What Does It Take to Turnaround a Church in Decline?

During the 1970s and ‘80s, churches and denominations were on the cusp of decline, but did not see it coming. Consequently, they weren’t interested envisioning new churches (church planting) nor church re-envisioning (church revitalization). The needed focus on visionary leadership hadn’t started yet.

visionary leadership

21st Century Decline of the Church and Visionary Leadership

Early in the twenty-first century, however, 70-80 percent of Churches and denominations have plateaued or are in serious decline. If 70-80 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining, what might this signal about the state of those who are pastoring these churches? The answer is that many are:

  • disillusioned
  • questioning their “call to pastoral ministry”
  • questioning whether they have a leadership gift, and
  • whether they should even be in the ministry.

Others have jumped every two to three years from church to church, looking for the perfect place where they can make a difference– when they may actually be the problem and not necessarily acting in the best interests of the church. The result is that the vision has been lost somewhere along the way (and so has the visionary leadership). It is time that we start re-envisioning the church and our leadership roles.

Church Planting or Revitalization of Established Churches?

Consequently, many denominations, networks, conferences, and churches have become most interested in church planting or church envisioning–knowing it is key to their very survival. Yet, in the pursuit of visionary church planters who can plant spiritually healthy churches, the need for and importance of re-envisioning or the revitalization of our established churches has been overlooked.

Why is the latter so vital to our future? The reason is that most successful church plants are nurtured by a strong, vital supporting established church; therefore, the demise of established churches also has a negative effect on church planting. We must place as much emphasis on re-envisioning our churches as we do planting them if we are to have any hope for the future of the church in America.

The Importance of Visionary Leadership

Most important, the key to re-envisioning churches that plant healthy, robust churches is visionary leadership, especially on the part of the senior pastor. The problem surprisingly is that church re-envisioning is a fairly new solution and most know very little about it. We believe that everything rises or falls on visionary leadership.

The Impact of Lost Vision

The major reason why so many churches are plateaued or in decline is because they’ve either lost their vision or adopted the wrong vision. When churches experience lots of turnover in their pastors and personnel, vision is one of the first things to be lost, and we don’t spend the time re-envisioning to stay on track. A major reason for this is the low tenure of America’s pastors.

Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research in Phoenix, AZ, writes,

“The average SBC minister has been a senior pastor at 3.6 churches in his career, and 37 percent of all SBC pastors have led four or more churches. Only Methodists exceed this—but Methodists usually are assigned positions by their denomination, and the average assignment lasts only about four years before the pastor is moved to another church by the denomination.”

Todd Breiner writes,

“The average stay for a youth pastor is 12-18 months.”

Finally, Thom Rainer writes,

“In our national surveys of pastors, we found the average pastoral tenure to be 3.6 years. But in different studies of effective leaders, those pastors had an average tenure  ranging from 11.2 to 21.6 years.”

Thus, they need to be re-envisioned, and it takes visionary leaders to re-envision Christ’s Church. We can help if you believe now is the time for change in your church. Complete the church profile below.

Church Profile (Receive our 16 Church Analysis Questions)

* indicates required
()(###) ###-####

I would like more information about:



The Malphurs Group offers a Sunday Secret Shopper Visit and outside ministry navigators (otherwise known as Church Consultants) to walk your church through the strategic growth process. These services can ignite tremendous growth in your church and reinvigorate your ministry. Please contact us if you’d like to learn more.


Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is the Founder and Visionary Leader of the Malphurs Group and the Senior Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. He frequently writes on Pastoral Ministry, Church Leadership DevelopmentStrategy, and Vision and also serves churches and denominations as a Church Consultant and Speaker (The Malphurs Group team also provides Leadership Coaching and Mystery Worshipper Consultations). He is also a husband, father, grandfather, fisherman, and a diehard Florida Gator fan. @amalphurs | website