Tony-MorganRecently, I had the opportunity to talk with a denominational leader in a different part of the country.

Over the last few years, he’s personally been involved in consulting engagements with about 60 declining churches within his denomination. That grabbed my attention. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience working with churches that are in decline.

With that in mind, I was curious to learn if there were any common themes. Within moments, he rattled off these five attributes of churches he’s worked with that are in decline:

  • Lack of mission and vision clarity
  • Failure to define a concise strategy to help newcomers become fully-devoted followers of Christ
  • Complex structure
  • Inward-focused with little connection to the surrounding community
  • Weak leadership, especially in the senior pastor role

When I work with churches for the first time, I think sometimes they’re frustrated with me because I’m not willing to help them fix something specific. Sometimes they want me to tweak their internal systems.

Other times they want me to speak into improvements in their Sunday service environments. Other times they want me to provide feedback on their website or their music or their facility. I’ve found that churches can become convinced that they know why their church isn’t growing.

There comes a point when it’s healthy and appropriate to address specific environments, systems or tactics; however, these five foundational aspects of a healthy ministry have to come first. If we’re unwilling to address these critical elements, then we’re not going to shift the declining trends.

The crazy thing about this is that there are many churches that would rather close their doors (hundreds every year) than make the necessary changes it would take to have an impact. Why is it that we put our personal preferences ahead of our ministry impact?

I’m glad at least one denominational leader in one part of the country is willing to try to change that pattern.

Tony Morgan is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of He’s a consultant, leadership coach and writer who helps churches get unstuck and have a bigger impact. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). With Tim Stevens, Tony has co-authored Simply Strategic Stuff, Simply Strategic Volunteers and Simply Strategic Growth – each of which offers valuable, practical solutions for different aspects of church ministry. His book, Killing Cockroaches (B&H Publishing) challenges leaders to focus on the priorities in life and ministry.

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