Early Warning Signals of Church Decline

  1. Taking better care of today's members moves ahead of evangelism and outreach to the unchurched on the local list of priorities.
     
  2. The pastor spends more time thinking and talking about retirement a few years hence than is devoted to outreach and evangelism. A parallel signal often begins to flash when the number-one issue on the current agenda is the resolution of conflict between two staff members or between the pastor and volunteer leaders.  All are diversions from ministry.
     
  3. The average attendance at worship, which has been showing an increase year after year, begins to drop when compared to the same months a year earlier.
     
  4. The average attendance in Sunday school begins to decline.
     
  5. The unhappy or involuntary termination of two consecutive pastorates often is followed by a plateau or decline in numbers.
     
  6. One of the most subtle is the financial contributions by members.
     
  7. A decline in the number of new members received by letter of transfer or certificate from other churches may be offset by a temporary increase in the number of new members received by other initiatory rites, such as profession of faith and baptism, but it often is a signal that this congregation is no longer as attractive as it once was to the growing number of church shoppers.
     
  8. A common early warning signal is when the total compensation (salaries, housing, pensions, health insurance, Social Security, and other fringe benefits) of the paid staff exceeds 50 percent of the total member contributions.
     
  9. Perhaps the most subjective signal is when references to the past begin to overshadow plans, dreams and hopes for the future of this congregation.
     
  10. A decrease in the number of baptisms often is a signal of future numerical decline.
     
  11. When the new minister spends more time with individuals than with groups of people, this often is an early warning sign of eventual numerical decline.
     
  12. A decline in the net worth of all capital assets, after full adjustments for inflation and depreciation, often is a signal that the people are ready to rest on a comfortable plateau in size.
     
  13. If at least one-half of today's members joined more than ten years earlier, this often is a sign that the congregation has lost its capability to identify, reach, interest, attract, and assimilate new members.
  14. If, week after week, nearly everyone has disappeared within ten to twelve minutes after the benediction at the close of the Sunday morning worship service, this may be a sign of the erosion of kinship and friendship ties.
     
  15. Cutting back on special worship services frequently is a prelude to a shift from numerical growth to a plateau or decline.
     
  16. A drop in the total dollars given for missions and benevolences often parallels that shift from growth to plateau to decline.
     
  17. An inability to design and implement a five-year plan for ministry, program, and outreach often leads to a shift from numerical growth to decline.
     
  18. A decrease in the proportion of teenagers from outside the membership who are regularly involved in the youth ministries often signals an attachment to yesteryear and an inability to respond to the contemporary needs of a new generation of youth.
     
  19. Seniority, tenure, and kinship or friendship ties with members of the nominating committee often out-weigh skill, wisdom, creativity, competence, experience in other congregations, or enthusiasm in choosing policy makers for the coming year.
     
  20. The ratio of worship attendance to membership drops year after year.
     
  21. The response to an impending financial problem is to concentrate on reducing expenditures rather than on increasing dollar receipts.
     
  22. The only significant increase in total receipts year after year is in rentals received for use of the real estate or in the size of the denominational subsidy or in income from the endowment fund.
     
  23. A useful indicator in the numerically growing congregation is the median age of the members.
     
  24. The decision to cut back on program, the Sunday morning schedule, staff, finances, weekday programming, outreach, benevolences, or office hours is often an early warning signal of future decline. 

 

Reference:   44 Steps Up Off the Plateau by Lyle E. Schaller, pages 42-46

Church of the Nazarene

USA/Canada Region

17001 Prairie Star Parkway

Lenexa, KS 66220

Phone: 913.577.2830

Toll-free: 800.306.9948

usacanadaregion@nazarene.org
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©2017 USA/Canada Regional Office

Church of the Nazarene

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