Can we revitalize our dying church? Should we?

Four books on congregations in decline, and what pastors can do

“I wish I could serve a growing church just once in my career.” The speaker was a fellow minister, the pastor of a downtown church that was an architectural gem, built to seat 1,000 worshipers. Now barely a fifth of that number turned up on Sunday. What do you say to him?

There was nothing stopping him from turning that church around. After all, there were thousands of unchurched people in town, and an army of consultants and a library of books offered advice on church renewal. Any success he had would earn plaudits from the denomination, invitations to join the speaking and consulting circuit, and perhaps even a book contract. He could at least try to spiff up the place with a band, or new signage, or a new youth minister. Another option would be to guide the church through the stages of grief and watch the denomination sell the property to a developer.

Books about ministering in a declining church cover a wide spectrum. Some confidently offer a turnaround strategy, while others focus on making peace with dying. Each of the books under review here is written by a pastor and so is concerned with the psychology of leading a dying congregation.