That’s the subject of articles authored by Thom Rainer and Alan Danielson. Here are the links: http://www.lifeway.com/pastors/2016/08/16/the-most-common-factor-in-declining-churches/ and http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-how-to/153332-alan-danielson-the-number-one-reason-churches-decline.html.
Both articles identify a common pattern among churches in decline: an inward focus, to the exclusion of an outward focus. No surprise! Here are some highlights from Rainer’s article:
“Ministries in declining churches are only for the members. Budgeted funds are used almost exclusively to meet the needs of the members. Times of worship and worship styles are geared primarily for the members. Conflict takes place when members don’t get things their way.”
“Other symptoms include very few attempts to minister to people in the church’s community. Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires. Members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, church staff, and lay leaders in the church.”
“In declining churches, any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance. The past becomes the hero. Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light. Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.”
Danielson adds: “Our churches are not here to make us (the believers) happy, meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or affirm our opinions. Our churches are here to reach people who are desperately far from God. Our churches do not exist for us. Our churches exist for the lost.”
He continues: “We need to ask ourselves some tough questions. What do I not like about my church? What if the very thing I don’t like is the thing that will reach people for Jesus? What do I love most about my church? What if the very thing I like most is the thing that is a barrier to reaching people for Christ? Am I willing to support changes I don’t like? Am I willing to lay down my preferences and opinions for the sake of people who are lost?”
“While our own desires don’t automatically contradict our mission, we must be diligent never to allow our desires to supersede the mission. What should we want more than seeing people come to faith in Christ? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Sound familiar? This syndrome is not uncommon in congregations of the national church body of which I am a member. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is no stranger to decline.
Rainer helps with words of hope: “For those of us in Christ, however, there is always hope—His hope. Times are tough in many churches. Congregations are dying every day. Many church leaders are discouraged. But we serve the God of hope. Decline does not have to be a reality.”
My additional comments are these: There are lots of moving parts in the process of transforming a declining church to a church of health and vitality, many more than can be satisfactorily covered in Perspectives articles. But do not despair. Hope comes in various ways.
If your church is declining, begin now to pray. Respectfully express to your pastor and other church leaders your concern and offer to assist. Consider encouraging him or them to take the step of reaching out to someone who might be able to help. For ideas of where to find such help, contact leaders of a healthy church. If all else fails, let me know.
It’s important to remember what Jesus said about himself: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)