One of the sad realities about being a church consultant is that too often, churches don’t realize they’re “in trouble” until it hits their bottom line.
It seems that no one seems to take too much notice when the congregation begins to age out. There’s an expectation that the older folks will relocate after they retire or that the number of funerals will increase – but no one seems to worry too much about that, because that’a a “normal” expectation.
Therefore, no one seems to notice when those “leaving” the church aren’t being replaced by new people.
- The lack of baptisms doesn’t raise a red flag.
- The waning number of visitors and returning guests goes without comment.
- And although someone might notice there are fewer children in the church, the conclusion seems to be that it’s all just a part of the slacker younger generation.
No one’s asking why. No one’s raising the alarm. And so no one makes too much noise about the shrinking worship attendance … until the church can’t make budget.
Can I let you in on a little secret? Most churches don’t panic even then. It’s not until they have to move past the memorials and start borrowing money from their permanent funds or their endowments that suddenly there’s a hue and cry over the state of the church.
And by that time, often it’s too late. The church members at that point are so used to being a part of a declining church that they’re unable to make the shift in the congregational culture to evangelism, discipleship, and growth.
I don’t know about you, but here’s my frustration and my heartache/heart break. Most churches are more concerned about their money than they are about souls. In virtually every declining church the passion for reaching the lost [the disenfranchised, the missing, the pre-Christian, the wanderer, the pagan, or whatever term you choose to use] is less important than the coffers. Running low on visitors and guests? Little to no concern. Have to tap into the memorial fund? Widespread panic ensues.
All that’s to say … pay attention to your Pocket Numbers. Keep your annual comparisons going so that you recognize trends quickly. And when you see your attendance, your baptism, your first-time visitor, and your returning guest counts begin to slip, know that THAT’S the time to take corrective action. That’s the time to make serious corrections. Indeed, THAT’s the time to hit the Panic Button. Because if you wait until the financial picture becomes the issue, you’ve waited too long (and most likely too long and too late).