Why Churches Decline, Fail to Grow and Sometimes Close (Part 2)

Last week we cited some alarming data on the state of churches in America:

  • 62% have experienced either no church growth or declines in their congregations.
  • 65% have less than 100 congregants including children.
  • More than 2 million have left the church every year for the past 7 years.
  • In just 8 years the % of Americans calling themselves Christians has decreased from 78% to 70%.

We then began to discuss reasons and noted that research demonstrates and our work confirms at least 12 conditions that negatively affect attendance. We began with 4 of those reasons including:

  1. Not being united in prayer
  2. Places of conflict, gossip and judgmental attitudes, refusing to deal with sin
  3. Not friendly
  4. Do not empower their people

Now this week we’ll discuss a few more reasons.

  1. Churches are risk averse and they take forever to make decisions.

Often churches are good at organizing committees to “study something.” They talk and debate, but in the end wind up not taking any action. Often their lack of action is a direct result of their lack of faith and not seeking God’s direction. In Romans, Paul challenges us to present ourselves to God and our members to God as instruments. That implies action…not inaction.

  1. The church is unorganized, the music is poor and the services aren’t engaging.

When we first moved to town we had a variety of church experiences before we found our church home. At one church we filled out a response card but then never heard from anyone.

At another church there must have been a quarrel between the choir leader and his singers. He and three others were in the choir and he said in a rather red-faced manner, “It’s nice to see so many of our choir members sitting in the audience.” After that he violently led what was left of the choir in “Victory in Jesus.” And to top it all off, the preaching was at best mediocre.

Neither my wife nor I wanted to deal with the lack of follow-up, poor preaching or drama that we found at these churches.

  1. Domination of a few strong members.

One church was thinking about organizing a capital campaign and they were seeking our advice. As I probed, I found that some of the elders were perplexed. Evidently they had very reliable information that the pastor had been having an extramarital affair with a woman in the church. The members of their group wanted the pastor to resign his duties, but there were others representing powerful voices who wanted him to stay.

First, it surprised me that this was even an issue. Second, I told them they were not ready for any kind of campaign until they dealt with this issue. Specifically, I felt that they needed to confront the other elders with the evidence and get on the same page. Then they needed to confront the pastor with the same evidence, ask him to step down and leave the church. After that they should tell the members that he was asked to leave, “for cause”.

  1. The church is a poor steward and always on the brink of financial disaster.

Whether it’s a church, a school or a sports team, people want to be associated with a stable organization that is achieving great things. That is certainly true of a church. Churches should not only teach good stewardship they should live it and report on their actions. If churches live beyond their means and always ask for help to bail them out, something is wrong. After a while, people stop caring and they leave.

Next week we’ll look at the last 4 reasons for declining church attendance.