Church decline: It’s spiritual

By Replant

We often look for reasons behind Church decline. It’s easy to come up with a list that looks like this:

  • An aging congregation
  • A new congregation or church plant that moves into the area
  • Shifts in the cultural landscape—people are less receptive to Christianity
  • A change in the demographics around the church
  • Refusal to change as the community changes
  • Inability to provide programming that attracts and draws people to the church.
  • Short pastoral tenure/high turnover

In part, all of these contribute to the decline a church experiences. However, underneath these challenges usually is a greater problem.

A Church’s decline is always a spiritual issueDivision: some sort of division is almost always present in a congregation that is experiencing a downturn. The principle parties may not even be alive or be members of the church—yet the impact of their lack of unity lives on. Hidden sin: it’s no surprise—yet it is surprising when you uncover hidden sins that are part of the church’s history. Hidden sin leads to spiritual strongholds, which serve as roadblocks, hindering the move of the Holy Spirit in the body. Idolatry: a simple definition of idolatry is loving anything more than you love God. The style of music, a preferred program, a favorite seat, church décor, the style of governance can all be hills that people die on—when you encounter anger in a declining church—it’s typically not because people are passionately in love with Jesus. Power Struggles: it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase; “My Church.” Some mean the church they call their spiritual home, other something entirely different. Often this phrase reveals the embedded heart attitude that the church belongs to the people, a leader or a strong family. One of the key growth points is instilling this truth: The Church belongs to Jesus—it is His Church. What other spiritual issues have you found that contribute to a Church’s decline?

Published May 1, 2015

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The Replant team of the North American Mission Board works to reverse the death and decline rate of Churches. For more information and resources on Replanting go to and follow @churchreplanter.