5 ways to stop the decline in your church

Dec. 26, 2016 | by Thom Rainer

The questions are so poignant and heartfelt I could hear the plaintive cries as vividly as if those who asked them were standing next to me:

  • “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.

Suggestions for change

Recently, I wrote a post that explained why churches are dying and declining faster today than historical norms. That article was more clinical and descriptive than hopeful and prescriptive.

I promised I would follow up with suggestions and advice. This blog is that follow up.

You should read this next statement 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. However, 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.

1. How do we replace those who used to attend for cultural reasons?Cultural Christianity is indeed declining rapidly. People no longer feel they must attend church to be accepted in the community. This easier form of 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 a particular day (LifeWay Christian Resources offers a resource for this approach if you are interested. It is called “Invite Your One”). People are usually amazed how many guests will attend if you simply invite them. Such a day can be a spark for innovative outreach.

2. 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 that is reaching Millennials and Gen Xers. Ask 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. You must be willing to listen and to act on many of their ideas.

3. How do we replace all thosewho 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.

4. 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 members to meet with everyone who left your church for another in the past two years. Ask why they left. Then consider what you can do differently to retain people.

5. How do we respond more quickly toallthe changes?Let go of personal preferences. Stop fighting over such issues as music style, worship times, dress codes, and others. Talk to leaders and members of other churches who have embraced change without compromising doctrine. Be willing to let go of your agenda.

Difficult solutions

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.


Topics: Church Growth, Evangelism & Outreach, Leadership, Ministry, Outreach, Vision

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.


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