The Top 5 Reasons Churches Are Dying (plus solutions)
In the past few years, I've visited many churches. It's apart of what I do. I come from a small sized church and it has been a blessing. Every church was small at one point. If your church is small, consider it the groundwork for major lessons. Within the past 5-6 years, I have spent more time than most 30+ year old adults learning about behind-the-scenes church/ministry work. During that time, I've seen where many traditional churches are slowly but surely seeing their numbers drift into the sunset. What worked 10-20 years ago is no longer working. We're in a digital age filled with phones, iPads, talking vehicles, and Siri.
Here are the problems I see with many churches that are slowly but surely leading to their very own demise. It's not that the Word of God isn't being preached or that you are missing great people. It's that the message isn't being creatively promoted or marketed.
Before I get started on my list, please note that I'm not saying that every church should be a mega church. However, the goal is to draw people in to experience God with a body of believers. All I'm saying is that if you have the same number of members you had last year, something is wrong. If your membership is declining, something is wrong. You may not grow to ever have 5,000 or 10,000 members. Remember, that the goal is connecting to people to your church. Do not think just because you've done a million things that everybody should know who you are. We need to make church into a God experience not our own personal experience of how we think church should go or how it has gone for centuries.
Ok. Let's get started on this list.
1. Lack of Communication to the Outside World
I'm starting to believe that many churches must use horse & buggy to contact their members and potential visitors. Many churches are using outdated software and antique ways to stay in contact with their members (adults & youth). I've seen churches who do not have a website (scary stuff). However, let's assume that you have a website, you have social media pages, and you have a competent admin who keeps your membership in a particular software program. Now, you have 5 events coming up within the next 2 weeks. You have your regular scheduled events (worship & bible study) and then you have your special events (concerts, meetings, ect.). Here is the big problem: Announcing events JUST in service is a HUGE PROBLEM! Never depend on word-of-mouth when it comes to events. You might as well put an egg underneath a dog and expect it to hatch. You have to anticipate people and how they act.
Solution: Use Email marketing programs like MailChimp (free for up to 2,000 members) or AWeber (paid) or Constant Contact (paid). Mad Mimi (free) is also another platform that your church can use. Use these email marketing programs to promote non-regular scheduled events like upcoming group meetings, concerts, special events, and more.
Solution: Social Media should be your next go-to after in-service announcements when it comes to upcoming events, classes, and more! Upcoming events even include regular things like bible study, worship services, and repetitive things like group meetings and youth gatherings.
Solution: Create engaging graphics that are social media sized (square sized-at least 1000 x 1000 with 300 DPI) for easy sharing. Creating shareable content makes it (guess what?) easy to share. People are lazy so give them less work to do when it comes to sharing things. This is why you need volunteers/staff/ect. who have an eye for graphics & design. I guarantee you that your church has at least 1-3 people who do this professionally or as a freelancer. Make sure that these announcements are also on the website. This is why you need someone in charge of web maintenance. If your site is so hard to manage that you can't even place up-to-date weekly events, work on that!
Solution: Having a team in charge of communications will help your church admin not lose their hair. If you have a smaller size church then your church admin should be fine with doing these themselves. However, it's great to keep everything within one team. Giving cross responsibilities can turn into a tangled web. Keep communications with the communications side. I've also found that it's best to train at least 2 people when it comes to things that need to be done on a regular basis just in case someone is not able to do it or is busy. Using schedule options within these e-mail marketing systems and social media platforms (new blog post coming on that!) will help your team stay organized.
Solution: Use the power of hand-held cards for sermon series that are happening. I've found that using VistaPrint's extremely affordable postcard printing has helped churches with small budgets. I've designed graphics for churches promoting their Worship Times & Days on small postcards & it worked amazingly well. Churches were able to place them outside the sanctuary for members and visitors to obtain. You can also use them for Direct Mailing campaigns.
