15 Signs of a Dying Church & What to Do About It

Signs of a Dying Church Featured Image - Dead TreeIs your church dying or do you know the signs of a dying church? Many of them may be hard to spot. They could be anything from an unhealthy prayer culture, a decrease in attendance, a slowdown in giving, a decrease or stop of baptisms, a lack in community outreach, resistance to change among members, an older congregation, and much more. You, as a church leader, need to know the signs your church is in trouble, as well as how to fix the conflicts before it’s too late. We have multiple solutions outlined for you below. 

Why Do You Need to Know the Signs of a Dying Church? 

In 2019, around 4,500 churches closed. In addition, with the onset of the pandemic, churches that were already struggling began to close their doors permanently.  

Unfortunately, a clear sign that your church is dying is the need to shut your doors. Once you get to this point, there's not much you can do to fix it. You can begin to rebuild, but that will take time.  

It's essential to know the signs your church is in trouble before you are anywhere near that point. However, you don't just need the ability to understand your church is in trouble; you need to know how to fix it. 

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1. Unhealthy Prayer Culture

Philippians 4:6 tells the church to not be anxious about anything, but in everything... to present your requests to God by prayer. So, how is your church's prayer life?  

One of the clear signs of a dying church is an unhealthy prayer culture. Your church should be coming together and praying for each other and praying together. 

An unhealthy church doesn't have a sense of God's presence, so they don't prioritize prayer and those are signs your church is in trouble. Because they don't have that sense of His presence, they don't expect prayers to be answered.  

If your church doesn't have faith in God, it's either already dead or dying quickly.  

What to Do About It 

Do you have a weekly prayer meeting that members aren't attending? Do you know why they're not attending?  

Finding out the why is the most critical step you can take. From that point, you can begin to create a plan to address the concerns.  

For example, maybe the members of your church want to attend, but they don't have anyone to watch their kids. There are two potential solutions to this problem.  

The first solution is to provide child care. Have members rotate as volunteers so the same people don't miss the meeting every week.  

Another possible solution is to move the prayer meeting to the same time as a kid's program, that way, you will already have volunteers in place. The downside to this solution is that it prevents anyone working in the kid's program from attending.  

Other reasons members might not attend include: 

  • Time 
  • Feeling awkward 
  • Other commitments 

You will never be able to please everyone with a solution. But, if you can get a prayer meeting started with regular attendance, it will help. You can then move on to setting up small groups for people who can't attend the weekly prayer meeting or Sunday worship service.  

And always be on the lookout for the signs of a dying church. If the problem goes deeper, maybe to your congregation not understanding the importance of prayer, it could be time to spend some time talking about what your prayer life should look like.  

2. Attendance Is Consistently Decreasing

Empty Church - Signs of a Dying Church Blog

How has your attendance been over the past couple of years? This might be more difficult to determine with everything that has been happening with COVID.  

However, the truth is that most Americans feel comfortable going back to church at this point. Is your church's’ attendance on the rise as restrictions lift?  

If your attendance has steadily been declining and the lifted restrictions aren’t helping, this could one one of the signs your church is in trouble. 

What to Do About It 

The solution here is to find the “why.” Are people leaving the church? Are they not comfortable returning even with lifting restrictions? Do they not feel comfortable, in general? 

You can’t start improving church attendance until you know why your members are disgruntled and have stopped coming. This is a great time to check in with members you haven't seen in a while.  

Not only will that help them feel noticed and cared for, but it will give you the answers you need. You might find out that they stopped coming to church because they felt unseen. In that case, taking the time to reach out may bring them back.  

We get it; leadership is stretched thin. However, there are other solutions to helping your members feel valued. Starting by implementing small groups and other events can help ensure that every member feels like they have a place.  

3. Baptisms Aren't Happening

Whether your church believes in infant baptism or baptisms after salvation, if it isn't happening your church might be in trouble.  

If infant baptisms aren't happening, it could be because of the age of your church. If baptisms after salvation aren't occurring, it's a sign that people aren't being saved or don't understand the importance of baptism.  

What to Do About It 

If your members don't understand the importance of baptism, it's time to do some education. If baptisms aren't happening because people aren't being saved or the age of the church, you need to find solutions to those problems.  

Those are signs of a dying church, as well. 

4. People Aren't Being Saved

When was the last time you welcomed a new believer into your church? More importantly, when was the last time you shared the Gospel? 

If people aren't being saved, you need to question whether you're doing your job as a church leader when it comes to the Great Commission. 

What to Do About It 

There are a couple of solutions to this. A big one is outreach. You don't need to go knocking on doors or stand on a corner shouting the gospel, but you do need to get outside of your church bubble.  

