What Causes Churches to Severely Decline and Eventually Die?

Before replanting a severely declined or near death church, it would be helpful to understand how a church succumbed to such a state. As a deteriorating marriage cannot improve without understanding what caused the marital unhealthiness, so too churches, unless they realize what has caused their decline and imminent death, will they be able to replant a vibrant, healthy, reproductive, and missional church.

One suggestion for why churches die is philosophical and scientific. In the life cycle of organizations, everything eventually dies; nothing lives forever.[1] Another reason given for churches suffering major decline and imminent death rests with their ecclesiastical structure, methodology, and focus. Much of the focus is on institutional maintenance, clinging to tradition, and internal struggles rather than a missional focus and contextual relevancy. Dodson and Stetzer note, “The western church has lost sight of its mission, purpose, and calling.”[2] Barna expresses how an inward focus on maintenance and church members causes decline and death in churches.[3] So, resistance to methodological and even ecclesiastical change can erode the vibrancy and vitality of local churches.

However, the most simplistic, biblical, and theological answer in response to the severe decline and impendent death of churches is sin. At the heart, severe decline and death is not a result of philosophical, scientific, ecclesiastical, and methodological error, but rather is a result of the infection and disease of sin. Sin causes unhealthiness, decline, and eventual death. Wayne Grudem remarks, “If our goal [as believers] is to grow in increasing fullness of life…to sin is to do an about-face and begin to walk downhill away from the goal of likeness to God; it is to go in a direction that “leads to death” and eternal separation from God, the direction from which we were rescued when we became Christians.[4]


[1] Alice Mann, Can Our Church Live? (The Alban Institute, 1999), 1.

[2] Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2007), x.

[3] George Barna, Turn-Around Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), 33.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 505.