Chris Morton explains why there are signs of hope, even for churches that appear to be in terminal decline.
In most areas – both rural and urban, you don't have to go very far to find a church whose 'glory days' are behind her. Many churches are declining. Churches close down all the time.
If this is happening in your church, you might be losing hope.
We serve a God who is always doing new – or shall we say 'fresh' – things.
For many churches, their story is over. Perhaps, like he says to the individual follower, God looks down and says, 'well done, good and faithful little community'. For others, there is still work to be done.
Here are five signs your church still has something to give:
You have a space
For many declining churches, their primary asset may be their building. In years past, the building may have been solely dedicated to official church activities. Today, the building lies empty for most of the week.
Have you thought creatively about how your building can be a blessing to your community?
A few options might include:
- offer free or cheap office space to like-minded non-profit organisations and businesses;
- open a restaurant that serves affordable food for neighbours in need;
- share the space with a young church plant.
Many people made sacrifices of time, resources and money to build your church's building! Pray that God will help you re-imagine its use.
You have money
Declining churches often have financial resources, either frozen or liquid. Perhaps it is time for you to redistribute what you have been given to a new generation of Jesus' followers?
My own young church community has received financial support from a declining congregation. Years ago, they sold their church building and started meeting in a home. They continue to worship God and love each other. They used the money from the sale to form a foundation that supports new church starts like our own. We couldn't do it without them!
You have pioneers
Every church has a few 'pew-sitters' who could become pioneers. Pioneers are women and men who are passionate about groups of people outside of your church. These pioneers know and love this people group, and can imagine new ways that the church could be created among them.
Look at your church again. You might have someone like these pioneers:
- dog walkers who could share the gospel at the park;
- bikers to 'love the hell out of people';
- knitters to re-imagine church for those keen on handicrafts;
- artists to minister to the creative community.
Equip these women and men for pioneer ministry, and then wait to see what God will do.
You have mentors
Perhaps your declining church is full of slightly older worshippers who have a lot of life experience to share. Personally, my life has been redefined by families that took me in and cared for me.
Young Jesus followers are in desperate need of mentors who can help them navigate relationships, business, finances, parenting and more. Sadly, many fresh expressions of church have trouble engaging different age groups.
Perhaps God has equipped your church to bless a younger generation.
You have vision
As you probably have heard, without vision, the people perish. One sign of life is that your church is still full of vision.
Vision is not the same as wistful regret. It does not mean saying, 'I wish things were different'.
Vision is not a general hope God is still at work.
Vision is a clear and definable preferable future that lines up with God's stated hopes and dreams.
An example might be a future where:
- every person within a one mile radius of your church building is prayed for face-to-face;
- different churches in your area team up to serve disadvantaged residents;
- your church adopts local pioneers and church planters and cares for them in tangible ways.
Is your church declining – or even dying?
Either way, there is still some life in you.
Just imagine what God could do!
Chris Morton serves as Community Developer for Austin Mustard Seed, a new church community for North Central Austin. The original version of this article was first posted on the Fresh Expressions US blog.
Please note that comments and views may not represent those of Fresh Expressions.