5 reasons a shrinking church may be a good thing
Not all church decline is bad.
If there is something all pastors and churches will agree on it is this: nobody wants their church to decline. Nobody. The SBC’s primary way of measuring the condition of local churches is by this tri-fold rubric: Growing. Plateau. Decline. The declining church is always seen as bad. There are typically legitimate reasons for concern when a church declines in its finances and number of people.
And yet, as I have watched our local church cycle through growth, plateau, and decline several times in the last 15 years, I have learned there are some good, healthy, and exciting ways God shows to be at work in a church through decline.
I want to challenge this common way to evaluate local churches with five reasons we want a church to decline, a reality that demonstrates health and life, not dysfunction and death:
- Your church sends missionaries to the field.
- Your church places pastors in other local churches.
- Divisive or unconverted members leave.
- Members relocate to improve their family situation.
- Members leave to help plant or revitalize a church.
In the last 12 months, we have experienced all five of these realities.
Our small and simple church of 75 members in the south end of Louisville has, in the past year, send out one couple to the mission field. We have placed four men as pastors in local churches who were trained, affirmed, and sent by our church. A divisive family left. We have watched a beloved family relocate to be near aging parents and to move into a better job situation.
A family left to go and help support a pastor in a dying church. Another family went out to help a church plant. Although we have gained some families this last year, they have not equaled all these losses—good losses, all of them.
Even as I write this, we are about to report to our local association that we have less members and attendance now than we did last year.
You’ll be just fine
We have less money for our budget that is requiring some tough cuts to come for next year’s budget. We are a declining church. But, don’t worry about us. Don’t panic. If you are declining for these reasons, your church will be fine. In fact, our members feel we have a lot to celebrate. We will celebrate as we wait for God to send others to us to replenish our laborers and resources, just as he always has in previous seasons of decline for these same reasons.
So, is a declining church bad? Sometimes. But not all the time. Pastors, look for the evidences of church health, not church numeric growth. They are not always the same.