A dying church is a sad yet increasingly common thing. When I speak of a dying church, I do not mean the body of Christ made up of all born again believers. I am speaking of the group with whom you gather and call yourself “First Baptist Church” or fill in the blank with any other name. What are signs of a dying church?
- Decreased attendance – Churches do have times of attendance fluctuation, but you want to take inventory if it continues for a long period.
- Blame-shifting – Dying churches tend to blame everyone or everything but the real problem. I hear many arrogant pastors and church members say, “People don’t come to our church because we preach the truth, and people don’t like truth.” Rarely is that the case. It is time to find the root cause rather than try to look super spiritual.
- Poor leadership – I have seen leaders stay too long or operate outside their area of giftedness. I have been that person at times. Some leaders are not happy if they cannot control things, so they will give their co-laborers minimal liberty to minister.
- Nostalgia – I filled in at a church with 6 in attendance outside my family. I was getting weekly calls about being their next pastor. When I asked one of the early members of the church about their best days, she said, “Our favorite preacher was ______.” I moved on and allowed them to focus on someone better suited for their desires.
- Spiritual neglect – Many churches have prayer, preaching, and spiritual disciplines incorporated into the services, but they do not practice them outside “the sacred hour”. No wonder there is little to no power! When people don’t share Christ and do little to nothing to grow in their faith, the church becomes anemic.
- Misplaced priorities – I encourage you to read the latest information on First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. I referenced this church in my last blog post. This church takes up nine city blocks and has been known for its iconic leadership, facilities, and programs. Well-known pastors, nice facilities, and programs will only go so far. Their attendance has declined by over half in the last 20 years, and they can barely afford to keep going. Does this sound like the proclamation of the gospel has been the priority? They realize they are distracted by upkeep that is preventing them from fulfilling God’s call.
What do you do when your church is dying?
- Repent – Ask God to reveal to your church what has been done wrong and repent. That means stop doing what you’ve been doing that has caused the problems. That could be anything from wars of music style to platform decor to power struggles. If anyone other than Christ is on the throne in your church, someone needs to be dethroned. I pray that will happen because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit. This requires some intense honesty and humility.
- Restructure – You can’t keep doing the same thing and get different results. First Baptist of Jacksonville, Florida voted to get rid of a ton of nostalgia in order to be good stewards and make the Great Commission top priority again. Your church may have 60 people meeting in a facility that seats 600. It’s a disgrace to God to continue to try to meet in such a place when you can’t pay bills, no one is coming to Christ, and all you can afford to do is come around the spiritual campfire once a week and sing “Kumbayah”. Why not sell your current facility and restructure? Rebrand? Or would you rather hold on to a building that contains memories of what used to be and die while “Titanic Church” sinks?
I believe that many of you are attending churches like what I have described. You may be the pastor of what I have described. It’s a tough place, and some people would rather see a church die as it is than to see God do a revitalizing work. Don’t let that be you! Die to your selfishness and pride! For the sake of lost souls and people who need to come back to Christ, PLEASE be selfless enough to do the right thing.