How Many Churches Are Dying?

I get this question a lot: Of the 63 churches you work with, how many won’t be around in five to ten years?  I was asked this again yesterday as a matter of fact. I have heard lots of people make predictions about the percentage of churches in America that will be dead in five years. What I have found is that the answer just isn’t that neat. Churches have an amazing ability to stay on life support for years as long as there is money in the bank. They tend to die very slowly.

Perhaps a better question is: How many churches are on a trajectory that will, if not reversed, eventually lead to their death? I can answer that question with more confidence. As a matter of fact, a lot of churches are on that trajectory. Here are some signs that point to this path.

1. The church members cannot articulate a clear vision for the future. They may have vague notions but not a vision. Often when I ask people what their church will look like in five years I get wishes like: more young families, more children, more youth, etc. But they don’t have a clear picture of what that would look like.

2. The church members can’t articulate a specific mission or purpose. They often answer “to spread the gospel”, or “to grow God’s Kingdom” or “to reach our community”. But nothing they do matches these vague concepts. In reality, for many people the mission of their church is to hang in there long enough to bury them. That sounds harsh, but there is some truth in it.

3. The church members cannot point to young leaders who are being developed to step into leadership roles in their church. There is no process or plan to develop the next generation of leaders. Often they will say, “I wish we had some young people to develop”. But, the reality is that even when they had young people they didn’t have a process for training them up to lead.

4. The church is surviving off of the past. As I mentioned, a lot of churches will keep on doing the same thing the same way as long as they can pay the bills. There is no sense of urgency. And, by the time things do get urgent they have depleted the resources that could help them make a turn around.

I really like a concept I read from Will Mancini about how churches look at the future The concept can be illustrated like this:

Most churches that are declining are in quadrant#1 Same Thing/Same Way.

Change will never happen in that quadrant. In fact, the only church that should operate in this quadrant is the one that is successfully growing. And even then, you can’t stay there forever. Stay tuned for more about this in another post.