If there is something all pastors and churches will agree on it is nobody wants their church to decline. Nobody. The SBC’s primary way of measuring the condition of local churches is by this 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 numbers of money and 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 5 reasons, I would argue, we want a church to decline that demonstrates health and life, not dysfunction and death:
- Send missionaries to the field.
- Place pastors in local churches.
- Divisive or unconverted members leave.
- Members relocate to better their family situation.
- Members leave to help plant or revitalize a church.
In the last 12 months, we have experienced all 5 of these realities.
Our small and simple church of 75 members in the south end of Louisville in the last year have send out one couple to the mission field. We have placed 4 men as pastors in local churches who were trained in our church, affirmed by the church, and sent from our church. A divisive family left. We have watched a beloved family relocate to be near their aging family and take a better job situation. A family left to go and help support a pastor in a dying church. Another family to help a church plant. Although we have gained some families this last year, they have not equaled all these losses.
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.
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! We will be fine. In fact, we 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 like he always has in previous seasons of decline that came for the 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.