One Observation of Declining Churches

I’ve worked with a number of churches in decline. One thing I’ve noticed that is fairly consistent among declining churches is what they do once they realize they are in decline. (The same is true of other organizations, BTW.)

They dig their heels into the tradition that got them where they are today.

They go back to what’s comfortable. They resist any changes in what they’ve done before, hoping to avert future decline.

They do what they feel they can trust. They refuse to try anything new. They stop dreaming. They quit taking risks.

Afraid of losing everything, they go back to what they know best. It seems to make sense I suppose, but in the meantime, ironically, they perpetuate the problem and face further decline.

In fact, they resist walking by faith, defaulting to walk by sight.

I wonder…

Could the best thing to do during a period of decline be to introduce change?

Would trying something new make more sense?

Would a fresh dose of exploring new territory faith-building be more appropriate?

What do you think?

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27 thoughts on “One Observation of Declining Churches

  1. The original church of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem consisted of two buildings east of the rock of Calvary was a basilica (the Martyrium), and west of the rock was the rotunda (the Anastasis) housing the tomb of Jesus.

  2. Marshall Goldsmith wrote an excellent book on personal growth called, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." How true it is for intentional collections of individuals like church bodies. The common scotoma of life and institutions is the fear, the unwillingness and ultimately the failing to change. God's love and the Word is a constant. EVERYTHING else needs to be on the table. A flexible church with it's root in God's love and the Word is all we need to serve others. Our sense of stability as a church body has to be rooted in relationships, not in tradition.

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  4. I feel that whenever there is a decline, it is important to address the root cause of the problem. Certain times, it could the problem of lack of creativity and innovation in the organization but some times the decline could be due to poor 'tone at the top', poor ethics culture, etc of the organization.
    Hence, it all depends. Trying something new could work or even after trying something new , we can fail.
    I believe the key lies in addressing the root cause of the current malaise in the organization.

  5. Great thought, just what I needed for an upcoming Trustee’s meeting. Question: how fast/big should change be?
    Twitter: _brad_gilbert_

    • I think there are lots of variables to this, so I'm not side I can answer here. But I like to think change in terms such as immediate, short, and long range; free and cost based. And then for every major ministry area.Get volunteers for each area to brainstorm about changes.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  6. With churches, and probably most organizations, even the military (Naval Intelligence in case you wonder), its all about the mission. Missions change and we find ourselves continuing to prepare for battles that have already been won or missions already accomplished. NEXT, its always about where we are going NEXT; where are we right now?, and plotting that strategy. my 2 cents worth from the land of fruits and nuts;(Berkeley of course)

  7. same thing happens with the business world too. Leaders become Managers and change doesn't occur and the business gets left behind. See Blockbuster for a perfect example. They could, and should, have been Netflix but they chose to wait and see, now they are closing doors and will be a thing of the past within a few years.

  8. Great post as usual! Do I need your permission to print this post and make it our bulletin cover? (yes, we’re still printing bulletins, but that’s a separate discussion) Or would the lack of subtlety push me into deeper waters?

  9. I think you are on the money. I have seen it; been a part of one or two. I think many churches have adopted the "dance with the one that brung you" mentality in their decline. Most often don't you think many of them go back because they never left? They are afraid of change and so in an effort to be "faithful to the cause" they dig their heels in (as you say).