Signs of a dying church

By Replant

Some churches are in trouble, in truth, for some it’s much worse than anyone thinks. A dying church may have money in the bank, people in the pews, kids in the classrooms and ministry events on the calendar. Yet, if you look closely and in the right places you’ll find signs that signal death and demise could be around the corner.

The Building—every church sends a message through its facilities. Your building may be clean and free of hazards but if it is decades old in appearance and amenities-every guest will immediately discern that they’ve stepped into church that may have become disconnected with its culture and time. Outdated décor demonstrates that those in charge, at worst, don’t like change or at best, may have grown satisfied with the status quo. What it most certainly says—is that the church no longer cares to be current. 

The Ministries—that one event or ministry you’ve been doing for 20 plus years was great back in the day—and it may have even helped people find Jesus, impacted your community and brought people closer to God. The Church does it because they’ve always done it. Finding Leaders and Volunteers to make it happen is a chore. Those that volunteer to serve may only do so because they feel obligated and sad that something so many loved might be cancelled.

The Budget—if you were to do a side by side comparison of the current budget with historic budgets of the past ten years you might find: a long plateau or a steady decline in the total budget. Dying churches experience a sharp or substantial decrease in ministry money for children or students. Declining Churches develop an inwardly focused trend with steady decreases in funds dedicated to impacting the community. Additionally, the per capita giving average may be steadily growing—which may not be a signal of spiritual maturity so much as the loss of a regular inflow of guests who take time to grow in their giving.

The Cultural Messages–Churches on the decline learn to speak in ways that serve to comfort their concerns instead of giving their people permission to be real and honest in their evaluation of the congregation’s condition. The following phrases are indications that your church has adopted language that keeps people from seeing life in the church as it really is:

  • We may be smaller but our people are…more mature, higher quality, more committed
  • We’re not going to “water down” our message just to reach people
  • We have a lot of faithful hardworking members
  • I hope everyone feels comfortable at our church
  • We “tried that” once and it didn’t work

The Commute: if more than 50% of the church’s members and regular attendees live more than 5 miles or 10 minutes outside the community in which the church resides you may not have a community on mission, you may have a congregation of commuters who drive to your building on Sunday to receive their preferred brand of church experience.  The Pastoral Parade: in some churches pastoral tenure and longevity are increasing—but not in troubled churches. If the congregation has had a regular succession of short pastoral tenures, even if interspersed by longer pastoral tenures, it is likely that forward progress has stalled or stopped long ago.

Churches don’t have to die, there is hope and a process that can bring new life to struggling congregations.

Published April 23, 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.