5 Signs Your Church Is Becoming Irrelevant

So how relevant is your church?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant churches make almost no impact on the community around them.

Why is that?

Because relevance determines impact—that’s why.

Relevance gains you a hearing. It determines whether or not people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

By all accounts, most churches appear to be losing relevance.

Before you push back, just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn’t mean you are.

Even growing churches can lose relevance. Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

So whether your church has no momentum or whether it’s losing steam, here are 5 signs your church is becoming irrelevant.

1. You increasingly think most new ideas are bad ideas

Hey, it’s easy to resist new ideas. But if you think back, there was a time when you were likely far more open to new ideas.

Now you’re older and wiser, and you’ve got a way of doing things.

The human mind is great at preserving the status quo. You can think of 10 reasons why a new idea won’t work, and you and your team never hesitate to list them.

The leadership graveyard is filled with the bodies of leaders who say “We haven’t done it that way before.”

Not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea.

When was the last time you embraced a radical new idea? If you can’t answer that question, you’re already in trouble.

2. The copyright dates on your music are from another era

You can argue about church decor all day long, or about the less tangible aspects of church life, but few things give away a church’s true age than the copyright dates on the music it sings.

Many churches will embrace change to an extent, and then they stop.

Many churches think they’re relevant and current. After all, they have a band, not a choir. They have screens, not books.

But dig a little deeper and most songs they sing were written somewhere between 2002-2012. In other words, they froze a few years ago.

The danger here is that they think they’re being relevant, but they really aren’t. The truly new songs, they’ll tell you, are too long, too non-melodious, too weird to sing.

Besides, our people love the songs we sing because they know them.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with singing older songs, but if all the copyright dates are older, it’s a sign that you’re actually not that relevant.

You’re in no-man’s land. You’re too contemporary to be traditional, and too traditional to be contemporary.

And the gap between you and culture is growing wider every day.

2. Everyone on your team is your age

This isn’t so much a problem if you’re twenty-two and just starting out. To have a young leadership team of idealistic people is an awesome thing.

Sure, some wisdom wouldn’t hurt, but still, the world often gets changed by young leaders on a mission.

But what happens is that twenty-year-olds eventually turn 30. Fast forward a bit, and everyone on your senior leadership team is in their mid-fifties.

That’s a big issue.

Left uncorrected, churches tend to age with their leader.

As a leader in my early fifties, I’ve had to be incredibly intentional about surrounding myself with leaders in their 20s and 30s, something that really energizes me.

You may not have the chemistry or familiarity with younger leaders that you do with your peers who have been through life with you, but renewing the leadership table with younger leaders is critical.

It’s easy for older leaders to think that younger leaders are too young to lead.

You were too, once. And someone took a chance on you anyway. And you did some of your best work then too, didn’t you?

3. Change makes you tired

Change is difficult at the best of times, but if even the sound of change makes you tired, it’s a sign that you’re becoming irrelevant.

It’s normal to default to the status quo. We all do.

Last year, my dentist told me I needed at least five crowns. The thought of that made me feel tired and broke all at once.

I got a bit of the work done but then took a break.

One afternoon I was eating some cereal and I noticed something that didn’t feel like cereal in my mouth. It was half a molar.

Guess where I went the next day?

Too often, that’s exactly how we approach change in the church. We wait until something breaks, and then we’ll try to fix it.

That may work with a tooth, but it’s a terrible strategy for churches (okay, and for dentistry).

In our rapidly changing culture, waiting until something breaks to fix is one of the fastest ways to ensure you become irrelevant.

If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your church will make you even more tired.

5. Your dominant emotions toward to culture are negative

If social media is any gauge of how many Christian leaders feel about our culture, the church is in trouble.

And even if you’re not posting on your social media is ALL CAPS, telling the world how bad it is, your attitude still matters.

Negativity leaks.

Constantly criticizing a culture is no way to reach it.

I am constantly reminded that Jesus loved the world. He saw the mess, the brokenness, the godlessness and embraced us anyway.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it.

You should care enough about the world to do the same.

Some Help

I talk to many leaders who use posts like this one to walk their staff or boards through the issues they’re facing.

I’ve designed two resources to help even more.

My book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow has helped over 25,000 leaders navigate the cultural change we’re experiencing today.

