Mountains of debt, significantly plummeting church attendance and membership, and uninspired members: fundamental signs your church is in decline or failing. Do the members of your church have nostalgia for “the good old days” instead of enjoying the present and looking forward to the future? Unfortunately, too many church leaders are unwilling to engage honestly with serious issues and questions about their ministries. If in the past a church had great attendance, a constantly burgeoning membership, and limited to no indebtedness, and those phenomena are no longer in place, the leaders of the church must be candid in their approach to resolving these problems. Pretending like problems don’t exist in your church will further exacerbate them. The purpose of this piece is to offer 10 reasons your church could be in decline or failing.
- Envy present at all levels. When church leaders are envious and they refuse to address envy among their members, this leads to damaging disunity in their churches. Your church will never grow and experience success when its leaders and membership are dominated by a spirit of envy. Although you might claim that the power of the Holy Spirit is flowing powerfully in your church, you’re being dishonest when envy is highly prevalent in your church. The pastor of your church has to check his or her own envy and promote a spirit of unity among the membership. When people are more talented and anointed to do sundry tasks than you, provide loving support for them and don’t undermine them.
- The pastor is a manager instead of a leader. If your pastor has to have his or her fingerprints on everything, he or she is simply a tyrant. In various religious communities, we’re too quick to call someone a leader simply because he or she is occupying a position. A pastor who micromanages every aspect of the church’s affairs is a manager—not a leader. An effective pastor delegates authority and responsibility to other leaders and members of his or her church, and he or she trusts them to accomplish what needs executing; he or she does not supervise every detail of their work. People should feel comfortable operating in their gift without fear of receiving a negative critique or unnecessary requests from him or her to modify their work.
- Too many messy people. Messy pastors, church leaders, and members are the ultimate destruction of churches. Pastors and church leaders should be working to resolve messiness in the church and not participate in the messiness themselves. What are some of the ways in which a pastor can be messy, you ask? One way is for him or her to sit at home with members of his or her family and plot the undermining of certain individuals they don’t support. Another way a pastor can be messy is to pick and choose “favorites” in the church and believe anything those favorites run and tell him or her. Finally, one of the most damaging ways in which a pastor can be messy is to use his or her sermons as vehicles to attack those members he or she has problems with and to galvanize support from other leaders and members to join him or her in opposing those members. Too many churches have people who are committed to gossiping about members of their own churches, and this results in breakdowns in communication and relationships, envy, disengagement, and a dearth of productivity.
- The pastor selects “favorites.” Everyone in your church should be valued and feel valued. There shouldn’t be a class system within a church where “the favorites” rule as elites and everyone else is powerless and voiceless. What would Jesus do? Treat everyone the same.
- Too much emphasis on giving money. While it takes money to have a successful church and do effective ministry, members shouldn’t be bombarded with unremitting discourse about giving money. If your church really has something great to offer, then people will give liberally without relentless requests for and talks about money. Too many pastors are so focused on money that they have turned Jesus into a footnote and afterthought in their churches. Jesus should always be put in first place. When you put Jesus in first place, He will bless your church and abundantly supply you with money.
- A lack of focus on serious evangelism. Incessant focusing on money in many churches has led to soul-winning not being a top priority. Many church leaders will say that soul-winning is their top priority—only to turn immediately to soliciting money again. If you want your church to grow, you have to make a real commitment to winning souls for Christ. The money your church needs is found outside of the church: the lost souls who need to come to Christ are the additional sources of money. You cannot continue to ask for money from the same people already in your church; recruit new members through evangelism. Want a successful church? Have a church without borders—don’t remain stuck in the four walls of your building.
- The absence of the Gospel of Grace. One of the most frustrating phenomena about most churches is their pastors are still teaching, preaching, and witnessing as if the Mosaic and Levitical Laws are still in effect. Pastors, Jesus didn’t die on the Cross to grant you the right to lord your authority over people. Jesus died on the Cross to empower people with freedom and power through Him. Unfortunately, too many pastors are afraid to teach and preach about grace in a comprehensive way because they know this will mean that they will have to surrender their micro-managing control over their members. The New Covenant is not about subjecting one’s self to a bunch of rules and regulations; it’s about receiving God’s agape love and being empowered through the grace of Christ. When your pastor refuses to engage deeply with grace, he or she is simply a control-freak! The absence of the Gospel of Grace results in church members believing in their own performances instead of believing in what Jesus has already done at the Cross. Right believing produces right living—not vice versa.
- Not enough focus on teaching and studying the Bible. It seems that all many preachers want to do is scream, holler, and speak in tongues. What about imparting the Word of God, though? It’s a close and consistent study of the Word of God that brings deliverance, prosperity, healing, joy, peace, happiness, love, and etc. to people—not your screaming, hollering, speaking in tongues, requests for money, rules, regulations, and “good advice.” Unfortunately, too many pastors aren’t equipped to teach the bible properly. Many lack the necessary intellectual aptitude to teach the bible so they just attack those who are educated and say that “the Holy Ghost will reveal all things” as cheap cop out for their inability to rightly divide the Word of Truth. A pastor and his or her congregation can only progress successfully through the regenerating washing of the Word of God. Instead of having all of these revivals and “tarry services,” start having more Word of God revivals where a close study of the bible occurs. You can always identify a pastor does not really know much about the bible when he or she turns Bible Study into regular Sunday service—where testimony, singing, and non-scriptural focused discourse are placed at the forefront over teaching and studying the Word of God.
- A lack of meaningful innovation. Although all change is not good change, numerous churches across the nation are declining or failing because they refuse to discontinue their useless traditions. This does not mean that they need to fuse secular phenomena into their church services and practices, but your churches shouldn’t suffer from routinization. Church leaders should listen closely to members about new ideas, and they should observe successful practices and programs of other churches and implement them.
- Jesus isn’t being made the top priority. Too many churches aren’t being governed by the dominant principle of Jesus being in first place in all matters. When this governing principle is absent, churches continue to decline and inevitably fail. In every decision that one makes in your church, there should always be a focus on how the decision reflects Jesus being put in first place.
Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison