As an apostle in our Network I visit many member churches as well as “friends” of the Network churches. Sometimes I am there to minister God’s Word through preaching and prophesying. Other times I am there helping the leaders determine the health of their church and how to turn it around so that it will begin to grow again.
These behind-the-scenes apostolic consultations usually look for six signs that a church is or soon will be struggling to stay alive, active, and relevant to the community through its outreach and evangelism strategy.
Sign #1: We don’t emphasize Bible study anymore: When God’s Word is the not the foundation and the driving force of a church then the church and the people who attend it will inevitably wind up going down the wrong road. A healthy church focuses on, teaches and proclaims the Word of God in each and every activity that they pursue. A lack of deep biblical teaching is one of the most glaring signs of a struggling church.
Sign #2: We cut the outreach budget (or don’t have one): A key health indicator is how much your local church allocates to outwardly focused ministries. Struggling churches give less toward their local and overseas mission each year – less money, less prayer and fewer people. A healthy church is constantly looking for ways to impact the lives of non-believers including training programs for believers so that outreach and evangelism can be more productive and effective.
Sign #3: Our church doesn’t change with the community: Struggling churches have lost contact with the community they serve. They are ministering without context and so are not touching the heartbeat of the people they are trying to reach with the good news of salvation. If your congregation is out of touch with the changes going on in the community you are trying to serve or they are not changing with the changes in the community’s demographics then they will soon fail to minister to the needs of the people they are to be serving.
Sign #4: We don’t take risks: Regretfully, many church leaders hav been beat up or burnt out as a result of experiences in the ministry. As a result they tend to focus on maintaining the status quo and not causing waves as this way they can limit the conflict and thus the possibility of further personal wounding. Their focus should be helping their people “turn the world upside down for Jesus” but instead they are “holding down the fort” when the fort is almost empty and no one is attacking. Playing it safe is a sign of a sick church in trouble.
Sign #5: We major on the minors: One of the main signs of a struggling church is that they pour time, effort and money into programs and ministries that are making very little impact upon people’s lives. The ship is sinking and they are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. These “sacred cow” ministries need to be invited to the next Church BBQ and be done away with. Creative new programs need to be received from the heart of God that will help you to fulfill His plans and purpose for your local church.
Sign #6: We don’t have a clear discipleship plan: A struggling church does not have an answer to the new believer or the member who asks “Now what?” They have a great number of programs and activities but they do not have an intentional plan to help believers to become more like Christ. This means the back door is wide open and as many leave by the back door as are coming in the front door – sometimes more.
Healthy churches notice these six major signs as they begin to be seen in their midst and do something about them. They work through the struggle and move in a new, God-given direction.
Written by Ralph Howe – Apostles to Life Builders Network. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org The statistics behind these finding come from Sam Rainer of Rainer Research (RainerResearch.com).