How often does your church engage with unbelievers? If you spend all your time working for religious organizations, going to church and going to a Christian school, you're not going to have the opportunity to reach others.  

This is not about forcing your beliefs on others. It's about loving them and giving them the opportunity to see what you believe.  

Make sure your church isn't only focused on what's going on inside your doors, but also on what's going on outside.  

Are you teaching the Gospel? If you're not, that's a problem. Every week there is the potential that someone can walk in your doors and hear you preach.  

If they don't hear the Gospel, you could lose your chance.  

5. Tithes Are Decreasing

What does giving in your church look like? If you're having a hard time keeping the doors open because people aren't tithing, that’s a problem and the signs of a dying church. 

What to Do About It 

We get it; talking about money is difficult. It can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways you can start that conversation so it’s healthy.  

Teach your church about authentic stewardship and biblical tithing. Provide opportunities to give and lead by example.  

6. Age of the Congregation

Old Woman Church MemberThere's not an easy way to say this, but if your church consists of only aging members, then your church may literally die out.  

We're not saying you shouldn't value your senior members. But, the whole of your congregation shouldn't be comprised of older adults. Try to get a younger crowd in, as well.  

What to Do About It 

Signs of a dying church could mean a lack of a younger generation. If this is your church, it's time to start addressing the why. It's likely that your senior members raised their children there; why did they leave?  

Find the answer to that question, and you can start making the changes needed to build a younger generation within your church. If you're in an urban community, you could even find younger people willing to lead a youth group.  

Give the youth in your community a place to go. Many urban areas lack safe alternatives for teens, and your church can become that.  

7. Lack of Disciple Making

Are you investing in a younger generation of believers? Many people grow up in the church, but as they get older and their relationship with God is growing, they need guidance to navigate life's struggles.  

In addition, people who are new to the church need that guidance on a different level. If you're not taking the time to invest in this younger generation, you're setting your church up for failure and can be one of the signs your church is in trouble. 

Your younger members will end up going to churches that give them what they need.  

What to Do About It 

Set up a men's and women's discipleship program. Allow your members to connect with each other.  

In addition, remember that discipleship can go both ways. As your more mature members take a younger generation under their wing, they're also learning.  

You can allow your groups to come up with their own curriculum, or you can offer guidance if they're looking for something to discuss. The important part is to allow the conversations to begin.  

8. The Church isn't Serving Others

Are you having a hard time getting members to volunteer for programs like VBS, AWANA clubs or other service positions within the church? That can be signs of a dying church. If you can't get your members to fulfill these positions, your programs will die as the members who do volunteer become overworked and overwhelmed.  

What to Do About It 

Giving in the church isn't only about money. It's about time. Your heart lives where you put your time and money.  

The Bible talks about this in Matthew 6:21. The church is called to show love to each other and the community. You cannot show love without investing time.  

If this is a problem, your church might need a heart check. Where is the church investing time and money? Give your church the opportunity to serve, and then be the example.  

9. Community Involvement is Missing

Disinterested Church MemberIt can become easy to shut yourself off from the community as a church. There is often a lot of tension between the community and the church... but if there is and nothing is being done to fix it, you may be seeing signs of a dying church. 

While Christians are called to be "set apart," they're also called to love and serve others. It's important that your church isn't just a place where pious believers can go and worship.  

It also needs to be a place that invites the community in and loves them.  

What to Do About It 

Your first mission field starts in your backyard. How can you serve your community? Work with your members to find church event ideas that can help you connect with the community.  

For example, you could run a VBS program and market to the community. Send out buses to pick up kids whose parents can't bring them and have a family night where parents can come. 

Or, if your church has a gym, sponsor a youth basketball team that can practice there.  

Do you live in an urban area? Go into the community and take food to the homeless and have conversations with them.  

Make your building a place where the community feels welcomed and make your community a place where your members are connecting with and loving the people around them.  

10. Change is Resisted

Should I Stay? Should I Go? signpost with sky backgroundChange is uncomfortable but necessary. Signs of a dying church is any unwilling to change. 

However, if your church is dying, change needs to be made quickly. Are you trying to make changes and continually hitting a wall of resistance?  

That's a problem and can be one of the signs your church is in trouble. Something needs to be done.  

What to Do About It 

The key solution here is recognizing if your church is resisting change because they're stuck in the past, or if they're resisting change for valid reasons. This is an excellent time to step back and evaluate the changes you want to make 

Ask yourself if the changes are biblical and in line with the mission of your church. If the answer is yes, it's time to have some conversations with your church about the need for change. 

If the answer is no, it's time to reconsider the changes you want to make.  

