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  • Brandon Sutton

Five effects of church decline

I’ve written and spoken at length about the problem of church decline and why it is happening. But what are some of the effects? Here are five. (1) Churches are experiencing numerical decline. This is obvious, but it must be stated. One of the clearest indicators that a church is moving closer to death is that it has experienced decline for five years or more. When I say decline, I am not talking about our membership rolls. I am talking about decline at the Sunday morning worship service. The numbers continue dropping. Some will say it’s not about the numbers. I agree, it’s not all about the numbers. But numbers do represent people, and they evidence whether or not we’re making an impact for the Kingdom. (2) The church experiences a lot of friction and fighting among its leaders and members. When a church isn’t focused on doing the work of Christ, they will be focused on their own needs. And when those desires clash, fights are inevitable. How does James put it? “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2). Many sick churches fight against their pastor. They know things aren’t going well. So, they turn on their pastor. This, then, causes unrest among the members and the leadership. (3) The church has had a string of short pastoral tenures. Churches have problems so they fire and hire another pastor. They believe that will fix it. But they discourage him and he leaves and the cycle continues. When churches cannot maintain pastors for long terms, they cannot build continuity and consistency. Contrary to what many believe, long term pastoral ministries are good for church health. You won’t find many, if any, thriving churches that have had a lot of short-term pastors. Healthy, growing churches always have long term pastoral careers. (4) People stop growing and getting saved. When a church begins to decline, it’s because it is unhealthy, and unhealthy churches are composed with unhealthy Christians. The church has ceased to be a place where spiritual growth takes place. It is now a country club where members seek to get their needs met. They want their perks. The church looks more like the world. Unhealthy churches are led by unhealthy leaders; therefore, the people are oppressed spiritually. They might not even realize it, but very little spiritual growth takes place in an unhealthy church. Worst of all, people stopped getting saved in dying churches. The Spirit of God doesn’t move as powerfully as He normally would in a church that obeys. As a result, people aren’t coming to know Christ because the people have ceased to make the Great commission the primary focus of their ministry. (5) God is dishonored. Bottom line, an unhealthy church does not bring glory to God. In fact, a dying church dishonors the Lord. When a church’s facilities are run down, the people look like the world, everyone in the community knows the church is declining, God is dishonored. Why? It appears that God is not glorious and the gospel is not the power of God to save (Romans 1:16-17).

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