Monday, 19 May 2008

A Simple Theory of Traditional Church Decline

I have a simple theory to explain the decline of the traditional churches over the last 50 years in this diocese. We are the victims of our own success. Fifty years ago our churches were full. And as the culture changed and the gap widened between traditional churches and the lives and thinking of ordinary Australians, so decline at some point became likely. Our churches were still strong. Good numbers and lots of kids etc. But the writing was on the wall. Full churches didn't need to change. The formula had been working for so long! Some decorative change perhaps, but not the sort of change necessary. It has taken decades for us to get to the place where it is clear that more than decorative change is necessary. Our strength predisposed us away from asking and responding to the hard questions; we could, with some reasonableness, claim that the system wasn't broken.

Now we can see how long ago the system broke down. The question is how many of our churches have left it too late to respond. There is a critical level of resources below which it is very, very difficult to come back from. How many of our churches are below that critical level? How many still have the resource base to make a response? That's the question really. It is really not that hard to know the kinds of things we have to respond to, and the kinds of responses, at least in general terms, we need to make. But a church needs the resources to do so. The sad thing is that we had to let our resource base be whittled down before we reached the point of acknowledging the need for real change. But I suppose that goes with the ground of our former success.

Those churches that do respond, and have the resources adequate to sustain the response, have a good likelihood that they will be flourishing in 10 years time. Which, of course, will bring the problems of success further down the track. That's the cycle I suppose.


  1. Though is it a cycle that we have to follow. Surely if we know that if things are stable than we are about to decline we can go the church isn't growing we need to do something about this?

    Start a new service,

    Plant a new church,

    Start a new group,


  2. Yes, that is correct. It is possible to restart momentum, and in a different direction. But the point is once things are going so well, it is difficult to do. There is an inertia against the kind of changes required. Which doesn't mean it is impossible. But it does explain why getting the changes happening can sometimes not work, and why churches leave it almost (and sometimes) too late.