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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Characteristics of a Dying Church

We look for vital signs when a person is dying. Usually something like the kidneys or one of the other major organs begins to fail. Death is just around the corner if this failure continues.

We can look at the vital signs of a church to see if it is dying. Often the signs are subtle. No one notices until it is too late. Here are some of the signs I see.

The median age of the church is getting older. The church is not getting younger people to join. There may be younger people in the church but overall the median age gets older and older. The church is in real trouble when that number goes over 35.

A church is dying when the church talks about the glory days of the past rather than their dreams about the future. They are looking backward rather than forward. This will mean that the members will do their best to preserve what they have created. It represents their glory.

A sign of impending death in many churches is the hope of doing what they are doing better in order to grow. Some things worked for growth in the past. These things do not work now. Every creation of man becomes obsolete because of either function, quality or style. If what you are doing isn't causing growth, doing it better is not likely to do so either. It is like saying: "I am going the wrong direction to get where I want to go. If I go faster I will still get where I want to go." This is crazy yet some churches will say, "We just have to do what we are doing better!" They will say that until the church disbands.

Many dying churches have created a time machine. It becomes 1955 once you walk into the church. They are doing things exactly as they did. Of course, the room fills with archeologists who are fascinated with exploring how things once were. Anyone else walks out without a reason to go back.

A dying church tells those who show up that they need to start acting like the members of the church. You need to learn our songs and our lingo. Go somewhere else if you don't want to do this. They do.

Dying churches do not pay attention to those around them. The neighborhood changes but the church stays the same. The church does not change the ministries to match that would reach the people around them. I once preached in a dying church in another country with a median age so old I was afraid some of them wouldn't make it through my message. The church worship service was at 11:00 AM as it always had been. It was well known that the average young person didn't normally wake up until 2:00 PM on Sundays. That church is dead now.

A dying church gives privileges to members and disregards the unchurched. They set up fees for non-members that church members do not have to pay. They will not allow you to come to their family life centers to play basketball unless you are sponsored by a member. They tell the non-member that he is not welcome in very subtle ways.

Dying churches are more concerned about losing a member than getting a new one. They spend an inordinate amount of time on those who demand attention rather than reaching new people. There will always be people who will demand your time. They will do so and keep you from reaching new people. The time you spend trying to keep these people happy will keep you from reaching five more. Every church is going to lose so many people every year even if they do everything right. Some people just want to change from church to church. Some people love the attention they get when they say they are going to go to another church. Growing churches have to let them go. Dying churches will lose them too but only after the damage is done.

Who is responsible for keeping the church from dying? We are, all of us who call ourselves believers. I am sure there are many other signs which will indicate that a church is dying. Sometimes the churches don't know it. Many churches will publicly say their attendance is one number while it is really another. They will not notice that they have a lower average attendance of eleven each year for the past five years. That means their attendance has fallen fifty-five people in five years but they haven't noticed it.

Let's be honest: If the church doesn't reach new people, it will die. That's not rocket science!


Anonymous said...

what do you do when you are attending a church that most of the congregation is made up of the pastors blood related relatives and you are not allowed by them to do anything for God?

Anonymous said...

Find a new church! No one should be between you and God.

Anonymous said...

I attend an incredibly small church in the SF bay area.

I have been a member of this church for about 2 years (since I moved back to the SF area).
There are about 20 people on a GOOD day in attendance. About 70% of which are over the age of 50.
I am 33 and have been (literally) the only 'younger person' at my church to 'take action' at any attempt to revive or church.

I have attempted leading youth group but , the parents lacked dedication bringing their kids. I attempted having a 'college group' bible study but, that was like pulling teeth to get ANY of the younger people to DO anything.

I currently am in the works of putting together a rock band - worship.
we had our first practice (th3e college aged people) and, it was fairly AWESOME until, after locking-up, I was walking to my car and I said "thanks guys... see you Sunday.. and then gain Monday for practice..."

The response was (in a few less words) " OH NO... I DID NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS... maybe you have time to practice every week but, I can only practice maybe once a month... we didn't agree on this..."

Now what? There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to feed us spiritually.
I absolutely LOVE our pastor but, he is in a tough position; cater his sermons to the majority of the congregation (age 65 +) and dont connect with the few younger people or, build sermons to connect with the few younger people and disappoint the older folk.

How do you build a fire under younger folk who simply dont have any life?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately if a church is not interested in reaching younger people and wants to stay a museum it will become a mausoleum. My advice my wife and I who were in a similar position couldn't serve because of nepotism. The pastors family and pets had everything locked down. We left and found a place where we do grow and serve. It was the best thing to do.