I recently posted 7 things NOT to do when the church is in decline. This is a companion post.
What should you do when a church is in decline?
There are no cookie-cutter solutions for reversing a church in decline. Churches have unique characteristics, because they have different people. They are different reasons which cause decline. It could be anything from poor leadership, to being locked into the traditions of men or simply a change in population in the community.
I would be considered arrogant and even hurtful to pretend to have all the answers for a church I do not know.
When I’ve worked with a church in decline I almost always give at least some of these same suggestions.
7 things TO DO when the church is in decline:
What went wrong or is going wrong? Why are less people attending? Why are new people not? Ask the hard questions. Is it programmatic, a people problem, or a Biblical issue? Perhaps your church is just plain boring?
If nothing has changed in the programs you offer in the last 10 years – I may already have your answer. But ask questions.
Ask for inside and outside opinions. This takes guts, but is critically necessary. You can’t address problems until you know them. There may be a need for an outside perspective. Recruit a “secret shopper” attendee to give you an objective look at the church. You must evaluate even if you are afraid to know the answers.
The problems are real. Don’t pretend they are not. Cause or blame is not important. Quit denying. Start owning the issues. I see too many churches avoid the issues because they are difficult – or unpopular – to address.
Find a Bible story where people of God were called to do something which didn’t involve a certain level if risk, hard work, fear or the necessity of faith.
Address major, obvious issues
If the church has “forgotten your first love” – repent. When the church holds on to bitterness and anger from the past – forgive. If walking by faith has been replaced by an abundance of structure – step out boldly. When disunity is an issue it must come together first.
If you love the traditions of men more than the commands of God – turn from sin. And if the problems involve people, don’t set out to please people- address them. Yes, this requires leadership.
Church leaders lead. And leadership takes us through the hard places to get to the best places.
Where does the church best find unity? What will everyone get excited about doing? This is many times a vision, or a moment in history that was special to everyone, or a common thread within the DNA. Find and focus attention on it.
In my experience, God will not bless a church in disunity, but churches have issues, causes or programs that everyone can get excited about and support. Working together builds enthusiasm, momentum and unity.
At some point, regardless of how drained you feel from the decline, you’ve got to come to a strategy of what to do next. It needs to be written. You need a road map of where you are going in the next season.
I’ve never personally been able to plan in great detail more than twelve months out and sometimes, especially in times of less clarity, only a few months, but you need a plan. Start with your overall vision and explore ideas of how to accomplish it again. Put some measurable goals in place to make progress – things you’ll do next week, next month, and in a few months down the road. It will hold you accountable if you have an action-oriented strategy.
Put your energy and resources where it matters most. This often involves getting back to the basics of what it takes to achieve your vision. If you are a church with a heart for missions, for example, amp up your mission efforts.
It may mean not doing things that aren’t working. They tend to drain energy and resources. Look for what is working, or has the potential to work again – the fastest, and begin to stir energy around that program or ministry. You need quick wins so the church can feel a sense of progress again.
There will be wins. You may have to look for them some days, but when they occur celebrate. Celebrate big. Remind people that God is still moving among you. Now, it should be noted, for the overly celebratory types, that you can’t celebrate everything.
If everything is wonderful – or amazing – then wonderful and amazing is really average. They need to be legitimate wins. If you celebrate mediocrity you’ll set a precedent of mediocrity. But when you see signs of heading in the right direction, make a big deal out of it.
Those are seven suggestions.
I strongly encourage you, if you want to see the church growing again – if the church yearns for health again – be intentional. Be willing to ask for help. Raise the white flag and invite honest dialogue.
The harvest is ready – the workers are few – we need you! We are losing too many churches and not planting and reviving enough. Do the hard work. Pray without ceasing. And, trust your labor will not be in vain. Praying for you.