Five Reasons Why Churches Are Dying and Declining Faster Today


“In the past, I’ve been able to lead churches to growth. I can’t do it anymore. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

A pastor shared those sentences with me just three days ago.

He was frustrated. He was confused. He was exhausted.

And he is not alone.

With some exceptions, it is indeed more difficult to lead churches to growth. Such is a reality that is about 15 years in the making. The obvious question is “Why?” Allow me to articulate five of those reasons.

  1. Cultural Christianity is declining rapidly. It is really a misnomer to call it “cultural Christianity,” since it’s not true faith in Christ. In the past, many people felt it was culturally, economically, or politically advantageous to be a part of a congregation, even if they weren’t true believers in Christ. These attending non-believers padded our numbers. Or to say it another way, the pool of willing attenders has diminished greatly.
  2. The exit of the Builder generation. The Builder generation has kept many churches alive, even if the congregations are on life support. This generation, born before 1946, is fiercely loyal to institutions, including local churches. They stuck with congregations in good and bad times. But, in 2015, there were only 28 million Builders left. Another 13,000 Builders die every week. The loyal generation is few in number and will soon be no more.
  3. Migration from rural areas and small towns to the cities. In 1790, only 5% of Americans lived in cities. By the 1960s, the percentage of Americans in cities skyrocketed to 65%. Today over 80% of Americans are city dwellers. Rural and small-town churches held on tenaciously to their members for over two centuries. But the population base for those tenacious churches has dwindled dramatically.
  4. Faster church transfers. Those who are transferring from one church to another are concentrating in fewer churches. Simply stated, a few churches are getting bigger at the expense of smaller churches. While that phenomenon has been in play for quite a while, it is now accelerating. The old barrier that held people in specific churches – family connections, denominational loyalty, and loyalty to a specific congregation – are no longer barriers today. People move with great freedom from church to church.
  5. Slow response to change as change accelerates all around us. Many churches are incredibly slow to change. For most of our American history, the pace of cultural and technological change was sufficiently paced for churches to lag only five to ten years. Now churches are lagging 20 and 30 years as the pace of change increases dramatically. To many attendees and members, the church thus seems increasingly irrelevant. To be clear, I am speaking about issues of style, methodology, and awareness, not changing doctrine or biblical truths. A church guest I recently interviewed said it clearly: “I stuck with my parents’ church as long as I could. But when we had a big blow up over projection screens in the worship center, I had enough. I wanted to go to a church where matters of minutia were not issues to fight over.”

If you think it is more difficult to lead a church to growth, you are right. If you have noticed the decline in your church is greater, you are probably right as well. And if you are to the point of realization that your church may die in the next few years, it may come sooner than that.

In a future post, I will address how smaller churches can deal with these challenges. Warning: the solutions are simple but not easy.

Posted on September 14, 2016

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • William Moore says on

    There is an answer in the word of God, but he said these things would happen, but our warfare that we’re battling at this time it’s not flesh, and blood is principalities in the air that we need to fight and pull down the strong holes, and deliver the churches from the demonic influence that is receiving in these high places, and that is fighting Demons and warring for the souls of mankind and there is no more Deliverance these days in churches, or anywhere demons walk in and come and go as they please and deceive many so what You must start casting out demons that is the answer for today’s time

  • Sterling Joseph Spell says on

    Good article. There is a shift in the religious consumer, however it is simply another form off consumption. Now many are searching out Christian “community” not to integrate but to consume. Insted of programs they consume relationships. It’s a spill over from a Therapeutic Moralism that is supporting the “church grow” models .

  • Traci Taylor says on

    I need to find out how to shut down a church! I am a born again Christian who have been persecuted a small “not church” didn’t do anything accoording to the Word of God! God is God of disciplinary action for the mistreatment of His children in these fake churches!

