10 Things that Can Happen when Churches Don’t Admit and Adjust to Decline

I didn’t want to write this post, as my goal in this site is to offer ideas and encouragement for healthy church growth. Nevertheless, I’ve seen far too many churches that were once considerably larger and then went into decline, but without making any necessary adjustments to their change in size. Here are some of the things that often happen when churches don’t admit or adjust to decline:

  1. They live in denial. They live as if the church were still full, and nobody’s talking openly about the downward trend the church is facing. They’re convinced the church is just as strong and significant as it once was.
  2. They often become overstaffed. Nobody wants to cut positions even as the church declines, so nobody does. Eventually, the church has more staff than they really need to conduct ministry.
  3. Their personnel costs dominate the budget. Obviously, this one’s related to #2 above. It’s almost inevitable that personnel costs will eat up the budget if the church doesn’t make personnel adjustments.
  4. Their worship space begins to look too large. You’ve seen those buildings—the size made sense when the congregation averaged 400, but now the space seems cavernous when the church is running 100. Singing becomes almost a bunch of solos rather than corporate praise.
  5. They allow dying ministries/programs to continue. Ministries/programs often go into decline at the same rate as the church declines. When the program is ingrained in the church’s history, though, nobody wants to make the hard call about whether it still meets a need.
  6. They turn inwardly. Actually, it’s likely the decline is already the result of the congregation’s turning inwardly. As the church declines more, they cocoon themselves and get increasingly disconnected from their community.
  7. The few remaining workers get more burned out. The church continues to try to do all the things they used to do, but they have many fewer volunteers available. The remaining folks love the church, though, so they simply take on more work than they can easily do.
  8. The congregation begins to look to the past rather than to the present and the future. They live on nostalgia; that is, they “remember when” the building used to be full, the church was a significant influence in the community, and “Brother _______” was the pastor.
  9. They develop a negative attitude toward growing churches. Instead of addressing their own situation, they find it easier to tear down any congregation around them that is growing.
  10. They miss an opportunity to get outside help. Whether that potential help is denominational assistance, other local church support, or a church consultant, they don’t look to anyone who might help them. You don’t need help when you don’t see there’s a problem.

What would you add to this list?

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