Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian resources has recently written a series of helpful posts on how to identify whether or not a local church is sick (here)and then what it will take to see her become healthy once again (here).
Thom estimates that about 40% of churches in America are in the very sick stage, which is one stage away from dying.
The following are the indicators to tell if a church is very sick:
- Significant numerical decline over the past ten to twenty years. Most of the time we measure worship attendance for this metric.
- Prolonged times of apathy. Occasional times of intense conflict. The church seems more apathetic than anything else, but conflict can arise with surprising intensity.
- The church is not known in the community. Ask a clerk at a store in the community. You may be surprised how few even know the church exists.
- New members are rare. The exodus clearly exceeds the inflow.
- Revolving door of pastors. Frustration and conflict limit the years of pastoral tenure.
- The “good old days” are typically twenty or more years in the past. There has been a long season since anyone felt really good about the church.
- The church must admit and confess its dire need. Most churches move toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Sometimes a single leader will be used of God to move the church in this positive direction.
- The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary. The change will not be easy. Many will resist it.
- The church must be willing to change radically. Frankly, this point is usually the point of greatest resistance. The church has to change decades of cumulative problem behaviors in a very short time.
- That change must lead to action and an outward focus. When a church begins to act positively with this radical change, it has essentially become a new church. It is not the church of old that refused to change and move forward.