I recently heard a pastor describe their church’s growth over the last two years like this, “We went backward a decade!” Maybe you’re in the same situation.
Some churches grew through COVID…not yours. Now you’re asking all kinds of questions about what to do.
So, what do you do when your church is growing in the wrong direction? How do you turn things around? Here are a few ideas that might generate something positive in your leadership.
Listen to Your Critics
In leadership, perspective is important. Who you are listening to and seeking advice from is huge. When your church is growing in the wrong direction, it’s important to hear from your critics.
The temptation is to listen to who you’ve always listened to and ignore the people who are leaving. Let’s face it, it’s hard to listen to critics. I’d much rather pretend that they are the problem, not me.
But, to get to the root of the issues, you’ll have to listen to the people who are frustrated, disappointed, or bored.
So, who can you call? Who can you take out for coffee? In order to turn things around, you’re going to need to hear from your critics.
Identify the Challenges
Listening to your critics should help you narrow in on the challenges, but more work needs to be done here. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to jump to conclusions without seeking enough perspective.
I’ve talked about this practice before, but I always recommend gathering your leaders and guiding them through 4 Helpful Lists—what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing, and what’s confusing.
If you are growing in the wrong direction, spend 60-90 minutes on this exercise and see if you can discover themes and patterns. This practice almost always helps us uncover what is broken.
Return to the Mission
My guess is that there was a time when your church was growing. There was a time when you had momentum. I’d be shocked if, during that time, there wasn’t a mission that was driving your ministry. What was that mission?
My advice: Return to that mission! Get back to the vision that captured the imagination of your people.
Usually what happens over time is negative growth through addition. By that, I mean that over time you added programs and activities that weren’t central to your mission.
They were “good” but not the mission. These additions diluted the mission and now a largess has settled over your church and the totality of it all is not compelling. My advice: Get back to your mission.
Do More with Less
So, this brings us to the hard part. If you are growing in the wrong direction, there will be some things that have to go. I’m talking about programs, events and activities that are not central to your mission.
One of the smartest and hardest things you can do is cut the excess. Do more with less. In other words, FOCUS. Rally everyone and everything around the few activities that are directly tied to your mission.
Experiment on the Margins
With that said, to turn around a shrinking church, you’re going to have to do some new things. You’ll have to innovate.
The temptation, when things are moving in the wrong direction is to make drastic changes—change the style of worship. Switch from expository to topical preaching.
I might say a word of caution here. Before you make massive and drastic changes to the core of what you do, try experimenting on the margins.
Try something new and different on the edges of your ministry. This strategy allows you to see how new ideas work and connect without putting your entire ministry at risk.
To turn things around, you’ll probably have to innovate and make changes, but experiment on the margins first rather than threaten the stability of your entire ministry.
If, like many churches right now, your church seems to be growing in the wrong direction, I pray you stay strong. I pray that God gives you the courage to really listen, to make the tough but right decisions. And, I pray he gives you the stamina to lead through change.