Understanding why churches grow and decline is an annual topic of interest on my blog. While this post doesn’t cover all of the reasons a church declines, it’s a great overview of some of the major catalysts to church decline.
Years ago, a church started in the Phoenix east valley. This church plant grew rapidly. Helping new people meet Jesus, they became one of the first mega churches in the east valley. Eventually the pastor, under whose leadership this growth took place, left and the succession didn’t go very well. Neither did the next succession. Or the next. In fact, that church went through 18 straight years of decline until at the end of that decline they ended up merging with another church.
Today the new campus averages more than 1,000 people in weekend attendance and is helping new people meet, know and follow Jesus.
Unfortunately for most churches in decline there’s no great comeback story. Churches decline for all kinds of reasons and it’s usually more complicated than one simple decision that was made somewhere along the way.
However, church decline can be avoided and even turned around. If your church is stuck or in decline I’d encourage you to start a conversation with the Unstuck Group. They have proven track record of helping churches get unstuck. Here are a couple big reasons, in no particular order, why churches decline and die.
1. Fuzzy Vision
Vision answers the question, “Where are we going?” Vision provides everyone clarity and without clarity things slow down, or even worse people start doing what they think is right in their own eyes. One of the single most life-threatening indicators that a church is in trouble is a lack of clarity. Clarity provides a church with the power to make decisions efficiently and align the organizational components of the church to move forward. If you don’t know where you’re going, and can’t state it clearly, you’ve got no chance to get there.
2. Staff Hired to Do Ministry
When your church has a high staff to attendance ratio (at the Unstuck Group we encourage churches to staff 1:100 – that is 1 full time staff equivalent for every 100 attenders) and you’re hiring staff to do ministry instead of leading ministry by recruiting, developing and empowering volunteers to do and lead ministry your church will end up in decline.
3. No Strategic Plan
Strategy answers the question, “How are we going to get there?” Strategy fills the gap between where you are and where you want to be. It’s planning for tomorrow today. Little is more demoralizing to a church staff team than a bunch of empty inspirational talk that never materializes into real courageous action.
4. Over Reaching
My dad used to call this having, “Wine taste on a beer budget.” Over reaching and overextending the church with unsustainable decisions such as too much debt, offering too many ministry options, or starting too many things at once can cripple a church and set it back years, often times never recovering.
5. Style Worship
No, not worship style (although those battles can be tough too), style worship. When churches begin to care more about ministry programs or a style and approach to ministry than the results of the ministry they’re on their way to decline.
6. Demographic Drift
Over time it’s not uncommon for the demographics around a church to shift. This can easily be observed most commonly through age and race. Many churches choose to ignore these changes and as a result never change their approach to ministry which leads to decline every time.
7. Insider Focus
I’ve said this many times before, the most dangerous place a church can be in their life cycle is when the ministry they are doing is having a big impact with insiders (people who already know Jesus and are inside the church) but a low impact with outsiders (people who don’t know Jesus yet). It’s dangerous because it’s comfortable. It feels like things are going well and you have momentum because people are happy, they’re regularly attending, and they seem to be “all in” with what you’re doing. But if you aren’t reaching new people, your church or ministry is already moving towards unhealthiness and decline.
Posted in Leadership