11. Relationship with God Is Struggling

Crucifix of Jesus Looking Down on Church Members

It's time for a spiritual health check. Is God missing from your church? How are your members doing in their own relationship with God?  

If your church is struggling with its spiritual health, those could be signs of a dying church. You also need to do a spiritual health check when it comes to your leadership 

As leadership, you should be setting the example. If your relationship with God is struggling, you need to do something about it. This will allow you to help your members as you address the church.  

What to Do About It 

Take the time to refocus your church. Spiritual health, in part, comes down to personal time spent with God.  

However, from the pulpit, you play a significant role. It's your job as a church leader to shepherd your people. Are your teachings biblical?  

What opportunities is the church taking to help members grow in their relationship with God? As part of the solution, you can implement small groups, discipleship programs and more.  

You can also take the time to talk to your congregation about walking with God when they exit the doors every Sunday. Encourage healthy spiritual habits and ensure that there is accountability.  

12. Congregation Is Preference Driven

Are decisions made in your church because of what the congregation prefers versus a biblical reason? For example, maybe you choose not to implement modern music because a group of members would rather have an organ player or traditional hymns.  

Driving decisions based on preference limits your church. There is no reason you can't have a guitar instead of a piano lead worship. However, you do walk a fine line.  

If members don't feel comfortable with changes being made, will they stop coming? Will not making changes drive away others and keep your church from growing?  

What to Do About It 

You can't please everyone as much as you want to and doing so may lead to signs of a dying church. While some churches are big enough to hold more than one service, that's simply not the case for others.  

If your church is big enough to hold two services, try running a contemporary service and a traditional service. If that's not an option, find a compromise.  

One week, do more traditional music; the next week, do more contemporary music. You will not please everyone, but if a member stops coming to your church because their preference isn't being met, that's another conversation that needs to happen.  

13. Desire for Affirmation from People vs. God

The members of your church should be working to serve God. They do that by serving people; however, the ultimate goal should be to honor God.  

If your church members are more focused on their standing amongst people vs. God, you have a problem. There are a few obvious signs that your church is looking for affirmation from people. 

First, you do things to get a “good job” or “congratulations” from people. It's like the Pharisees that stood on the corners; they wanted affirmation from men about how holy they were. They were seeking attention, which meant that their primary goal wasn't to please God.  

Another sign is the inability to hear other people being complimented. If you hear others being praised and feel jealous, you're looking for affirmation from people. 

There's also a dangerous sign that you're looking for affirmation from people. You're focusing your sermons on what people want to hear.  

By doing that, you aren't delivering the hard truths that your church members need to hear to grow. Whether you're doing this because you're afraid of upsetting your congregation, or because you want an attaboy, this is a dangerous place to find yourself as a church.  

These are all signs of a dying church due to people vs. God. 

What to Do About It 

We're human; wanting affirmation is normal. However, it's about finding that balance.  

Your leaders need to be seeking God first. As they seek God, they can set an example. Encourage your members to serve and give not for praise but to honor God.  

You can get affirmation from other areas of your life, but your ministry should not be centered around getting affirmation. If you build your church on the things you do, it will quickly die.  

14. Your Budget is Focused Inwardly

Piggy Bank - Signs of Dying Church BlogWhere is the church spending money? A church that solely focuses on paying salaries and keeping the lights on isn't reaching out to its community.  

There may be signs of a dying church in a church that doesn't engage in outreach. 

What to Do About It 

It's time to refocus your budget. How are you using it to further missions or outreach in the community?  

As discussed above, your backyard should be your first mission field. Help your members make that possible by investing what God has given back into the Kingdom.  

For example, you could purchase a bus with showers and serve the homeless community meals, offering showers at various times in the week. You can also invest in regular church maintenance to ensure your facilities are up to par and invite the community in for events.  

15. Innovation Is Rare

New churches must be innovative. To reach people and grow, they need to come up with new ideas and events.  

However, as your church ages, it's possible that the amount your church is innovating can begin to decrease. You get stuck doing the same things repeatedly because it works.  

However, what worked today, might not work tomorrow. But, why reinvent the wheel if what you're doing is still working?  

You don't necessarily need to reinvent the whole wheel, but doing things differently will help you reach different people. Innovation is vital for the health of the church.  

What to Do About It 

If your church is constantly doing the same things, it's time to shake it up. Sit down and look at what you're doing.  

Ask yourself the following four questions: 

  1. Who are we reaching?  
  2. How are we reaching them? 
  3. Who do we want to reach?  
  4. What do we need to change?  

This will open the door to making the changes needed to draw new people in. It will allow your church to be innovative and to constantly strive to reach new people. 

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