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The Day We Visited the Dying Church

It’s hard to believe, but it was over ten years ago. Our family was out of town. While we were away, we went to a service at a church that was very different than our church. We had three kids at the time. All three were under the age of ten.

Our kids were used to ministry environments with lots of energy, today’s music, video, relevant teaching and lots and lots of new people (including many of their friends). So, needless to say, I was very interested to see how they would respond to this experience.

The church we visited had been around for over 100 years. You could tell that at one time the church was very vibrant with many young families. By the time we visited, though, there were very few people our age. The facility was dated. The music was very traditional. And the message was boring for my kids…and for me.

Like I said, this was ten years ago. My son, Jacob, was only six at the time. As we were walking out of the church together after the service, Jacob tugged on my sleeve to get my attention. Then he quietly said what everyone else in the family was thinking, “Dad, this church is never going to grow.”

The sad thing is my six-year-old son was right. The church was dying. Rather than make some intentional changes to reach the next generations of families in the community, they were preserving the past. I’m assuming it’s another example of people placing a higher value on personal preferences and comfort than on reaching people for Jesus.

What’s encouraging to me is that I see many churches unwilling to go there. The churches who make the transition successfully share some common traits.

  • They value reaching people outside the faith. It’s an intentional part of their ministry strategy.
  • They value a clearly defined pathway for spiritual formation. With that, they acknowledge keeping people busy is not the goal.
  • They value strong, healthy leadership. That includes the pastor, lay leadership team and staff leadership team.
  • They value a bold, clear vision for the future. At the same time, they have a clear action plan to see that vision accomplished.
  • They value simple systems and structures. Complexity always stalls progress. If you want to preserve the past, try to create systems and structures where everyone has a voice and a vote.

My six-year-old son is now sixteen. Because of that, he’s a bit busy these days and not available to sit through your services. You can’t hire him, but I do have a solution to help your church get that fresh, outside perspective that you may need. The Unstuck Group offers a ministry health assessment specifically designed to help churches identify the barriers to growth and health. We’d love to serve your church.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear your perspective. Which of these five values is the church most prone to neglect? More important, for those transitioning churches, can you share some practical steps you took to see one or more of these values get re-established?

By Tony Morgan, founder and chief strategic officer at The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. He writes about leadership at Follow Tony on social media: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

Tony is founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, NewSpring Church in South Carolina, and Granger Community Church in Indiana. He’s written several books, as well as articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and He writes about leadership regularly at His next book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, will be available from Thomas Nelson in May 2017.
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