A Beginner's Guide to Church Revitalization: What Makes a Church Need Revitalizing (Part V)?

I've considered lots of spiritual reasons for a church to need revitalisation. In considering lack of people this time, we're coming to some more practical ones. The spiritual and the practical are likely to be connected of course. For example, we can't be surprised if bad doctrine leads to a collapsing attendance at a church, nor an insufficient commitment to prayer or evangelism.

There are some increasingly shocking statistics about churches in the UK. The general decline in church attendance and membership of course becomes specific in local churches. For example, in the Diocese of Manchester, around a third of the churches have less than 35 people attending.

So we now have many churches that struggle to keep going because they are too small. Sometimes this is financial (which we'll consider next time) - there are not enough people to pay the bills. But this need not be the case. Sometimes churches are financially quite secure, either for historic reasons, or because the few who attend a wealthy and generous enough to keep things going. However, even with solid finances it's hard to maintain a church with a small number of people, especially if the the group are ageing or infirm.

It's simply difficult to do everything with a small number of people. You can't fill the positions on the church council. It's difficult to keep the building clean and tidy. And of course, this inclines the church to become very inward looking and so tends to increase the problem.

It's worth noting an interesting dynamic here. Thirty people on a church plant can be a dynamic and flexible force for growth. Thirty people in a declining church that used to be much bigger is often a totally different ball game. There is likely to have been a long slow decline with people trying to keep the show on the road for as long as possible. Often this means maintaining buildings, programmes and the like far beyond the usefulness and practicality.

It's also worth noting an interesting issue to do with numbers. There is a quite a tradition of resisting talking about numbers in church and especially evangelical circles. There are good reasons for that given the potential issues with pride and self-sufficiency seen in some of the extremes of the church growth movement. However, there are times when we need at least to be honest about the state of a church in serious decline.

The likelihood is that churches in this sort of position struggle on until the remaining few can no longer face or sustain the effort and then they simply fold. It's hard not to see this happening to huge numbers of churches in the UK, certainly in the Church of England, over the next few years.

The causes may be very varied, but the practical reality can sadly be the same churches in desperate need of revitalisation or worse, already dead.


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