Does your church say ‘yes’ too much?

August 18th, 2015

The power of affirmation is well known in human relationships. In fact social scientists have identified the ideal ratio of positive to negative statements for happy and healthy marriages and work environments: it’s 5:1.

The same applies to churches. Robert Schnase, author of "Just Say Yes!" outlines critical ways individuals, systems and congregations can say yes to insure church health. As he points out, there are all kinds of ways that yes empowers growth.

But yes isn’t the only one-syllable word that creates health and happiness. Equally important is the word no. Too many yeses can spoil children … and churches. Jesus said no at key points in his life. Each no furthered and focused his ministry. In the same way, no can sharpen your ministry and inject new vitality into your leadership.

Discover if your church is suffering from too much yes and not enough no. And the four ways you can get back on track.

Saying yes to avoid hurt feelings

Does your church say yes to everything for fear of hurting feelings or offending people? Chances are this tendency means you are not actually able to affirm your vision. Or that you have no vision. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. Your activities need to line up with your vision. Otherwise, they dilute your efforts while giving the congregation the false sense that you are accomplishing something.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ ministry here. Early on in his ministry, Jesus was ministering in the Galilee, healing people and upgrading the quality of their lives. “Stay,” the people begged him, “please!” “Nope, no way, can’t stay.” Jesus replied. “I have to share this with the other towns too.” (Luke 4:40-44) That’s a paraphrase of course, but you get the idea. This no allowed him to focus his efforts, share his vision, and expand his impact. The locals wanted nothing more than to keep Jesus for themselves. Understandably so. But staying would have prevented Jesus from living his dream, and fulfilling his purpose in life. Since he couldn’t send out kingdom tweets, or Skype into the next town, he said no, laced up his sandals, threw on his backpack, and kept on going.

This no requires clarity, courage, and the willingness to disappoint or even offend people. The upside is it frees people up for ministry that matters, and aligns the church with its purpose. You can get back on track by surveying your active ministries. Weigh each one against your vision statement and against your available volunteers. See if it really advances your mission or not. If it’s just for the locals, see about re-engaging them in something with a greater return on investment. If it advances the mission but you don’t actually have the people for it, give it a rest, at least for a season. Don’t be afraid to disappoint people for the greater good.

Saying yes to reduce fear and avoid risk

Do you say yes to anxiety and fear and no to a necessary risk? One church I know of feared the potential negative impact of hosting a Spanish-speaking ministry in their building. “What if we can’t understand each other?” they worried. “What if something breaks or breaks down and we can’t solve the problem because we don’t share a common language?” Those anxieties weighed down on the church council and ultimately the pastor. This church ended up saying no. A second church opened up their doors to the ministry, and has experienced renewed vitality because of it. The first church said no to a necessary risk. The second church said no to the naysayers.

In the Gospel, Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from taking a necessary risk, one that would end up getting Jesus killed. On the surface, Peter’s concern was well-founded, laudable even. But Jesus saw through the false comfort it offered and said no, forcefully, “Get thee behind me Satan!” Jesus knew he must take the risk of moving forward. Otherwise, once again, his vision would not be fulfilled.

Where are you letting people talk you out of taking risks? It’s time to say no to the naysayers so you can take necessary risks. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Nice girls rarely make history.” In other words, too much caution takes you out of the game. So press on, trust God, and take risks to advance the cause.

Saying yes to keeping things small

Are you a “just us” church? Saying yes to keeping things all in the family? This can mean only looking toward people who share your primary ethnicity, socioeconomic status, generation, world view, educational background or even religion.

Jesus famously said no the people closest to him. His mother and brothers wanted to see him while he was holding court with his disciples. (Matthew 12:47-49) As much he loved them and as great a value as family was and is in Judaism, Jesus put them off. He was building a larger community. It incorporated Pharisees and Zealots, poor and rich, saints and sinners, friends and enemies, the exploited and the exploiters. Eventually it even incorporated Gentiles into a distinctly Jewish movement.

It’s time to look and see if you have been saying yes to subtle pressure to keep things “in house.” Time to say no to shutting out the other. Intentionally welcome gay, lesbian, and transgender persons. Begin a prison ministry. Open up your aging congregation to kids from the nearby school. Create an outreach to immigrant or refugee families. Let your building be used by other groups. Even if some of your people grumble, groan or leave, God will remain faithful.

Saying yes to everything

Do you have a hard time saying no to requests? If you can’t say no to some things, you’ll never have the time or energy to say yes to the things you are absolutely called to do. Maxie Dunnam famously said, “Not every need is a call.” Sure, people have needs, and lots of them. But there are over seven billion people and countless creatures on the planet. God has plenty of other options beside you and your congregation.

Jesus wasn’t always on. He wasn’t always available. He insisted on protecting his time to keep intact his spiritual unity with God. He took time away from teaching, healing, vision-casting and disciple-making. That’s when he went away to pray, to talk with God and maybe just to rest.

Church leader: Don’t let your heart of love bleed you dry. Or talk you into staying past your effectiveness. Take your Sabbath. Take your vacation. Take your continuing education time. Then, when the time is right, take your leave.

Each time you say no, you run the risk of sharpening your vision, calling people to greater faith, and upping your game. Yes, there may be disappointments. Yes, people may leave. Yes, you make be taking on more risk than previously. But what are we here for after all?

Rebekah Simon-Peter blogs at She is the author of "The Jew Named Jesus" and "Green Church."

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