  • glen larocca says on

    and that is why you are dying

    • Not sure if you will take time to read this. God is ONE, just like our body, soul and spirit (made in HIS image). If you ever “wonder” if HE is real, then that is not your mind thinking that but GOD wanting to draw you to HIMSELF through your conscience. Our feeling of “guilt, shame & condemnation” is GOD revealing your sin & need.
      God IS Spirit, Soul & Body and this is why He made man like HIMSELF. (1Cor 15:28) GOD’s BEING IS the Spirit of LOVE and LOVE is an outward force of HIMSELF (flow – Creator of Good). God’s SOUL is HIS WORD that creates. HIS SOUL became flesh (JESUS =1st Born, not created as we are) so we could see how HE fulfills LOVE (Grace, Justice, & Mercy = Eph.3:9; Micah 6:8). It is a fulfillment that reveals the Fruit of HIS SPIRIT in us (Gal.5:22-23). Jesus Christ created all things, especially man in HIS image so HE (GOD) would have fellowship with us. Angels did not have emotions to know God intimately. Jesus came in flesh (Grace) to pay for man’s sin (Mercy) of disobedience by eating the forbidden fruit that caused them to die (Justice). Many Christians may not have an intimate fellowship with God because they never give HIS SPIRIT total control of self. Total control is when they know they have experienced Galatians 2:20 & Colossians 3:3. It lets you enjoy the complete LIFE IN CHRIST that takes away every fear and lets you experience the LOVE that knows GOD intimately (John 17:3 and 1John chapter 4, especially vs.18). You will hear GOD say HE is well pleased with you. This is the secret of Hebrews Chapter 11:(VS. 2, 5, 6, 39). They gained approval from GOD through their faith (hearing) though they did not receive HIS Spirit (promise) within them. When GOD”s Grace draws people to JESUS (John 14:6) for salvation and they hear HIS Voice and invite HIM into their hearts (not mind); HE will be their COMFORTER (reveal Himself) & teacher. (John 14:16-18 & 26-28; 15:26; 16:7-15) This is the NEW COVENANT that many don’t understand (Heb.3:7, 15; 4:7; 8:8-13). But Paul in many of his letters tells how it works through, Putting off (repenting ) & putting on CHRIST ( HIS attributes). Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:8-17

  • glen larocca says on

    I could never figure-out where a three piece God came from or why something considered so smart would kill part of itself (how did they decide which part would get wacked). The Jesus story just seems like so much melodrama (I guess it made more sense when people believed that sacrificing animals made Gods happy–I can’t understand why a God would be happy when something was killed). I would think that if there was a God, it would have one piece and if it wrote a book for us to read, that it wouldn’t get lost in a bunch of begats and heave offerings and wave offerings and on and on and on. Could God not have invested in an editor. The three piece God gave us a strange story told in very long, strange, convoluted book. It only makes sense if you learn it as a child (when anything makes sense). You are being kind of rough on yourselves if you think that it is your fault for not selling that stuff better.

  • Mark Metcalf says on

    All this makes me happy. Christian churches will continue to shrink, fortunately. Christian faith makes our world and society worse. Not better.

  • May I share your Five Reasons Why Churches Are Dying and Declining Faster Today in my church Sunday?
    I will give you the credits and acknowledgements.

    Allen Holbrook
    New Hope Baptist Church

  • Denis Catalano says on

    Why are Christian pastors SILENT, as we see both the Faith and the Freedom that supports it under attack and disappearing?
    Why are pastors unwilling to speak out?
    Clearly, the answer is they are afraid of losing donor support………………MONEY.
    The Christain community sees pastors have abandoned them; so why should they continue to give both money and work to support pastors, when the same result can be obtained by doing nothing?
    Is it any wonder churches are disappearing?

    • rajagopalan says on

      The fallacies of Christianity teaching, preaching and it’s sources the Bible have been entirely the cause of its dying, exposed all over the internet. Bible corruption, and false teaching and preaching from it will not last, soon it will die and forgotten. Only time will tell.

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