When you go to the doctor for a check up, they take your vitals. Blood pressure, weight, pulse—all of these are indicators of health. If something is wrong or there is an illness lurking, these and other tests may point to the problem. The doctor may then prescribe a way to address the problem so that you can plan on a speedy recovery.
What about the church? How do we know if our church is sick or even worse—if it is dying? It’s not that easy to detect a potentially harmful malady in the church. Our church could be dying right in front of us, without us even realizing it. We should pay attention to the signs. Maybe we can avert an untimely church death.
Here are 6 signs that your church may be dying:
1. There is more talk of the past than of the future.
I heard a church leader say, “If we could just get things back to where they were, we would be OK.” There are a few problems with this approach. First, things will never be like they once were. It is impossible to recapture the specifics of yesteryear. Second, the answer is not found by going back in time. Reliving the “glory days” can be valuable (and it certainly is fun), but it does little to identify how the church will minister in the future. When nostalgia trumps vision, death is imminent.
2. More effort goes into keeping people than winning people.
Many pastors must go to great lengths to keep people from leaving the church. While we do not want people to leave, we must balance our time spent in member retention with bringing in new people. Here is an important point: if your church is not adding new people, it will die. The laws of attrition assure this. People pass away, they relocate, and others just leave the church. Without a pool of fresh new members coming to the church, it is a matter of time until it becomes extinct.
3. There is no budget for evangelism, outreach, missions, or advertising.
If all the money is spent on operations (building, salaries, maintenance), none is left for expansion. We can articulate how important growth is, but unless we are backing up our talk with resources, it is only talk. A church that has stopped investing in the winning of souls is in the process of dying. It has become inwardly focused and has lost sight of spiritual realities. Many times, the enemy is perceived as the church down the street rather than the devil. These churches are in trouble and are in need of divine intervention in order to avoid their looming death.
4. Everyone wants to know everyone in the “church family.”
While community is vital and close relationships are healthy for a church, the need to know everyone is a noose that is sometimes placed around the neck of a growing church. The average person is only able to relate to no more than a few dozen people. If this approach prevails, the church will be very limited in size. Perhaps unintentionally, practices will be adopted that cause newcomers to feel unwelcomed. Unwritten rules may be enacted that says that newbies must pay their dues before being accepted. The “I must know everyone in my church family” argument may sound spiritual and relational, but it can result in stagnation and strangulation for the church.
5. The church is mono-generational (relating to one single generation).
Churches that reach only one generation are missing important aspects of the family of God. Churches that focus only on older congregants will have a difficult time with this. Children’s and youth ministries are considered marginally important. Leaders in these departments are castoffs from other departments. Most churches would never admit to this. They may say, “Youth are the church of tomorrow.” The problem is that if the youth are not valued in the church of today, they will not be around to be the church of tomorrow.
6. No new leaders are being trained.
Leadership development may seem off topic, but it is not. When churches strategically train new leaders, they are expanding the foundation upon which the church can grow. In contrast, a church that is content with the current pool of leaders can’t expand. In dying churches, the pastor or key leaders do everything. This sends the message, “We got this; your help is not needed.” Wise pastors train and empower new leaders; they prepare people today for tomorrow’s growth. Investments into emerging leaders now will supply the church with sufficient structure for progress into the future. Failure to do so will doom the church.
The death of a church is extremely sad. Sometimes it cannot be avoided. But there are usually signs that reveal the problem early on. If leaders will recognize these indicators and address them effectively, most churches can be saved before it is too late. We can go from a sickly, dying church to a vibrant, healthy and productive church.