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Journal

Prevailing dynamics of a dying church

Mark Junkans

Below is an excerpt from an article written in April 2001 by John Benton. Some if not all of these are recognizable in churches across our city.  Recognizing the indicators is the first step towards addressing them.  original article.

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Negative reputation

Probably you will find that the community and surrounding churches have assigned a reputation to this failing church. Some helpful soul may even say 'That church has the mark of Satan on it - it can never prosper.' Some of the people who have left over the years and gone to nearby congregations will probably have spread horror stories about what the church 'is really like.' If there are grounds for such stories the dying church must repent. But often it is not quite the way the story is told.

Nevertheless, somehow, the negative image has got to be combated if the church is to rise again.

That bad reputation will be a huge obstacle to that church getting a fair hearing for the gospel among the local people. So it will be also, that families new to the town might come and look at the church, but never return having been given the 'the low-down' on the fellowship.

Nostalgia

There may well be church members who can still remember the glory days of yesteryear. Their outlook will not be about hope for the future but rather about trying to recapture the past. Their agenda will be to get back to doing things the way they used to be done, and often those old ways are no longer appropriate. Hence they too can become obstacles to revitalizing the church. Such nostalgia needs to be confronted by asking the question, 'If the old days were so great why are we in the condition we are today?'

Tradition

This is a slightly different matter from nostalgia. Apart from the 'glory-days' members, there are quite likely to be others who have joined the church over the years who are from different Christian backgrounds. Their answer to the problems of the church may well be to insist that the church needs to conform to the tradition in which they were brought up. Thus it can be that there are five or more different traditions vying for influence as the recipe for success. But, of course, mere tradition never brings life.

Defeatist attitude

The church may well be like a football team which has lost every match for the last ten years. They have a ready list of excuses to explain the certain defeats of the future. They know that nothing is going to work.

Disrepair

'If the wood-worms stop holding hands it will all collapse'. It may not be as bad as that but probably the church building will be in disrepair. But perhaps more seriously the church programme will be in disrepair. Instead of an overall, cohesive approach to the work there will be confusion. Ministries will have been dropped simply due to lack of money or key people leaving.

Unrealistic expectations

If the church is pastor-less and a new man does accept a call to lead and teach the church then the people may well expect him to work miracles and turn the church round almost in an instant. This can lead to a very short 'honey-moon' period between new pastor and church and lead the church into yet more problems. 
If this is somewhere near a true picture of a dying church then it is obvious that the task of revitalization is a challenge of gigantic proportions. Yet at the same time it is a challenge which carries vast opportunities. This is not least because the world takes a look as it passes by, and if such a church can be revitalized ordinary people will sit up and take notice.