One of the things I’ve noticed over my years of consulting is that most declining churches wait until it’s almost too late to try to stop their decline. They will watch their worship attendance decline some 50-60% over a ten-year period and do nothing about it. But here’s the kicker – they won’t do anything about it until the money begins to run out. Then they call someone like me in to consult with them and show them how to save the church.
The problem now is that the income is so low that it’s hard for them to take a risk and redo everything. But unless they make a radical break from the past, they have no future. But it means throwing out almost everything they value and starting over. What are the odds they will do that? Had they contacted someone like me while they were in the beginning part of the decline they would have had time to make incremental changes over a five-year period. Now they have to make radical changes within days after the consultation in order to have any type of future. Keep in mind it takes most churches a decade to acknowledge they are in decline.
As long as they can afford staff to take care of them, they seem happy. But when they have to let most of the staff go and reduce services, they finally realize that the end is near unless they do something. I’ve always marveled at how churches can just settle in and let the church unravel. I guess it’s like everything else: instead of acknowledging the problem, they enter denial.
Perhaps it’s like the frog in the kettle of boiling water – the temperature rises so slowly no one seems to notice. That’s why I tell churches to monitor their vital signs monthly and at the first sign of decline to take action. When I was pastoring, we monitored monthly worship and small group attendance and the number of first time visitors, their percentages of joining and/or serving, and whether or not they were giving. We also monitored by department the number of children, youth, and adults. The moment we saw anything take a quarterly decline we took action. What about your church? Does it need to make a course correction now? Or will you wait till it’s too late?
Question: What do you do with your church to ensure you don’t become the frog in the kettle? Share your ideas in the Comments section below.