I had a conversation with a business consultant, a lay leader that contacted me on behalf of his church. He wanted to discuss how they could turn around after years of declining attendance. In the course of the conversation he mentioned a need to be more competitive. I asked him, “Who do you see you see as your competition? The world or other churches?”
He replied, “Well, other churches.”
It’s not the first time that I’ve heard that sentiment–even if it’s not always so direct. I’m still taken aback each time it’s expressed.
When the Malphurs Group works with a church for Strategic Envisioning, we always check the Association of Religious Data Archives for some basic demographic information. It’s not uncommon to see the number of people “Unclaimed” by any religious affiliation to be greater than 30% in a church’s county. That number varies across the U.S., but in the case of the church mentioned above, 70% of their local population is not claimed by any faith-based institution.
I’m not one to mince words, so I’ll be blunt.
If 70% of the population around your church does not know Jesus as Savior and your church attendance is declining, the last thing you should be doing is trying to woo believers from other Christian churches. Instead, you need to figure out how to get your church back on a mission to make disciples.
Declining churches often feel that they would be growing, if it weren’t for that one church down the road.
Here are six things that you cannot blame on other churches:
1. Other churches are not responsible for your church losing sight of living out the Great Commission first and foremost.
2. Other churches are not responsible for your church not effectively helping people mature in their faith and leading them to speak it and live it out in the world and in their sphere of influence.
3. Other churches are not responsible for the lack of vision expressed to keep your people excited about what God is doing in and through them.
4. Other churches are not responsible for your church’s building and grounds falling into disrepair.
5. Other churches are not responsible for your guests not feeling welcomed when they visit.
6. Other churches are not responsible for your church still holding on to the past instead of doing everything you can to reach people today.
I’ve never met a leader from a church that is healthy talk about how to get the last 50 people from the church down the street, but I do hear declining churches talk about what other churches are doing that they perceive as “taking people” from them.
We must do better.
Remember: we’re all on Team Jesus. In John 17:23, Jesus prays to his Father in Heaven that we be brought to complete unity “to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Unity in the Church is a message to the world! Few would argue that the disunity we see today is also a message to the world, and not one that has had a positive result.
To the healthy church:
Live out your generosity towards the world by supporting your brothers and sisters in other congregations, too. You have so much to offer and have been so blessed! You can provide training in leadership, teaching and worship. You have best practices in finance, graphics, video production and marketing. You have people ready to serve. Meet your church leader neighbors and offer what you can. Seek to build them up.
To the unhealthy church:
There is a real enemy in the world, and it is not your Christian brothers in the church down the street. Humility is a virtue well exercised so meet your church leader neighbors and ask for help when you need it. Collaborate to serve your community. Ask lots of questions to learn new ideas.
Jesus knew we would be better together so let’s do all we can to live that out.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.