Why Are So Many Churches in Decline Today?

Empty church sanctuary

Why are so many churches in decline today? What causes decline in churches?

I believe there is more than one cause for decline and each church has its own cause(s). Some churches face decline due to apathy within the church. Others suffer from decline because of a lack or loss of vision and purpose. Speaking with church members and leaders, you will find a plethora of reasons for the decline in churches today. However, most reasons can be traced back to one or possibly two causes.

If I had to list but one cause of decline in churches, I would reach for the words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:4, “Yet, I hold this against you, you have lost your first love.”

I am not writing to condemn the church or church practices, but to encourage and to uplift the church. This verse of scripture is difficult for us to hear and accept about our own church because we are the church. But we should not stop in reading this verse alone. In the next verse Jesus gives us the cure. He says, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” Revelation 2:5 What a glorious revelation from our Lord and Savior to the people of the church at Ephesus and to you and me as part of today’s church.

Churches do not intentionally walk away from their purpose (first love). Decline is certainly not in the motives or objectives of any church. Oftentimes we get caught up in the busyness of church life to the detriment of being the church. Other times it is being the church that begins the slide.

Being versus doing requires a tender balance. Faith without works is dead so we know we are commissioned to “do.” However, we can also fall into the trap of doing and doing and doing and lose track of “being” God’s church. How is the balance in your church?

Questions church leaders can ask of their church include:

  1. What are we doing that is not directly related to one of the tenets of The Great Commission? What will it take to implement new strategies for effectiveness in fulfilling The Great Commission?
  2. Where are we caught in tradition?
  3. What do we need to let go of to allow God to move in greater ways for His Kingdom through our church?
  4. What must happen in the hearts of each member (& leader) in our church to become a more effective Great Commission church?

Portions of this article are excerpted from the introduction of Reaching the Summit: Avoiding and Reversing Decline in the Church and was first posted July 9, 2012.

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