2. Putting Personal Opinions before Passionate Purpose
Many pastors have become micro-managers of their own churches leading their leaders underneath to be choked of creativity. Pastors who don't delegate nor let their people create and enjoy serving will end up being the main reason for their church numbers to deplete. I've seen too many pastors try to approve every single detail and create loads of red tape for one thing to be approved. Pastors must learn how to effectively manage and create teams that have passion for their churches and an eye for souls. Loving God is one thing. Having a heart to understand this culture and how to reach souls strategically is another thing. Many leaders think that if they don't come up with the idea, it's worthless. Andy Stanley said the best piece of advice for pastors. During a Catalyst meeting, Andy noted that churches need people who don't always see everything as "perfect". You need people who see that your women's ministry is not growing because your leadership is not correctly organized. You need people who see that because of X this is Y young people are not flooding your church doors. It's not about just identifying problems but also having people who are knowledgeable about what actually works. If your youth ministry hasn't grown in the past 3-5 years, you may need to look at your leadership. It's not that you need to get rid of them per say. It's just that every good church should be attracting good people.
I've seen great staff, ministers, and volunteers leave churches because they felt as if they couldn't even use their gifts within the body due to pastors and leaders who wanted to control everything 24/7. "It's my way or the highway" is something that will be the death of many churches. It should be "It's God's way or the highway". God wants us to be creative and He wants us to be strategic in the placement of those gifts. So many people are scared that people will takeover their positions because truly those people aren't doing their jobs right in the first place. Don't let ego and pride ruin your church growth.
Strategy (1): It's the fact that maybe one who knows social media, should do the social media. The guy who has experience in curriculum, should develop the lesson plans. The girl who is great at public speaking and creating amazing stories, should teach the lessons. The group of brothers who are good at singing should work with the youth music team.
Strategy (2): When creating or re-organizing groups or teams within ministry, look for people's fruits and gifts. See what they are naturally good at by looking at what they do within their careers and extra-curricular activities. I remember working with a church in Philadelphia,PA who has a member who works for the Eagles Marketing Team. Guess who volunteers to do the church's graphics & marketing? If there is a guy who works on installing tv's & cables or works on computers, you may find your tech guy! Know a teacher who works in middle or high school? They may be perfect people to help you refine your youth curriculum.
It's about sorting your volunteers based upon their gifts and not just based upon your personal opinions and who you think should do this or that. God made us to be wise. We need to put our personal ego aside and think about how we can win souls instead of making our flesh feel good. Your favorite preacher within the church may be good at preaching but he may not be good at leading. So just keep him in position as the preacher. However, you may need someone who is good at organization and equipping people for that particular group/organization. Many churches put experts in charge of specific groups because not only do they have a passion for it, but they know how to grow it. If you don't see fruit, look for some better fertilizer or a new farmer!
3. Using the same graphics from Word 2000 to promote events in 2015
It is 2015. I know repeating this year is pointless. However, it should ring as a bell in your head that you need to create a team that is good at bringing your graphics up to date. In today's technology, you have no excuse using outdated software. Don't use the excuse of cost because FREE software exists for graphics.
Solution: If you're a pastor or leader, equip a team to be in charge in design & graphics. See if someone in your church is willing to maintain the church website. Choose another (at least 2-3 people) to operate your ministry's social media pages. Social media is become a vital platform for ministries. Keep the pages active and constantly promoting upcoming events. Remember my #1 reason, lack of communication?
4. Not equipping your teams & volunteers with up-to-date training
This is one the main reasons why many churches still think that Facebook is the major platform where Instagram is becoming the #1 platform for many ministries to connect with their 40 and below crowd. If you're not being kept up to date on what's happening in the digital & tech world, your church will stay stuck in last year and the year before that. This is why it is vital to have people within your church (leaders) who are passionate about what they do. People who are passionate can tell you about what magazines, blogs, and books (CURRENT) that they are reading to keep themselves updated on what's working and happening in these arenas. The Holy Spirit and you loving God is the base. However, knowledge and relevant understanding is what will help people see the amazing things that are happening in your church.
