costing them thousands of dollars a year in lost productivity, but instead of addressing the problem, the senior management often made excuses, defending their own behaviour, and chosing to blame other things.

Addressing the uncomfortable areas is very confronting. Churches are often much more willing to focus their energy and budget toward updating equipment, redecorating the mothers’ room, or other cosmetic changes, instead of addressing problems that involve people. Maybe it’s time to get honest with how things are, invest time into growing as a leader, work on communication problems, and restructure the way you organise things in your growth

5. Neglecting organisational goals in preference to spiritually related goals
Some churches focus more on goals with a direct “spiritual” focus such as weekly prayer meetings, weekly days of fasting, and monthly worship nights. Other churches tend to focus on organisational goals such as building and equipment upgrades, leadership training and discipleship courses. Fasting, discipleship courses, buildings and prayer are all good. The point is to assess whether your church needs a greater balance between organisational and spiritual activities. Jesus withdrew and spent time on the mountain in prayer, but he also sent out the seventy in groups of two. Somewhere in the process, there were 35 groups that were organised and sent to various locations across the countryside. Jesus understood that both organisation and spiritual dynamics are needed to grow the kingdom of God. (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 10:1)

Can anyone relate to the five mistakes I have listed? Is there one particular mistake that your church is currently making? Share your experiences with us.

To review the studies and find out why we have concluded these things you will need to see the notes which are available by contacting us.

Please also share our blog to allow others to consider – we need everyone, not just leaders, to play their part in building a church that others want to come to.

Peter Sewell has over 25 years of ministry experience, training church leadership teams, business and government leaders, and community groups. He is a passionate supporter of the local church and served as an associate pastor for 15 years. During this time he was involved in planting new churches, and coordinating cell groups, pastoral care, and discipleship. He has qualifications in biblical studies, business, counselling, coaching, and adult education, and is currently involved in training future leaders across Europe.

Copyright 2015 Peter Sewell Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

People’s stories of their experience in church 

From the CEO of Church Excellence Framework

These are the stories of real people and their experience of church. It will make you think!!!

Annette’s Story (changed name )

I had a great start to my Christian walk with lots of one-on-one discipling, love, people helping me find my spiritual gifts and then encouraging me to take a part in using them. I was encouraged to study the bible and apply it and understand about evangelism and constantly be encouraged to think who am I reaching out to and discipling. But having moved area my experiences in church went downhill from there, being subjected to little support in applying my gifts or people knowing where I felt called , suspicion or just lack of interest. I was only offered a sermon and a small group which was often more preaching or a DVD. I had little opportunity to build quality relationships as most was content orientated. If we set something up as a ministry it often did not get the support from top leaders and so often fizzled. I kept believing there was a different form out there but each one focused on one thing whereas I wanted all the aspects that I found in the bible. I wanted to pray with my leaders, be encouraged to evangelize in the workplace, help them find my gifts and provide an opportunity for mentoring / coaching that would have kept me engaged. I also wanted leaders of departments to serve the bigger need by bringing in others not taking control of their dept in the way that suited them. I wanted the church to share clearly where it felt God was leading us in the next year and what is what seeking to achieve in more detail than broad mission statements ( not keep that hidden to avoid accountability)  and to place more emphasis round people development  I still believe church can provide all this and with a lot of quick changes we can bring it back to more of a biblical model .  I don’t know how much more I can stand from what I see in church today. I love God passionately and want to see leaders understand there are lots of us who feel this way and to understand it is their responsibility to change something.

Andrew’s Story (name changed)

I have been a Christian over 30 years  with a short spell in ministry. Most of my career has been in a secular sphere where I rose to the highest level affording me the privilege to choose not to work. My church experience has left me disengaged with the church. I honestly believe business works in a more honoring and trusting way than any church I have been to. In business a new starter is quickly brought in, trusted and past experience valued and sought. Roles are given appropriate to the person and individual development plans created. Feedback and coaching are the norm. Now, I am not so naive as to say all business is like that , but I do wish the church would have honored me in that way . We have a great god who wants us to show more to the world of his love and transforming power.

 Life outside the church –Richard’s story

It’s a long story but in 2008 after twenty-three years of pastoral ministry, I unexpectedly found myself working in the community development sector of local government. In Council, my institutionalised church mind was stretched as I observed God’s work in the world being implemented by agencies other than the church through the development and delivery of policies anBUILDING A Church that is relevant for future generationsd programs that were contributing to a more just, equitable and livable society. Up until then, I’d seen the church as the sole facilitator of the missio Dei (the mission of God).

