Pastors experience deep frustration and confusion when their churches stop growing.
Churches are certainly not alone when it comes to decline.
Many organisations get stuck and decline into maintenance mode and sadly even into impotence.
If that were not true we would never see new organisations starting up with the kind of frenzied activity we see every day around the globe.
What causes this decline?
Are there definitive reasons as to why churches stop growing?
What impedes healthy growth and accelerates decline?
What stops churches from growing?
7 Reasons Churches Stop Growing and Decline Into Impotence
1. Unhealthy Focus on Growth
When churches focus on growth as an end in itself they begin to obsess about numbers and focus on stats.
I’ve been in this unhealthy place.
It leads to comparison with other churches and leaders. The comparison game is most unhelpful when your church has stopped growing.
It is death to your soul as you ride the inevitable roller coaster ride of strong or poor attendance and other indicators such as people leaving.
As a consultant and coach, my focus is on church health.
While I don’t neglect growth I don’t see it as an end. Making disciples of Christ is our end goal.
I also refuse to neglect or ignore the need to grow however I recognise that every church has an optimum size. This optimum size is determined by a range of factors including demographics, leadership capacity, community connections and so on.
Karl Vaters has become the go-to small church guy. His prolific writings have been influential around the globe
His infographic shows perception can be quite different from reality when it comes to the optimum size for a church.
When churches run with the mantra of growth, growth, growth and more growth it breeds an unholy discontent with a relatively productive status. However, it’s not being enjoyed because of this wild chase after growth.
Conduct a health check on your church.
This will involve analysing key stats such as baptism numbers, attendance relative to membership, the percentage of adults serving and in small groups.
Also, check on the spiritual vitality of your key leaders. Healthy leaders will lead you to a healthy church.
2. Neglect of the Primary Mission
The primary mission that Jesus has given us is to make disciples in the context of communities of faith.
When leaders and pastors neglect this primary mission their churches are destined for decline.
There are multiple reasons why this occurs.
1. Leaders get distracted by other priorities.
2. Pastors become lazy and switch into a maintenance mode rather than pioneering again.
3. Fear of failure can rob pastors of courage and cause them to retreat from their primary mission.
4. Leaders can also lose strength through no fault of their own by ill health, tragedy or fierce opposition.
Whatever the reason, churches decline when they woefully neglect turning people into committed followers of Christ.
Step aside from the day-to-day ministry and spend time in reflection.
You can use simple reflection questions to help you refocus on your key relationships and core values.
3. Churches Stop Growing When Hospitality is Broken
I will admit to being obsessed with this aspect of church life.
I am convinced that a primary reason that churches decline into impotence is their almost legendary neglect of strangers. I have written about the multitude of reasons visitors never come back for a second visit.
The Greek word used for hospitality in the New Testament is philoxenia which literally means love of strangers.
Different New Testament writers admonish us to strengthen this aspect of Christian living yet I too often see ambivalence towards it or worse still, lip service.
Comments on my blog and Facebook posts about the care of church visitors often contain a bizarre (to me anyway!) mix of ‘you’re getting to business-like’ and ‘love doesn’t need to be organised’ themes.
I think it’s naive to think that people don’t need to be trained and assisted in turning their heartfelt desire to love people into practical realities.
Train your welcome team to use a simple Visitor Connect Card to get visitor’s contact details and follow them up in the most appropriate way for your culture.
While some churches don’t use visitor connect cards I think they are essential in growing a healthy church.
4. Irrelevance to Society
Today’s traditions were once groundbreaking, breathtaking new initiatives.
The organ once reviled as the devil’s instrument became the bastion of church worship.
Parisians once demanded that the now iconic Eiffel Tower be torn down.
We fiercely guard our traditions and remain trapped in a time warp that is increasingly marked by irrelevance and ultimately impotence.
Relevance in outward non-essentials (fashion, music, style, furniture, colours) must be coupled with traditional biblical values if we are to remain relevant and continue to see our churches grow.
I know that some people get quite upset with any focus on outward things that they see as irrelevant to true worship and following Christ. I know because of blog and social media comments I receive from folks!
However, while God looks on the outside we are designed to notice outward things and when churches neglect outward things then it sends a message of disconnect.
Audit your building. How old are the styles, colours and furniture in your facilities? What do visitors see when they come to your building?
5. Comfortable with the Status Quo
The favour of God prospers us and prosperity makes us comfortable.
As we get comfortable we realise we have more to lose so we’re less likely to ‘bet the farm.’
We minimise risk.
We cultivate our land rather than explore uncharted territory.
We pave our roads rather than forge new paths.
We till our known soil rather than plough new fields.
One of the reasons we handed our church over to next-generation leaders was to step out into new arenas of risk. We’ve discovered that Christ is faithful and will honour our faith that gives Him immense pleasure.
Take a risk. Follow the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads you into uncharted waters.
6. Are you optimized?
Churches, like individuals, like companies, can reach their optimum size.
Discovering the optimum size of your church is not an easy task because your church’s size is determined by a complex range of factors.
There’s the energy of the pastor, the demographics of the area, the sovereignty of God, the capabilities of your congregation, the recent history of your church and so on.
Some leaders think that this thought of optimization leads to fatalistic notions inducing attitudes of ‘what will be, will be.’
However, I find this concept empowers leaders to have a courageous heart and an inquiring mind as they discern their optimum size and maximise their capacity.
Discuss this point with your key leaders and consider how you can optimize your church.
7. Pastoral Leadership
I think there’s a reason Paul says God has placed in the church first of all apostles, 1 Corinthians 12:28.
Apostles carry a sense of being sent.
The word means ‘sent’ and thus the apostolic gift tends to be a ‘moving’ gift, stimulating movement and refocussing the church on her top priorities, namely evangelism and discipleship.
Pastoral and teaching styles of leadership tend to focus on shepherding and growth in wisdom.
While these two elements of the Christian life are vital I believe they should never hold first place in a church’s priorities.
Our first priority should be the mission of reaching lost people and integrating them into communities of faith.
This is exceptionally difficult for pastors who have a shepherding or teaching gift. They naturally lean towards pastoral care and godly instruction.
When I was pastoring my church I found that my natural bent towards teaching would cause to me neglect evangelism.
Therefore, I had to intentionally move towards evangelism to ensure our church was focused on bringing lost people to Christ and assimilating them into our community of faith.
I understand the struggle those with pastoral and teaching gifts have in focusing on evangelism but if a pastor does not model this to their congregation then they will see their church decline.
Find a pastor or leader who is gifted in an area in which you lack confidence and get them to coach you into a stronger place.
These are my 7 reasons why churches stop growing and decline into impotence.