Solution: Volunteers who just want to help are great. However, those that lead those volunteers need to have the skills and knowledge to train the "helpers". Enroll your volunteers in free training and webinars. Also, send your leaders and volunteers to ministry conferences that teach on church technology, design, and specific group training (youth, women, men, children, ect.).
Solution: Bring in a consultant! (Like Me) Church Consultants, like myself, have an eye to help ministries grow. We can help you identify and solve your church growth issues while also equipping your volunteers and team members how to effectively serve people.
Solution: Have your team members and volunteers read books like:
2. Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard & Phil Hodges (A personal favorite of mine for Leaders)
4. How to Knock Over a 7-Eleven and Other Ministry Training by Michael Cheshire (for Pastors & Leaders)
(Lysa is the founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries and an amazing woman who has built up a women's organization that is nothing short of astounding. Take notes from who knows what they are doing!)
5. Not allowing change because of "tradition"
You will hear every excuse from leadership & pastors of why things do not need to be changed. However, if you asked them if they wanted more members or more attendees to their Sunday Services, you would get a yes. The problem is because people have come complacent and stuck on what worked 5,10,15 years ago. I'm all for tradition and keeping certain things in place. However, there are many things churches need to change in order to go past the level of "surviving". I'm shocked when things that my parent's small church does that many larger churches are scared of doing because of "tradition". The funny thing is that while the small church is growing because of paying attention, the larger church is getting smaller because of ignoring it. I hear excuses like:
"God will send the increase"
"It's not about the numbers"
"We're working on it" (But haven't made any actual changes)
"Things like this take time"
Here is the crazy thing. Put passionate people in place and watch things grow. Put people who are just obsessed about titles and being called X or Y and watch your ministry stay at the same level.
Personally, I want to see people love their church. I want them to love it and I want people to come to churches and love what's going on. It's not about being "cool". It's about growing your church through keeping your brand message consistent but making it up-to-date. We are in an age where people are visual. People don't throw money into the offering basket like they do anymore. You can't scream at people to give. You can't throw a bunch of scriptures at them either. You have to create a culture where people are giving because they see growth (not growth from 10-20 years ago either). People will give when the culture of the church is one of community and growth.
Things do take time. However, it doesn't take months to take a step of action. Here are some solutions for how to take these steps.
Solution: Create easily reachable goals for your ministry. (Example: We want to reach 100 people as visitors this upcoming Sunday. Create a special campaign (including social media) to promote people to bring a friend on a particular Sunday. Give away some cool prizes like like T-Shirts that promote your church, recent sermon collections, a ticket to an upcoming event, and so forth. Do video promos that promote people to bring someone along.
Solution: If you're a volunteer/leader, talk to your pastor about some things that you want to do within the church to help it grow. It's important to know what your pastor desires and how you can help that come to fruition. Come to the leadership with easily achievable ideas that can happen within a 1-3 month span. Include more far reaching goals (3-6 months) and then longer goals (6-1 year/1-2 years). Remember that things are not free, so take finances into consideration. If your goal costs money, include how you can cover those costs and some fundraiser techniques/creative ideas for people to give).
Solution: The #1 thing to really work on is how to get people in the door. Direct Mail is becoming something that many churches are doing because many people AREN'T doing it. Another idea is using the power of postcard sized graphics that promote your church. Ask your members to hand them out to their neighbors & friends. You also have to remember that transparency is powerful in ministry. Posting pictures of what's happening during service to your social media pages help promote the idea that church is not only fun but there are people inside your church who love it! Have someone who has a professional camera volunteer as the official church photographer. Have that volunteer coordinate with your web & design team to use those photos for graphic design posts and marketing materials.
So what issues are plaguing your church in regards to training, tech, and design?
Have you found solutions to those problems? If not, why do you think those issues are not being resolved? Do you think you can play a part in helping your church grow?
I would love to hear your thought!