21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

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Change is one of the most controversial issues in almost any organization. There’s something inside you and me that clings to the status quo, hoping that it will work one more time, even if it hasn’t worked in a long time.

Sometimes the need for change is obvious. If nothing has changed since 1962, the case for change presents itself. But often it’s more subtle than that.

As leaders, we spend a surprising amount of time trying to convince ourselves that change is really that necessary. We’ve seen how change has swallowed colleagues alive. We’ve watched great leaders suffer as they met all kinds of opposition. We sense the conflict pending in our own community. So we ignore the signs that would tell us change is needed.

So, how do you know your organization needs to change? How do you stay 100% honest as a leader and engage the difficult issues?

Answer: You constantly watch for the signs that your church is dying and needs change.

What are those signs? Well, there are plenty of them. Change needs to happen on a macro-level and it also needs to happen on a micro-level. Because the need for change almost inevitably means some level of conflict, it’s easy for a leader to move into denial – to pretend the status quo isn’t really that bad.

But great leaders don’t run when they see a need for change. They embrace it and demonstrate the courage needed to navigate the change required.

So how do you know if your church needs to change? At the macro and micro level, here are 21 signs your church is dying needs to change:

1. Your stories are about what used to happen, not what’s going to happen. You need to change because your memories exceed your dreams.

2. You’re still growing but any real innovation has stopped. Every season has a shelf life. Smart leaders prepare for the next season before the current one expires.

3. Your team is misaligned. This means you need to change your culture. Misaligned organizations will always struggle with organizational health and unity in purpose and mission.

4.  Your growth is mostly transfer growth. You’re missing your mission. Enough said.

5.  The number of baptisms has slowed. Signs like this are the canary in the coal mine.

6. You think about the obstacles associated with the future more than you think about the opportunities. This kind of thinking breeds a culture of fear. Decline is right around the corner, if not already present.

7.  Your volunteer turn over is too high. Something needs to change in your volunteer culture or structure.

8.  Your volunteer turn over is too low. Something needs to change because you have no room for new people. Many dying churches have the same people serving in the same role for decades.

9. You’re not hearing stories of life change. Stories are the currency of effectiveness.

10.  You haven’t done anything exciting in the last six months. Stagnation starts subtly.

11.  You’re not offending people. Organizations that make a difference always anger someone. Just make sure you’re offending the right people.

12.  Your average age is creeping higher. A sure sign you’re missing the next generation.

13.  People are afraid to suggest new ideas. Your leadership culture may have become more about preservation than innovation.

14.  People are content with the status quo. When you think you’ve arrived, your vision is departing.

15. You are talking about the same issues in meeting after meeting. You’re stuck, and progress will become increasingly difficult until you tackle this.

16.  Your growth curve has slowed or stopped. The change probably should have started a year or two ago. Analyze and act now.

17.  Your community wouldn’t notice if you disappeared. Churches that only serve themselves miss their mission.

18.  Your passion level is average-to-low. Declining organizations always lack passion.

19.  You don’t look like your community. Churches that have become a subculture look like themselves, not like their community.

20.  Talk doesn’t translate to action. Most of your decisions result in nothing significant. Check your progress more than you check your intentions.

21.  You’re still breathing. Change is a constant. The day we stop changing is the day we begin to die.

Those are 21 signs I’ve identified. But there are so many more.

What would you add to this list?


Next week, my new book, Leading Change Without Losing It, officially releases. The book is designed to help leaders navigate change in the face of opposition.

We’ll be celebrating the launch with a 5 part blog series that responds directly to your questions about change. Leave a comment here to participate. Stop by the blog daily between Monday December 10th and Monday December 17th for special  launch week pricing and giveaways as well as some very practical conversation about how to lead change.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to a private online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.