by Susanna Fleming

Why do churches fail? 

This is a complicated question that we should approach with considerable humility. 

Ultimately, we can’t boil down the success or failure of any local church to a specific leadership model or church management strategy. It is the Lord who builds the house, and if not, those who build it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). This means that true success in church ministry looks like paying attention to what God is building and partnering with Him in this mission – not necessarily adopting the next best strategy. 

At the end of the day, success without obedience isn’t really success. 

Even so, there are certain wisdom principles we should consider applying – and certain traps we can avoid – if we want to help our churches thrive. Scripture is full of wisdom for the local church, and we must work to apply this wisdom as we steward our congregations. If we fail to do so, we might find ourselves falling into the same common pitfalls that trip up many churches today. 

With that in mind, here are a few common reasons churches fail.

1. Valuing the Wrong Metrics

If leadership bases a church’s success on attendance numbers and budget alone, they are valuing the wrong metrics. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a great idea to use ChMS to track budgets and attendance. Paying attention to these numbers is part of good stewardship! 

It’s simply that neither of these metrics stands alone as accurate reflections of a church’s success. You can easily have large numbers without discipleship and a large budget without good stewardship.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus made it pretty clear what the main objective of the Church is: to make disciples. This is what Jesus did on earth, and it is also what our local churches are called to do. Is your church valuing metrics that reflect discipleship?

What metrics can you use to track discipleship?

Tracking discipleship is a little more nuanced than tracking attendance, but there are certain metrics you can use to stay focused on what’s important. 

For example, you can get helpful insight into the discipleship journey of your congregants by tracking salvation, baptisms, and group participation in a church management system. 

You can also get creative. Is there a way to assess the spiritual and emotional health of the people in your church? Can you create a mentorship system that ensures every person in your congregation is being discipled by someone? 

Importantly, empowering and tracking discipleship will vary from context to context. As a church leader, ask yourself, “Is my church faithful to use our resources for discipleship? Are we doing our best to walk alongside our congregants as they become more like Jesus? When we’re at the end of our rope, do we understand that His strength is sufficient in our weakness?” 

If you answered yes to these questions, you are well on your way to valuing the right metrics for church success.

2. Cultural Irrelevance

World-renowned theologian Karl Barth is quoted as saying, “preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” 

In our modern cultural context, this may look more like holding iPhones (most people’s primary news source) rather than newspapers, but the principle remains the same. In order for the Church to live out its missional mandate, we have to stay committed to scriptural truth while also communicating that truth in a culturally relevant way.

This does not mean that your church needs to be cutting-edge, and it doesn’t mean that you should compromise on your Christian convictions. It does mean that you should consider if your church is answering the questions that culture is asking. 

Unfortunately, many American churches are not adept at navigating culture. They have blamed the decline and failure of their churches on the fact that Gen Z and Millennials simply aren’t interested in faith. 

This is a mistake. 

In fact, 44% of people are more open to God today than they were before the pandemic. Even Gen Z, the first “post-Christian generation,” is surprisingly motivated to learn about Jesus. But they are hung up by certain questions and competing cultural narratives, and the Church is not widely known as a safe place to go for answers.

What Questions are People Asking?

One interesting question that Gen Z teenagers are getting hung up on is the problem of evil. According to a recent Barna study, this is a major barrier to faith for 29% of non-Christian teens. 

Another study suggests that for both Gen Z and Millennials, feelings of loneliness and anxiety have skyrocketed. They may be asking themselves if Christianity can address these questions or if it’s just a “nice” but ultimately empty ideology. And they may be afraid to bring up their very real questions about pain and evil and depression and sexuality.

Ask yourself: “Is my church working to address cultural barriers to faith with biblical wisdom and love?” “Are we creating room for emerging generations – and all of their questions –  in our church?” “Is our church a safe place to wrestle with questions and grow?” 

If you answered yes to these questions, keep going! The next generation of disciples needs you.

3. Financial Mismanagement

Financial mismanagement can exist in several forms. In the worst cases of financial mismanagement, church leaders may prioritize their personal gain over the needs of their members and the overall mission of their church. When this happens, it erodes the trust of the congregation and can result in long-term damage to the church’s reputation. 

Most of the time, however, financial mismanagement is not deliberate. Some churches don’t have a clear financial plan or a system for tracking their income and expenses. 

Other churches may lack financial expertise and not know how to budget properly. Unfortunately, financial stewardship is a huge part of church management, and even accidental overspending can have a devastating impact on a church’s ability to thrive and serve its community. 

With post-pandemic inflation looming over the United States like a dark rain cloud, many churches have been feeling immense financial pressure. I know many churches are afraid of failing right now. 

Importantly, we must hold our fears around inflation in tension with the truth that God is our provider. Our job is to steward what God has given us, and God’s job is to take care of the rest! 

A Church Management System Supports Financial Integrity

One of the ways we can intentionally steward what God has given us is by making wise financial decisions in the face of inflation. In many cases, this requires the implementation of a church management system

A ChMS can help your church keep track of donations, expenses, and other financial transactions so that you can make informed decisions and avoid overspending or taking on debt. 

As you process through your church’s current financial state, ask yourself: “Is my church transparent and above board with its finances?” “Are we carefully tracking our income and spending to ensure we don’t overspend? “Do we trust God to provide for us while stewarding our money wisely? 

If you answered yes to these questions, you are doing well in avoiding the common pitfall of financial mismanagement.

God Never Fails

By understanding a few of the common reasons churches fail, church leaders can be better equipped to serve their congregations and navigate the complexities of ministry. Even so, we must remember that it isn’t all up to us. 

Leaders and churches fail, but God is bigger than our failure. He has grace for us when we get off track and when we simply aren’t enough. Let’s continue to move forward with humility, obedience, and trust in the God who never fails.