What To Do If Your Church Is Experiencing a Slump?
“Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.” – Yogi Berra
Church life is absolutely a joy when everyone seems to be happy, the worship is spirited, people are coming to faith in Christ, and no threatening divisive issues are on the radar. Maintaining momentum over a long period of time is very difficult. I did a study once of churches in my state denomination to determine how many had experienced 2% or greater growth for the previous ten consecutive years without fail. Only six churches were able to do that or to see it another way; .0016%. That is a good reminder that even the best of churches are prone to go through occasional slumps. A church that is going through a slump is not dying, is not experiencing some contentious division, and is not going through dramatic erosion. The slumping church is doing okay but they have lost momentum and may not be progressing like they were in the previous months and years. What do you do when your church is in a slump?
- Take the seasons into consideration. Most North American churches experience cycles that affect attendance throughout the calendar year. Churches ordinarily see a mild surge in attendance at the end of summer when school gets back in session and the vacation season comes to a conclusion. In addition, most churches re-launch their small group Bible Studies with new leaders, new groups, and promotion of school age children. Once November arrives the holiday weekend will pull down average attendance and December will bring at least two more weekends when many families travel. With the exception of extreme weather in warmer climate areas the attendance will rebound in January, February, and into March. April brings spring breaks followed by May with a holiday weekend and graduations resulting in decreased average attendance. Then summer comes and many families take advantage of warmer weather and the children being out of school to take much needed vacations. When school returns the attendance tends to rebound again. Seasonal slumps are common in every church as these up and down cycles occur each year.
- Look beyond attendance. Church leaders should certainly take note of erosion. This occurs when attendance declines and continues to slide even when the seasons would suggest that participation in worship should rebound. Assuming that many months of decline are not the issue, look beyond attendance to other critical issues. Although this is second on the list it is actually most important. How is the prayer ministry going? Are members being equipped and challenged in personal evangelism? Is the Bible study and are the sermons fresh and challenging? Are the members reaching into the community to serve and minister? Be sure you are not neglecting these best practices that keep your congregation healthy and the momentum building.
- Focus on what you can control. This point is made with acknowledgement that God is the source of momentum and forward progress. I am sure that you are well aware, however, that sin can get in the way. You have no control over whether more people will attend your church this Sunday. But you do have control over whether you have a repentant heart or not. You do decide whether you will spend time in God’s word each day. You make the decision of whether to minister, to participate in equipping opportunities, or whether to invite guests to participate in worship and church activities. You may not have control of the temperature but you can adjust your thermostat. Ordinarily, when you do, the temperature changes accordingly. Some actions on your part are equivalent to changing the thermostat.
A slump is temporary. Pray through it and know that God can teach you when you are in the valley. If the slump continues you have moved to erosion and that is a totally different challenge. Slumps are not enjoyable but neither are they abnormal. Attend to your personal spiritual growth when things are great, when times are tough, and even in the midst of a slump.