Declining church? Five signs you still have something to give (Chris Morton)

Monday, 16 February, 2015

Chris Morton explains why there are signs of hope, even for churches that appear to be in terminal decline.

In most areas – both rural and urban, you don't have to go very far to find a church whose 'glory days' are behind her. Many churches are declining. Churches close down all the time.

If this is happening in your church, you might be losing hope.

We serve a God who is always doing new - or shall we say 'fresh' - things.

For many churches, their story is over. Perhaps, like he says to the individual follower, God looks down and says, 'well done, good and faithful little community'. For others, there is still work to be done.

Here are five signs your church still has something to give:

You have a space

For many declining churches, their primary asset may be their building. In years past, the building may have been solely dedicated to official church activities. Today, the building lies empty for most of the week.

Have you thought creatively about how your building can be a blessing to your community?

A few options might include:

  • offer free or cheap office space to like-minded non-profit organisations and businesses;
  • open a restaurant that serves affordable food for neighbours in need;
  • share the space with a young church plant.

Many people made sacrifices of time, resources and money  to build your church's building! Pray that God will help you re-imagine its use.

You have money

Declining churches often have financial resources, either frozen or liquid. Perhaps it is time for you to redistribute what you have been given to a new generation of Jesus' followers?

My own young church community has received financial support from a declining congregation. Years ago, they sold their church building and started meeting in a home. They continue to worship God and love each other. They used the money from the sale to form a foundation that supports new church starts like our own. We couldn't do it without them!

You have pioneers

Every church has a few 'pew-sitters' who could become pioneers. Pioneers are women and men who are passionate about groups of people outside of your church. These pioneers know and love this people group, and can imagine new ways that the church could be created among them.

Look at your church again. You might have someone like these pioneers:

  • dog walkers who could share the gospel at the park;
  • bikers to 'love the hell out of people';
  • knitters to re-imagine church for those keen on handicrafts;
  • artists to minister to the creative community.

Equip these women and men for pioneer ministry, and then wait to see what God will do.

You have mentors

Perhaps your declining church is full of slightly older worshippers who have a lot of life experience to share. Personally, my life has been redefined by families that took me in and cared for me.

Young Jesus followers are in desperate need of mentors who can help them navigate relationships, business, finances, parenting and more. Sadly, many fresh expressions of church have trouble engaging different age groups.

Perhaps God has equipped your church to bless a younger generation.

You have vision

As you probably have heard, without vision, the people perish. One sign of life is that your church is still full of vision.

Vision is not the same as wistful regret. It does not mean saying, 'I wish things were different'.

Vision is not a general hope God is still at work.

Vision is a clear and definable preferable future that lines up with God's stated hopes and dreams.

An example might be a future where:

  • every person within a one mile radius of your church building is prayed for face-to-face;
  • different churches in your area team up to serve disadvantaged residents;
  • your church adopts local pioneers and church planters and cares for them in tangible ways.

Is your church declining – or even dying?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Either way, there is still some life in you.

Just imagine what God could do!

Chris Morton serves as Community Developer for Austin Mustard Seed, a new church community for North Central Austin. The original version of this article was first posted on the Fresh Expressions US blog.

Please note that comments and views may not represent those of Fresh Expressions.

Comments

I find that another sign that there is more work to be done and God has not finished with a particular church, is that new people start to attend, especially seasoned Christians who want to help to move the church forward. Such churches would do well to include these new people into their community sooner rather than later. It would be important to hear their thoughts and ideas as they have often come because they have felt a call from God to attend the little church. The Bible tells us to pray and test everything. We should not ignore the freshness that new people can bring but equally important is to make sure their call is genuine by praying and seeking God.

People matters to God than building or campground. Failure to equip the people yesterday has resulted to 'many declining churches, their primary asset may be their building. In years past, the building may have been solely dedicated to official church activities. Today, the building lies empty for most of the week.' O Lord renew your people.

I have come to Christianity, after being pagan. One thing I noticed when I left paganism is how little opportunity there is (in my area at least) to make that first move towards church. I wanted the opportunity to talk to people, and see what Christianity was before I jumped in. Sometimes a door becomes a barrier.

And the most important of these is vision. I know a church community that has all the others, but they cannot visualize any church community other than the one they grew up in. And, oh yes, LOVE. I go to a church has little space, little money, and many disabled elderly, but we have LOVE and we are growing!

We are apparently one of the few methodist churches that are statistically growing. We don't know why. We haven't done any particular recruitment drives. People just turn up on a Sunday and stay. We dont seem to have a particular vision, we just pay our way but any fundraising money we receive is given away, we have pastoral visitors (i guess similar to pioneers) but in my opinion it doesnt work/happen. We do have a space though that is well used by the community as well as the church. The only free day is a Saturday (unless booked for a party) and 2 fridays of the month. Some nights the hall is used 3 times in one evening and our other room is also used. We have an active Sunday School, youth club - one for children and one for over 18's, a holiday bible club (73 under 14's attended last year), lunch club, a coffee morning, a prayer group and a choir.
We are not perfect by a long shot and could certainly do more. We are currently discussing our building and what direction to go with it. (So far discussions have been several years long). We continue to pray for God's guidance.

Maybe the reason for your success lies in the fact that you're "not perfect by a long shot", which makes many people feel at ease...

I have to agree with you. My adult daughter went to the nearest church to her new flat but found it "too pretty'. She said everyone seemed to have it 'all together'. She found another church, not in her own denomination, further away but full of imperfect, caring people from many walks of life.

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