Lessons From a Declined, Plateaued and Downsized Church

Lessons From a Declined, Plateaued and Downsized Church

June 2, 2010 by

Declined, plateaued and downsized churches like mine are experiencing the “new normal” where numbers are more on the downside and less on the upside. When I took the job as worship pastor over two years ago I did not know we would lose a pastor of 14 years. On top of that recent event our church was already experiencing a period of plateau and all of us understand the economic realities of 2010.

In the past I was on church plant teams and also a staff pastor in a couple of booming mega churches. This current interim experience is new to me. The masses get advice from those who market with flair and have the big budget. I am guilty of this myself—BCED or “bigger church envy disorder”. But I think there are some things you can learn from people like me who have failure on their resume. Seriously.

Here are some practical things learned from failure…

  • A cheap business card for our church members to give to their friends works better than a slick, expensive and fancy direct mailer to strangers. This can also be true about news ads, billboards or other huge splashes. Value: “inviting real people” or hospitality versus bloated junk mail that makes us feel better about ourselves.
  • Social media is free, and if your people are about sharing their story it can be powerful. Its not about contrived buzz as much as it is inspiration that comes from real people to real people. Value: our people’s story versus our corporate propaganda.
  • Instead of being exhausted after Easter, Christmas or any other big event, why not make every weekend great and every ministry thrive every week? Delivering something excellent and sustainable is just a sane choice to make. Having clean bathrooms might make more of a marketing difference than you think. Value: consistency versus flash in the pan.
  • I know this is a common one, but how about the church website? You can have a website that is pretty and eye candy or one that people visit and actually interact with. Most of us cannot afford to invest enough to have both. So, if you have to choose, let reason win. Value: interaction and online experiences versus static information.

The questions is: “What value am I promoting with my marketing?” If your church worship programming cannot be inspiring, impacting and vibrant under cafeteria lighting it will not be with a $200K lighting rig. The same is true of marketing. Down scaling and focusing on the spiritual results is the key.

Do you have any lessons learned from failure to add to my list?

Post By:

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich is a writer, speaker, musician, blogs at RKblog.com and elsewhere, and is a dad of two and married to his best friend. In 2014 he authored the book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader.
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9 Responses to “Lessons From a Declined, Plateaued and Downsized Church”

  • Gary Durbin
    June 2, 2010

    “If your church worship programming cannot be inspiring, impacting and vibrant under cafeteria lighting it will not be with a $200K lighting rig.”….couldn’t agree with post more. Great wisdom.

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  • Dan Courtney
    June 3, 2010

    Wow…this is good stuff. Been there, done that. Here’s my caution…that we don’t go too far the other way. We did Church without events…for the very reason you were talking…they wear people out, and besides, they rarely gain the desired results! Problem is, human nature requires help in getting fired up sometimes. And some people are just more gifted at special event types of responsibilities. So my suggestion is to take the business card idea you had, and use them for a “Friend Day” idea at Church once a month, or once a quarter. Do the exact same thing you do all the time, and when you are welcoming the guests you can say, “We want you to know that we meet here like this every week.” And they won’t be shocked when they come back that “Toby Mac” isn’t your worship leader (or whoever you brought for the big event. If you change anything, make it minor, but get the folks fired up for it every time.

    Love the post, thanks!

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  • Paul
    June 3, 2010

    MAKE EVERY WEEKEND GREAT, now that is good advice! We strive to bring the “wow” factor back to church. If people leave talking about something amazing that happened at church they will be more likely to come back and bring friends. On Pentecost Sunday, we used a little “theatrical magic” with professional help to set the flower arrangements on fire (like “tongues of fire”). People were still talking about it a year later!!! The music should move them, the lessons should intrigue and challenge them; try to do something each week that will keep them talking! It’s the best marketing money can’t buy!

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  • Julian
    June 4, 2010

    I agree with you. We have tried to stop “spamming” our congregation with brochures and posters in favor of quarter- or half-page invitation cards that are delivered to people who would really care about the ministry being promoted. Instead of printing 500 brochures and putting them in racks around the church, we print 100 or 200 cards and put them in the hands of people who would be interested. We have redesigned our website so it’s not just a copy of our printed brochures, but has up-to-date content that members of the congregation can contribute. We have nearly 1,000 fans on our Facebook page. We are focusing our communications and cutting waste and costs.

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  • “make every weekend great”

    Great idea. I have always thought of the church going above and beyond the norm for Christmas and Easter services too much like corporate america and factory cleanups when the CEO comes down.

    Overkill cleanup and you speak / work differently than you do any other day when the CEO is not there. Isn’t this a form of lying and deception?

    If a church has the capability of performing at a high level on Christmas and Easter, then why can’t the church perform at that same consistent high level every Sunday? The same question can be asked of the corporate world where if the company has the capability of performing at a high level when the CEO shows up, then why can’t the factory be clean and perform at that same consistent high level every day?

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  • John Mark Harris
    June 8, 2010

    We lost our pastor of around 20 years around a year ago.

    We’ve continued to grow at about 10%

    We are above budget & we’re building a $3+M expansion.

    Not everyone is struggling the same way.

    My advice (as is this posts) stick to the basics. I believe that’s why we’ve done so well, we were doing the basics before…

    Trust the Lord, do his work

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  • holaratcha
    June 13, 2010

    great simplistic post. really good for churchology 101. cheers guys.

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  • Josh Helm
    June 29, 2010

    How about we quit striving in church and start being the church. How is that for marketing?! The presentation we are supposed to be making is based out of Romans 12:1 The Apostle Paul said it like this

    ” I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect ” Romans 12: 1-2

    The fact is lights, bells and whistles don’t make people love Christ more. They make people attracted to man made programs that have not the life of Jesus in them.

    He that hath an ear let him hear…

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      September 16, 2010


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