The change in career also ushered me into the long forgotten world of the congregation member. Gracing the pews was a disconcerting experience. I was alarmed to find how disempowering, uninspiring and theologically inept the average church service could be when you weren’t the leader. I regularly found myself saying to my wife , “Please tell me we didn’t do this to people”. Disillusioned, I stopped attending church as I’d traditionally known it.

The decision to re-engage with pastoral ministry after two years working at Council wasn’t easy. But I felt compelled to help curate a space centred around God as a relational community; somewhere inclusive in which people were given a voice; where we weren’t too quick to provide answers but gave room for questions and doubt; where love was more important than everyone believing the right thing; light on programs but big on encouraging people to see themselves as carriers of God’s kingdom wherever they went.

Carey’s Story

Why I have moved away from Christian Churches.

I really believed with all my heart I am called by God to preach and teach His Word and for the last few years that has been by aim to lead a church. I volunteered countless hours in church, gave thousands to church, attend bible College and leadership programs all to head towards my dream of running a church. I now realise that none of what I had done is biblical including all the money spent within the church. I had a stirring in my heart that what I was hearing and seeing in Christian churches was not biblical and this stirring began after reading in the bible and how the early church began and I sort out to investigate more about the early church, through scripture, books and websites. Since my studies on the early church I now see that where I was heading was not at all biblical, I was heading straight into a manmade system of religion and most of which is stardom, fame and attraction to be the top preacher in town with the best looking building. Thankfully that’s not my direction anymore; to teach and preach is and we are all called to this however it will be in an Ecclesia group. I want to encourage you to read the book, Pagan Christianity by Viola and  Barna, you will read what you already know to be true in your heart.

How does contemporary preaching help us today? Are we growing spiritually or does it stagnate us?

I believe it stagnates us and stops the spiritual growth in our lives and all the evidence is in the bible to support this, and the way in which preaching is done today has not been authored by God. It all began with Pagan Christianity and then stardom preaching and buildings become popular with the reign of Constantine. Preaching today is very different from the early church it does not resemble how church was if we look through scripture.

Ecclesia is the original church, the called out ones of God who came together in a group in their houses to worship, preach, teach, exalt and encourage each other all together and there is no hierarchy of leadership. Ecclesia is all of us experience Jesus Christ together, we are each called out by God and are equal with each other, and we are each there to present our gifting from God to help grow the body which is us the believer. Everyone has an opportunity to share Christ together as we are inspired by God to talk and present Him in the group. We each are able to talk, discuss, open questions and allow the Holy Spirit to move freely, by coming together in the original form of Ecclesia we are able to grow spiritually. We are all active participants, there are no set agenda’s, no Pastor, no worship team and communion is a meal that we have together to be joyful in what Christ has done for us.

Today it seems Ecclesia is lost, we attend church like a lower ranked minister of Christ, we do not need to  be ordained or gone to bible college to be able to stand up on the stage and preach. I know I felt many times not good enough to be like the Pastor or visiting Pastors, that they are so much more blessed by God than me, you could say I looked at them like they are God. I felt I had to ask permission to speak up if the Spirit of God had laid something on my heart, and then in no way did I want to approach the front where all the super leaders are and if I did would they let me speak? I felt like everything was a Sunday motion that you go through, its ‘Super Spiritual Sunday’ I get to dress up, be god like and I tried to fit in with all the top leaders so that I can move up in the ranks. What I was seeing and being taught within my church made me feel like this, that I had to prove myself to be someone before I could get to the next level. This is exactly what Jesus came to abolish; religion a manmade system of rules and making people feel they are less in God.

I’m not being hard, I love all my Christian brothers and sisters although I don’t have to agree with what they do. Please read all about the early church and scripture so that you can fully understand how it has become a religion. Here is a little from the ‘Pagan Christianity’:

‘Is Preaching and teaching the Word of God scriptural? Yes, But the contemporary pulpit sermon is not the equivalent of the preaching and teaching that is found in the Scriptures. It cannot be found in Judaism of the Old Testament, the Ministry of Jesus or the life of the primitive church. What is more, Paul told his Greek converts that he refused to be influenced by the communication patters of his pagan contemporaries (1 Corinthians 1:17, 22, 2:1-5)….The sermon was conceived in the womb of Greek rhetoric. It was born into the Christian community when pagans-turned Christians began to bring their oratorical styles of speaking into the church’….

If you want to be part of changing this and you don’t have to be a pastor or leader to do this, check out the framework and pass it  to your leaders . Sign up for the blog by email and follow us on social media – we have lots of  practical resources to change things  # Churchlife #discipleship