Sometimes in church life, decline is not a topic of discussion that pastors or even church members want to discuss. It adds a dark feeling to the conversation, because decline is not the intent or desire of any member or church leader. No one wakes up each day stating “I love that my church is declining. I cannot wait to discuss the decline of our church with other people.” This is not the intent of any church leader or member which is why I believe many churches are unaware that they are in decline. If you are unsure where your church is at, I would encourage you to evaluate it, and have discussions about it. This is the first step to change.
So, here are the signs that I have noticed in my brief study of churches:
- Prayer is a low priority – When prayer becomes a low priority, the church is in decline. Everything should be prayed over. Prayer meetings should be a regular part of the church’s calendar. The staff should be actively praying together. One writer says that “a church that makes prayer a low priority makes God a low priority.”
- College students are leaving – One may argue that this is churches across the board, and I would tend to agree, but if the dropout rate of college students is great, I would encourage you to evaluate what needs to change to engage more college students. They are the future of your church.
- Decisions are made to please the older members – Every church must consider the counsel of the elderly. This is not just a thought, but a Biblical mandate, but if each decision you make is to appease the older generation, your church is in decline. This includes decisions upon standards of the environment of the church, technology, music style, and outreach. There is coming a day when the people you are pleasing will be gone, and if you have not made decisions to engage the younger generation, they will all be gone by the time you realize you need to engage them.
- There are few outreach minded events on the calendar – If your budget is spent predominantly on the church members, your church may be in decline. The church needs to start intentionally planning its budget and its calendar to reach their city.
- The church is afraid to give leadership to the Youth – When I say youth, I am talking about teens, college students, and young adults. If the average age of your deacon board is 50+, your church is likely in decline because that states that you do not value the opinion of your young families. Look at the age of your staff, your deacons, your Sunday school teachers, etc. This will immediately tell you whose opinions you value most.
So, where does a church go from here if they find themselves in decline? Although these are necessary signs to evaluate, they provide little value. Let me encourage churches who find themselves in decline to slowly make the necessary steps in order to change its culture from decline to on the rise. These steps may include to engage some younger families in a leadership role. It may be to higher a new innovative staff member. A sermon series may birth out of these steps. Some programs need to stop and some need to be added. Maybe a step is opening up your calendar for some outreach minded events. Whatever it is, do not die a slow death, but seek to make your church rise instead of decline.