Reclining Precedes Declining

by Joseph Miller

The church with whom I was consulting had experienced the same attendance for many years. Meanwhile, the community has grown by 24 percent since 1990. Furthermore, the surrounding area has changed from a dairy farm community of rural people to a densely-populated bedroom community of commuting white-collar professionals. And the growth projection is an additional 10 percent for the next five years.

Now, I am not advocating that numerical growth alone is the primary indicator of church growth. There is a difference between a crowd and a church; you don't have to cultivate to grow weeds. But I do believe that if this church ministers according to Bible methods in a growing community such as this it will experience growth. When we plant and water, God gives increase (1 Cor. 3).

I have also observed that churches that plateau usually find that the plateau is eventually a prelude to decline; thus, the title for this article.

Upon careful review of this church's ministry and facilities, I have identified some reasons for the church's plateau. While I believe the lack of adequate facilities and adequate parking have contributed to the plateau of growth evident over many years (even predating the present pastor's ministry of nine years), there are several other factors contributing to the plateau:

The church is still blue-collar and rural in mindset, reflecting the former community.

The church has not adequately addressed the expectations of white-collar professionals in ministry or facility.

Following the stress of extreme debt load for facilities that the church has overcome and is now debt-free, a maintenance mode rather than ministry mode has followed

Church services and ministry strategies tend to be the routines that have always been done, rather than fresh strategies that address current demographics.

Ministry goals are merely numerical goals of attendance and professions of faith, without meaningful strategies and specific tasks as handles for people to grasp in endeavoring to achieve these goals.

The church is perceived primarily as a day school and ministry for children, evidenced in the manner of space utilization, with no dedicated adult ministry spaces except for the worship center. Yet, at least three fourths of the community is adults, with 62 percent of the households without children.

The facilities are very dated, with a serious lack of curb appeal. Even the most recent buildings (the worship center and the gymnasium) lack curb appeal and appropriate aesthetics.

The church is providing a strong emphasis on Bible content in preaching and teaching. But evangelism is minimal (especially among adults), and assimilation of those from less Bible-oriented backgrounds needs development. There is an expressed love and care for one another, but the church loves and ministers to one another while lacking in love and ministry to others.

Is your church on a plateau? Perhaps you can use this listing as a basis of evaluation in your church.

Discovering Life Ministries

Joseph Miller is a church consultant. He can be reached at or

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