Is there any hope for our church?
Are we doomed to close the doors of this church after over a century in this community?
Those questions were two among many I received recently.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post that explained why churches are dying and declining faster today than historical norms. The article was more clinical and descriptive than hopeful and prescriptive.
I promised I would follow up with suggestions and advice. This article is that follow up.
You should read this next sentence very carefully. The solutions are not easy. In fact, they will be such a challenge that many church leaders and members will deem them impossible for their churches.
That will be a shame.
But if you are willing to make changes, to make sacrifices, and to get out of your comfort zones, there is real hope.
Allow me to explain by repeating the five challenges in the form of questions followed by my answers.
- How do we replace those who used to attend for cultural reasons? Cultural Christianity is indeed declining rapidly. People no longer feel they have to attend church just to be accepted in the community. The easier growth is gone. That means you have to reach out into the community to those who are clearly not believers. A first step might be for everyone to make a commitment to invite one person to church on one particular day (We have our own resource for this approach if you are interested. It is called “Invite Your One”). People are usually amazed how many people will attend if you simply invite them. Such a day, if done well, can be a spark for new and innovative outreach into your community.
- How do we replace the Builder generation? This older generation, born before 1946, has been intensely loyal to the institutional church. But they are declining in number rapidly. Another 13,000 Builders die every week. You might try something a bit radical. Go to the leadership of a church in your area that is reaching Millennials and Gen Xers. Ask them if they would allow two younger couples to be missionaries to your church for a year. They will offer ideas how to reach their generation. But you must be willing to listen to them and to act on many of their ideas.
- How do we replace all the people who have left to go to larger towns and cities? There is no escaping the reality that many churches are in declining communities. But I challenge you to look at the real numbers around you. With few exceptions, most small communities have hundreds of people not in church. Look at the data for your community to see how many unchurched people are near you (I like to use PerceptGroup.com to get this information). Stop the defeatist attitude. Form a prayer group to ask God to give you wisdom about Great Commission obedience. He may surprise you with His answers.
- How do we respond to the rapid transfers from our church? People are less likely to stick with a church due to institutional loyalty than in the past. Here is a painful exercise to consider. Select a few of your church members to meet with everyone who left your church for another in the community the past two years. Ask them why they left. Then consider what your church can do differently to keep people in the church.
- How do we respond more quickly to the changes all around us? Let go of your personal preferences. Stop fighting over issues such as music style, times of worship, dress codes, and others. Talk to leaders and members of other churches that have embraced change without compromising doctrine. Be willing to let go of your agenda and see what God will do.
I told you these are not easy solutions. But, if your church is one that is experiencing a greater rate of decline, something must change. Be prayerful. Be courageous. And be obedient.