A Church At The Point Of No Return

I recently had a preliminary meeting with the staff of a church that is quickly approaching the “point of no return”. It was difficult for me to determine if they really wanted change or if they merely wanted air their frustrations. But, I decided to listen to their story. They began by telling me about their “good old days,” the average worship attendance was nearly 200. But over the last few years the church’s attendance has dropped to around 50. While they tried to maintain a positive attitude, their concern and frustration was clearly evident. The church is dying and there is no indication that the current trends will change.

Unfortunately this isn’t an uncommon story. Dave Olson’s published his findings in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. He found that 3,700 American churches close their doors every year. That equates to 71 churches closing every Sunday. And, he stated that about 2.8 million people leave the church every year. Charisma Magazine says that their survey found that nearly 1,500 ministers leave the ministry each month. What is going on?

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The History of It’s Decline
This church was started in the early 70’s and flourished for a number of years, it gradually grew to about 200 attending the worship service. The current pastor is undoubtedly a student of God’s Word, a gifted speaker and is loved by his congregation. But the church has gradually declined to its present state.

Unclear Leadership Responsibilities
During our conversation, I asked about the leadership roles and responsibilities. I found the church’s leadership roles weren’t clearly outlined. And, there was a real confusion over who was responsible to do what. There was little to no organization.

Blaming Outside Influences
When I asked about why they thought the church was not growing, they began blaming the culture. They blamed the new churches that have started, the contemporary worship styles found in other churches. And, they stated that “people just don’t really want to come to church anymore”. The more I spoke with them, the more I realized that they didn’t want to face reality or take responsibility for the church’s decline.

No Vision
I asked what they viewed as the church’s mission. I was told to “we want to see the church grow”. Which was a fairly good, but weak answer. They never indicated why they wanted to see the church grow, what they defined as growth, how they planned to work toward producing growth, or, who they were supposed to reach in the community. They have no outreach to the community and have no plans to make it happen in the future. I asked about what church life looked like for them. They said that “It’s a place where we come hear the preaching and teaching, we enjoy the singing and occasionally we have some great fellowship meals.” But, I couldn’t help but notice all the inward facing “we” statements. While this may just be a matter of semantics, taken in the context of the conversation, it was very telling.

Apathy and Conflict
The pastor remarked that the church’s finances are suffering greatly. When I inquired about the church’s business meetings, I was shocked to find that there had not been one in a very long time and none are scheduled. When I asked why that was the case. It seemed that they had previously tried to reach members with emails, in an attempt to plan the future of the church, get ideas for events and even hold a business meeting. But, these emails were not responded to or those that did said they didn’t have time for the meeting. The last meeting was unproductive at best and filled with arguing and divisiveness at its worst. When I asked why this was the case. I was told that some members were set in their ways, very contentious and that meetings often became shouting matches.

Point Of No Return
Unless there is a major work of God in the life of this church very soon they will shut the doors. And, they have no one to blame but themselves. They are opposing themselves. There is no indication at this time that it will recover.

So, what are the major reasons a church comes to the point of no return?
1. Lack of Leadership
The top reason for failure in any organization including a church is no leadership or poor leadership.
Great leadership grows great churches and poor leadership can kill any church. Poor leadership is the number one cause for church closure.
2. No Vision
This emanates from poor leadership. Solomon said that “without vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). John Maxwell in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: defines vision as “the ability to see the whole trip before leaving the dock.” Every church needs a vision statement and every member should know it, and it must guide every decision the church makes. A lack of clear vision dooms any church.
3. Internal Conflict
A recent survey of 14,000 churches and found that 75 percent of churches had major conflict in the past five years. While every churches has some conflict; it’s how it’s dealt with that matters.
The top six causes of conflict in the local church are:

  • Control issues
  • Vision/direction
  • Leadership changes
  • The pastor’s style
  • Financial problems
  • Doctrinal issues

4. Inward Focus & Lack of Evangelistic Outreach
More than half of all churches surveyed did not have a single person come to Christ within the year.

5. No Plan
For a church to have healthy growth, they must have a plan.
Vision says this is where we are going. Moses had a plan when he confronted the Egyptians. Solomon had a plan when he built the temple. Nehemiah had a plan when built the wall. God had a plan when Adam sinned in the garden. A church leadership must have a plan for healthy growth. But that’s not enough. They must put this plan in specific steps in place to achieve those goals. A church can have a plan but it must result in actually doing the work. Otherwise it’s just good intentions. Too many churches are closing their doors. God’s plan is to reach the world is through the church. The key is not church growth, but having a healthy church. Healthy churches grow. Period.

The church is the hope of the community and its God’s plan to reach the world. God wants your church to be healthy and thrive, not be self-defeating and just survive.