Six Stages of a Dying Church

The problem is not a shortage of people. The problem is a shortage of courage, commitment, and sacrifice.

Recalibration. There is a sense that something’s wrong in the church, so the church responds in one of two ways. Do more of what we are doing that has proven ineffective. Or, secondly, seek a “magic bullet” program, emphasis, or new pastor. The church does not really want to change; it just thinks it needs an adjustment.

 

It’s not a pleasant topic.

But if we don’t talk about dying churches, we will act like there are no problems. As I wrote in Breakout Churches, the first stage for any church to reverse negative trends is awareness or, stated another way, confronting the brutal realities.

Somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 churches in America will close their doors in the next year. And many of them die because they refuse to recognize problems before they became irreversible.

So, it is with both sorrow and great love for local churches that I share a pattern that is increasingly common. I call it “the six stages of a dying church.”

  1. Denial. The church is declining numerically, but no one seems concerned. Fewer people are reached with the gospel, but no alarm sounds. The church’s impact on the community is negligible, but life continues in the church like nothing has happened.
  2. Recalibration. There is a sense that something’s wrong in the church, so the church responds in one of two ways. Do more of what we are doing that has proven ineffective. Or, secondly, seek a “magic bullet” program, emphasis, or new pastor. The church does not really want to change; it just thinks it needs an adjustment.
  3. Anger. Church leaders and members begin to recognize that the magic bullet did not reverse the negative trends, so they deflect the blame. It’s the denomination’s fault. It’s those young people who don’t respect the way we’ve always done it. It’s the messed-up culture. It’s the people in our community who stopped attending churches. The anger in these churches is palpable.

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