5 Ways to Reverse Church Decline

Ed Stetzer: “Sadly, many churches don’t have the guts to hear the hard things.”

If we aren’t preparing people to engage in God’s mission to the world, we are preparing them to fail in that mission.

Many leaders realize their church is plateaued or declining. Most don’t like it, but struggle with how to break the cycle. How does a church come out of the tailspin? One solution is for the church to develop an outward focus. God didn’t design churches to be healthy by only looking to ourselves and meeting our own needs.

1. Properly Define Success

The goal of a healthy church is seeing the power of Christ transform lives. That includes men and women who are without Christ, dead in their trespasses and sins, hearing the good news of the gospel and becoming followers of Christ by the grace of God.

Many churches are like a carousel. They spin around with lights and music. But when the ride stops, no one has made any progress. They leave the ride where they boarded. Our desire should be to see genuine transformation take place.

The central command of the Great Commission is to make disciples. The teaching and, therefore, the function and mission of the church must be disciple making.

Too many churches simply exist because they existed last year. That is not success. That is merely sustaining. It could be life support.

Instead, we need to know success that transforms individuals, churches and communities by and for the gospel.

2. Define Your Present Reality

Dying churches don’t seem to know they’re dying until the bank forecloses on them, and then they’re shocked. They’re shocked, but the people in the community—who’ve seen the cars in the parking lot dwindle to a handful—are not.

The people of the church don’t know how they went from healthy to dead overnight. But no church dies overnight. It’s the result of a protracted and untreated illness. A sick heart can still beat. For a while.

From Outreach Magazine  How to Create Disciple-Making Environments

Doing a few things well can achieve success, while doing many things poorly can achieve failure. Sadly, many churches don’t have the guts to hear the hard things, even if they already know the truth about themselves.

If your church hasn’t had a single community outreach project in a year, you are in decline.

If you aren’t regularly having positive, gospel conversations with people in your community, you are in decline.

If your people don’t view sports teams, civic organizations and public schools as places of ministry, you are in decline.

How often do people in declining churches sit and wonder why the community doesn’t come to their worship services? Worse yet, they blame the community for not caring about the church.

God didn’t put the world here to care about and reach out to the church. He put the church here to care about and reach out to the world. The church needs a reality check.

3. Prepare for Future Success

People in transformational churches receive on-mission training. Part of the challenge is that too many churches function with a surface-level orientation. Some leaders have no desire (or perhaps, ability) to lead and teach people to engage in God’s mission. We need to move from that surface-level orientation to intentional training.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach magazine, and a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He currently serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Naperville, Illinois.

He is also regional director for Lausanne North America, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by and writes for news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, and his national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates.