Often when I hear from a pastor the church has been plateaued or in a season of decline for several years. They are often looking for answers of how they can turnaround.
I love helping churches, but there truly are no standard answers. It’s unique for every church and every situation.
The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is often not what they should do, but what they shouldn’t. I’ve seen churches make, at least what appears to me, to be an abundance of wrong decisions towards growing again.
In a future post, I’ll share some suggestions of what a church in decline should do.
7 things NOT to do when in decline:
It’s easy to blame the decline on a former pastor – or the deacons – or the senior adults – or even on the culture. I continually hear phrases such as, “If it weren’t for a few people we could probably grow again.” But the reality is, when you are in decline, this matters less than what you are going to do about it. As long as you are blaming someone or something you won’t address the real issues.
There are a multiple reasons we could probably discover – many of them true – of why a church begins to decline. You should know them, but at some point excuses only cloud our ability to move forward.
I’ve seen so many churches pretend there isn’t a problem when everyone knows there is one. If you want to grow again, you’ll have to admit there is a problem which needs addressing. (And this likely involves implementing some change.)
It seems natural when the church is in decline to expect less, but this never works. You are trying to attract new people. There is a need for more excellence, not more mediocrity to do it. You may need to lower the number of programs you offer, but never lower expectations of the ones you do.
This one has dual meanings, of course, because reducing expenses may be exactly what you need to do. The point here is to make sure you lower the right expenses. Don’t cut things which got you where you are or will get you where you need to go. You shouldn’t cut promotional or community investment dollars. The fact here is many times the expenses you may need to cut are difficult – unpopular decisions.
Too much change during a period of decline can be deadly. Too little change can be equally damaging. Panic of leadership almost always leads to panic in people trying to follow. Strive not to react too strongly either way. Don’t change everything and don’t clamp down and refuse to change anything. Renew the vision God called you to – set good, clear goals and objectives to chart a course forward – and then trust God will see you through this period.
There may be a time to quit. The fact is the church, as in the Body of Christ, is here to stay. Jesus promised that. He didn’t make the promise to every local church. Local churches close every year. But before you give up, or before you resolve church growth is for other churches – but not this one – make sure you haven’t given up too soon. In my experience, we often quit just before the breakthrough. Do all you know to do, then stay close to the heart of God, waiting for Him to bring the increase again or lead you in making harder decisions.
Check out my new Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast.