I’ve spent some time studying church growth—and church decline. I am frequently asked, especially by pastors in declining churches, what keeps a church from growing—what causes a church to decline.
I have shared similar thoughts before, but in my observation, talking to dozens of pastors who struggle to get their church growing again, there are some common issues among them, from which I think we can all learn.
Here are five words that can keep a church from growing:
When the body begins to think “this is my church,” it will soon start operating outside the complete power and utter dependency of the rightful owner. It will then lose the Spirit’s power.
A lack of energy stagnates a church. This is not referring to worship. You can worship to your taste, but energy is a part of any movement of God. The church is the body of Christ. Don’t forget—our God is not dead—He’s alive! A church is revived and re-energized when it renews its vision. As a church grows closer to Christ, and introduces others to Christ, it create more energy for the body.
I know this in my personal life, also. If I ever lose energy for ministry, I have to get back to what God called me to do. I have to hang out with lost people—with people who are hurting—with people who need to better understand the grace of God. It energizes me.
If you can’t get excited about the Gospel, you’re not looking at Christ close enough. Anyone who can raise from the dead, forgive sins and reconcile us to God—wow, talk about exciting! When the people who regularly attend the church aren’t excited anymore, visitors aren’t likely to be either. When a body becomes comfortable, it often becomes complacent, and it loses the excitement it once had. It is then no longer attractive to outsiders.
The body needs all its members. When a few people do all the work, burnout is soon to follow. The church shouldn’t depend on paid staff to do all the work, nor should ministry be limited to those with a volunteer title of some sort. If people always have to wait for assignments to be made before people are freed to do the work of the church, over time, the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. In other words, getting more workers in the harvest means casting good visions—helping people know what the mission of the church is—and then releasing people to do the work of the church. Jesus did this—and called it discipleship. (And, told us to make disciples.)
When programs are so structured even God couldn’t introduce change—decline is imminent. Growing churches are always thinking how they can improve. The cliche is true, the message never changes, but the hearers do. Finding new ways to reach a changing culture with a Gospel that never changes is part of a growing church’s responsibility.
Obviously there are many other reasons. These are just a few I’ve observed. Whenever I work with a church in decline, I will first look for one of these areas as a solution.
Feel free to share your own experiences.
Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.