The Perfect Storm That is Resulting in Declining Churches

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We have had our fair share of rain over the last 24 hours here in Saint Petersburg. Hurricane Isaac has passed to our west and the bands of rain keep sweeping over us. We are getting cycles of rain and sun over and over this morning. That is how church life seems to go as well. There are times of sunshine and there are times the storms sweep over us. We have to be reminded that the storms are only temporary and manageable. It is important that we learn how to survive them and grown from them. There is a perfect storm brewing that is resulting in the shuttering of doors in churches across America and the numbers declining in many, many more. Here are the ingredients of our decline:”

  1. Death: The older generation of Christians is dying and they aren’t being replaced.
  2. Leaving church: There are a million reasons why people are leaving. I am not going to try to pin all of these down. This will always be the case. It is unavoidable but some of it is preventable.
  3. We aren’t reaching our own kids: – 2/3 of our kids are leaving church and faith in their young adult years. Churches are having a rough time reclaiming this group. We aren’t reaching the ones we love the most…how are we going to reach the people we aren’t even as close to as our own children?
  4. The pool of non-committed “churched” people to attract is shrinking: Eric Brown calls this the “low hanging fruit”…the fruit that is easiest to pick is getting scarce. The group of those people who we most easily relate to and could most easily attract is shrinking. We used to be able to depend on this group to provide some growth but we won’t be able to pull from this group as easily as we used to.
  5. We are having a harder time reaching non-Christians: We just seem clueless as to how to reach the unchurched. Their culture is so much different than our own that it is hard to related with them, hard to attract them and they have little interest being involved in “Organized religion.” If those who used to be involved are low hanging fruit these guys are the “higher hanging fruit”, meaning they are harder to reach without making more effort to get to them. Unfortunately it seems many of us never really had any ladders to reach them and don’t have much of a head start on finding a platform we can stand on to pick that fruit. We have to build some ladders/inroads into reaching up to that group but often there is either an unwillingness to do it or a willingness without the knowledge of how to actually reach them.
  6. Transfer growth is not kingdom growth: Transfer growth is a zero sum game. When one congregation gains via transfer growth another congregation loses numerically. This results in some congregations growing and others shrinking, even dying with no actual net gain of disciples for the kingdom.
  7. Lack of discipling: We aren’t doing a very good job of discipling the people/Christians who are already present. If we don’t have a core of disciples to bring people into and haven’t embraced discipleship as a congregation it is hard to make disciples of others.

Those seven things combine to make the perfect storm for church decline. So what are we going to do about it? I am convinced the answer has to do with developing visible inroads to disciple all people. I am going to have a followup post with some suggestions on how to tackle this. First, what do you think of those 7 things? What would you add or subtract from that list?

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