Is there a church "death spiral"?

There are 9 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

I can think of a church that got started with just 11 men and a few women.  Did OK.  We need to look at attitudes and Scripture for our definition of a failing church, not raw numbers.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Jim wrote:

Under 100 in urban area

  • No desire to reach community
  • Few kids
  • Infighting

Bail out

That is dumb.  I have lived long enough to see churches like these revitalized if they got a tough-minded pastor who was willing to put in the time to see God turn the church around.  I took such a church in 1998.  After 19 years, I have buried most of the people who were in the church when I came.  They weren't bad people, just entrenched in their thinking.  We now have many young couples and children whereas when I came my wife and I were the only young couple in the church.  On most Sundays our 2 year-old son was the only child in Sunday school (preschool-high school).  After I came, a speaker at a pastor's conference described a church on the verge of closing its doors.  It was much like your description.  He was wrong!    If you came to this church today, you would never think it was the same church.  Bail-out if you don't want to put in the time and work.  The church may not turn around in 3-4 years.  But put in 20 years and you may see a miracle.  

Ron Bean's picture

I will admit that there are churches that have been revitalized. I've seen it myself. I will also say that it's the exception to the norm. 

On the other hand I know good and faithful men who have been pastoring the same dying church for sometimes 20 years. These men have prayed and poured themselves into the church and have worked until they have been physically unable to do the work anymore. The church profiles have resembled what Jim described.There was no one but the pastor involved in outreach. There were few if any children. In addition they were resistant to any change including the incorporation of new members into church leadership. 

Here's my example: _______ Church is located in a growing suburban area with a great facility and location. The church had a guaranteed yearly income from a land sale. The pastor had been there nearly 30 years and Sunday AM attendance was 10-12. The pastor began to show signs of early dementia dn the church finally encouraged him to retire. They called a new pastor with 20 years experience and a great heart for people and the ministry with the hope that "now we can really turn things around". That was nearly 5 years ago and the same handful of people are there with the symptoms that Jim describes.

Then there was _________ that was planted in a suburban area by a great pastor who went bi-vocational when his temporary support expired. 12 years after he started the church the same 4 families that started the church were still the only members.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Greg Linscott's picture

A central theme of Christianity is regeneration and new life. There are such things as "dead end churches," but God can breathe life where it seems impossible. This is a good book to read to see the possibilities of what seem like hopeless situations. Don't be fooled by the title--it's about church revitalization more than fresh planting.


Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Steve Davis's picture

Urban areas are diverse. In some cities there are neighborhood churches with stable long-term residents who would not think of leaving their neighborhood to go church. A church of 100 can be a solid ministry. Neighborhood churches may have a greater impact in their community. The pastor may need to be bi-vocational due to the economics. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of large cities. I know men starting churches that may never be self-supporting. There are few megachurches in the city except African-American. There are other neighborhoods in constant transition - like university areas. You may have under 100 but it will be different people every 2-3 years. You hae to determine what to do with them those 2-3 years before they move on. Another consideration in church planting is the unavailability of meeting space.So in many urban areas finding a space to seat more than 100 people will be a challenge. Also, many multi-ethnic, heterogeneous churches grow more slowly because many people want to be like those more like themselves. Homogeneous churches may grow more quickly. So there are many variables.Small churches can be dead. Large churches may be dead. 

Bert Perry's picture

If we are to take the Bible's statements on end times in a literal sense, with a time of falling away due to pressure, I would presume that at some point before a rapture, there will be a time when it is no longer safe or possible to meet in large churches, and believers will be forced to meet in house churches and take a page from the experience of our brothers and sisters in places like China, Cuba, and Vietnam.

So we would be forced, as it were, to find a "spiral of life" where the numerical "spiral of death" Rainer refers to is inverted.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TOvermiller's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

If we are to take the Bible's statements on end times in a literal sense, with a time of falling away due to pressure, I would presume that at some point before a rapture, there will be a time when it is no longer safe 

I shared some thoughts on the last days here previously. I initially learned this "cyclical" understanding from Dr. Layton Talbert. It overcomes the pessimistic "downward spiral" paradigm that often characterizes dispensationalists.

Thomas Overmiller
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