What Can Stem Decline in the Christian Church?4 min read

When you contemplate and consider life in your congregation what do you see? Do you see flourishing? Do you see joy and peace? Do you see excitement about following Jesus? Do you see new people being reached?

Many congregations in our denomination and others are in decline. You can fill a library full of books analyzing why that is. Both Christian and non-Christian writers are working overtime to opine. Ultimately, as M. Scott Peck observes, the reasons are, borrowing a concept from Sigmund Freud, overdetermined: “Anything of any significance is overdetermined. Everything worth thinking about has more than one cause” (M. Scott Peck, In Search of Stones). There is no one thing that contributes to congregational decline; maybe a library full of analysis is warranted.

A theme you will find as you read through the “decline literature” is that a congregation’s balanced focus on content, context, and character can serve as a pathway out of decline.


Already I have written and spoken much about annually reading the Bible. In twenty minutes a day you can read the entire Bible this year. We cannot give away (the Christian faith) what we do not have (gained through the Scriptures). In many ways our denomination has a high value on being stewards of the Word; we are content rich. But for real impact we need to focus more on “retail than wholesale.” We need the Christians in the pews and not just the men in the pulpit to be filled with the content of the Bible. Lay people as steeped in the Word as their preachers serve as a key part of The  Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod heritage.

Consider this a footnote to that: We should keep an eye out for what other content we Christians absorb. Blogs, websites, podcasts, newscasts, and popular books fill us with content too. What are they filling us with? Fear. Consumerism. Anger. False hope. Self-centeredness. Christians who have trouble finding time to read their Bible might find it by analyzing their screen time. Some things ring true through all technologies: garbage in, garbage out.


© Tyler Lagalo/Unsplash

Focusing on context serves as a second aspect for alleviating congregational decline. Where are you serving? Who are the people who live around you? What are their fears? What do they celebrate? What do they think about? What are their needs? See related article:

We remember that Paul focused on context for his flourishing mission endeavors. He wrote, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Your congregation’s context should impact your music. It should impact your programming. It should impact your calendar. It should impact your budget. We Christians and our congregations need to see our neighbors as ones for whom Christ died and not as objects of jokes or judgments.


Character serves as the third aspect of alleviating congregational decline. It amounts to living out the first two issues: how do I connect the Word (content) with where I live (context). Humanly speaking, the character of Christians serves to draw or repel unbelievers. If people cannot distinguish us from the shrill voices on the right or the left, they will not hear us. If people experience the same level of scorn and judgment from us that they get from every other group of which they are not a part, they will not join us. If people do not experience sacrificial love from us, they will not learn of Christ’s sacrificial love that is behind us.

Christian character, like congregational decline, is the subject of many books. Excellent books on spiritual disciplines abound. Most will concentrate on Bible reading, prayer, generosity, service, kindness, forgiveness. To say such things are simple is not to say they are easy. We do well to explore such topics; we’ll do better if we practice them.

The path to congregational flourishing in the midst of decline? Certainly, it is Jesus and His Gospel applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinners. But humanly speaking, for the local congregation to flourish the path is at least threefold: content, context, character. A right balance of these will lead to great connecting with one another and your community.

Featured image © Ben White/Lightstock

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About the Author

Rev. David A. Davis serves as President of the Michigan District, LCMS.

More by This Author

Karen McClelland - March 5, 2024

Thank you, Pastor Davis! This is just what I/we needed.
My congregation is alive on Sunday morning and basically dead during the week. We are getting OLD. how do we make the needed changes? I am anxious
to see/hear more from you.

Alex Holcomb - March 12, 2024

Thank you, President Davis, for your gracious admonition to all of us to be steeped in God’s Word and committed to loving our ACTUAL neighbor (not the fictional, easy-to-like one). I especially appreciated the challenge to watch our cultural intake. Thank you for not only sharing these words of truth, but thank you for living them. We are blessed to have you leading our District.

Lisa Hoesl with Good Shepherd Lutheran Church - March 12, 2024

This is an enlightening article. Our church is struggling. Our weekly attendance of 35 to 40. I would like to share this article as a link with some leaders in our church. Can you send me the link for just this article? Thank you.