3 Reasons Why Churches That Were Once Great Are Now Struggling

We all know of churches that over the years have accomplished great things for Christ. These churches had great pastors who followed God’s leading and led their churches to do great things. They saw people giving their lives to Christ, they focused on helping people grow in their faith, and usually as a result, they saw their churches grow in both number and influence.

But something happened. Many of those same churches are no longer ‘great.’ In fact, many of them are struggling. Some of them no longer exist. Buildings that were once full are now practically empty. Why? What happened? What changed?

As I have informally studied a number of these scenarios (some even in my home town), there are several trends that keep reappearing. Please note that the reasons I provide are not based on any formal research, but on informal observation. However, I believe these reasons to be accurate.

1- The church stopped operating intentionally.

Early on, all of these churches were small and had to make a series of decisions that led to their growth and effectiveness. Those decisions were intentionally made to help further the mission they believe God had given their church. But over time decisions stopped being made intentionally. More attention started being given to what had been done in the past instead of what needed to be done in the present.

The “intentional” decision-making process that, in part, led to making the church great had been abandoned.

2- The church failed to adapt to the changing times.

No, I am not talking about changing the message that church preaches or even the standard of holiness to which a church holds. I am talking about things that, in a way are trivial, but because of the world in which we live, have become important.

Perhaps a few examples would help. (1) There is no denying the fact that we live in a web-driven world. You may find it strange to learn that there are still many churches who do not have a quality website. This hurts their ministry. (2) Social media is a norm in our culture. This is something that churches should be leveraging to help accomplish their mission. Many churches aren’t. (3) At one time as long as churches had a space for children, it was meeting a need – regardless of what that space looked like. That is no longer the world in which we live. If a church does not have a quality, clean, and safe children’s area, they will struggle to reach families with children.

These are not biblical issues, but are important because of the world in which we live. When churches fail to adapt in these kinds of ways to the culture in which they are ministering, they will struggle.

3- The church failed to have a plan of succession.

Perhaps the greatest failure in these churches is the failure to plan for the future – specifically in the area of leadership. Many of these churches had pastors who served faithfully for lengthy periods of time during which God blessed. However, these leaders and their churches failed to plan for the fact that their Senior Pastor would not be able to serve them forever. When the pastor retired, the church was not prepared to handle it. The result? Many times the church never recovered.

Closing Thoughts

Unfortunately, the scenarios described above happen far too frequently, but they don’t have to. Churches can determine to operate intentionally, they can pay attention to the culture in which they live, and they can plan for the future. Is it easy? Probably not. Is it necessary? For the long-term ministry effectiveness of their churches – Absolutely!

Failing To Teach & Church Decline

I have been sitting in my office this morning studying Ephesians 4:7-11 (this is the text for this Sunday’s message). I specifically have been thinking about the meaning of verse 11. Here is what it says:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.

This may not seem like that important of a verse, but there is something here that has been overlooked and perhaps neglected in the Independent Baptist movement. The grammatical structure indicates that the term ‘teachers’ is explanatory of the term “pastors (shepherds).” It is not simply a separate gifting. Perhaps this is why Paul, in writing to Timothy, says that a pastor/bishop/elder must be able to teach.

Why are so many Baptist churches drying up? Why are so many evangelical churches closing their doors? Why are so many churches accomplishing so little? Perhaps one reason is that churches have neglected teaching. Perhaps pastors have focused so much on evangelism that they have passively rejected discipleship. I am all for evangelism, but that is only one aspect of a church’s ministry.

Why are so many Baptist churches filled primarily with people over the age of fifty? Based on the conversations I have had with dozens and dozens of young adults, I believe much of it can be traced back to a lack of teaching. Many of these young adults and young couples have grown up in churches where they were never taught. They have been preached AT and told to follow the rules, but they have not been truly taught. They have questions that have remained unanswered. At times, they have even  been discouraged from asking honest questions. Many of them became frustrated and discouraged. Some even began questioning their faith.

So what is the result? They leave the church.

There must be a return to a teaching ministry. Preaching and proclaiming Truth is needed, in fact it is commanded. But that does not mean that in the proclaiming of truth teaching cannot occur. In fact, I would suggest that all biblical preaching should teach.

Too much of preaching is a performance where theatrics are praised more than Christ. In these circles, the popularity of a preacher is directly connected to his antics instead of his message. Pastors rely on their ability to persuade instead of the Spirit’s ability to draw. Quality is not judged based on loyalty to the text but on the personality of the preacher. Instead of being taught to defend biblical doctrine (which can be done), people are instructed to try and defend extra-biblical preferences (which cannot be done).

If you attend a church where all that is ever challenged is your will, there is a problem with your church’s approach to God’s Word. Churches and pastors need to be…must be focused on having a teaching ministry. Questions should be answered, doctrine should be taught, truth should be understood, exposition should be a focus, and all of the preaching and teaching should be rooted in God’s Word, not just in its general vicinity. The health of our churches are dependent upon it.