You can pick up the book here. I’ve also developed a video series designed to facilitate team discussion on the issues I cover in the book. You can download the Lasting Impact Team Edition videos here.

Additionally, I have a course designed to help church leaders and their teams break through the growth barriers that hold so many churches back. You can download that here.

What Do You Think?

What do you see as signs of relevance or irrelevance?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

21 Comments

  1. David Williams on December 13, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    The need to be relevant has nothing to do with whether or not one is staying true to the gospel. Of course we must stay true to the gospel! BUT we must always be contextualizing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the particular needs of the people who need to be reached. There is a reason why the Reformers insisted on publishing the Bible in the common languages of the people. There is a reason why Charles Wesley wrote a new song every day! (He said he did it because songs get stale so fast!) Richard Baxter recognized the need for relevance asking why, if he knows that his congregation’s greatest addiction is drunkenness, he must be required (by the state church) to preach on covetousness. They all recognized the need to be relevant to the needs of the people.

    Good pastors know the need to be relevant. It’s part of reaching the lost, encouraging the saved and spurring them on to holiness. The difficulty with relevance today is that culture is changing several times within one lifetime instead of once over several lifetimes. It’s hard to keep up with the needs of the people around us. That doesn’t make it less necessary to stay relevant, just harder.

    Thank you for a great article! If anybody reading the article is discouraged about or feels contrary to the need to be relevant, pray for the power of the Spirit to move in you and your church, then cooperate with the Spirit to take steps towards Christ-likeness. Jesus calmed the storm, but the disciples still needed to row to shore. Jesus didn’t “teleport” them there. Pray for the power of the Spirit, then get working on that oar!

  2. Mark Kolbo on December 4, 2017 at 12:50 am

    Perhaps we resemble many of these remarks, but the question I always raise when confronted by an article like this is: “what are you trying to SELL me?”

  3. Kayra on November 27, 2017 at 9:50 am

    First of all, YOUR church is one thing, GOD’S church is something completely different. None of God’s creatures has the ability to kill his church. Most of this is pretty dumb. Worship should be focused on God/Jesus, not on you and what you want. People don’t come to church for the concert. Some very liturgical churches are bursting at the seams. Age makes you tired. Seeing the culture in it’s sinful totality makes you tired. Maybe constantly reading articles of the 5 to 7 things you need to do is another thing that ruins your church. Make it less about what you do and more about where you focus.

    • Pastor Linda on December 6, 2017 at 3:48 am

      Are there Women Pastors involved here? Do you support Women?

  4. Helmut Eisert on November 25, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Helmut Eisert
    Relevancy can be objective and subjective. Hymns and old choruses are very relevant to the older generation. New style of music and songs are relevant to the younger generation. In essence, a church can and will not be relevant as to a person’s desire and need. As the older gerneration is dying off, so is the need of their relevancy. I personally appreciate that there are still churches that know how to blend the old with the new to accommodate both the old and young generation. I, as an older person, am elated with the new songs that have shifted from singing about God to God. Furthermore, while the use of instruments have shifted in today’s worship yet I feel that the quality of worship is absolutely essential. The Bible is admonishing us not to neglect hymns as part of our worship to God. Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16 etc.

  5. Andy Scott on November 19, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Hey I don’t know if anyone pointed this out yet but you have some numbering issues here. You have 1, 2, 2, 3, 5.

    GREAT POST THOUGH!

    • Josh on November 19, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      Correct Number Orders is so 1990’s, All the cool kids just use whatever number for point count.

  6. Peter Ofori-Amponsah on November 19, 2017 at 1:37 am

    Sir, your articles are worth deserving to be implemented. Keep posting.

    Peter.

  7. Eddie on November 19, 2017 at 12:23 am

    As hard as it is to hear, I believe there is truth in this article. I understand those who point out the danger in change for change sake and not staying true to the message of the gospel, but I don’t think that’s what you are suggesting. The message of the gospel must always be at the core of all we do. However, as Jesus and Paul modeled for us, we must learn how to meet people with the gospel where they are and be relevant in their lives. Paul said “I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, I might save some.” Jesus was the master at connecting with people on their level and we must learn to do the same.

    That being said, there was one point I wanted to comment on: Everyone on Your Team is Your Age – I get the point of what you are saying and I love the part about intentionally developing young leaders. “A young leadership team of idealistic people” CAN be an awesome thing but without the wisdom of experienced leadership and good mentors, what I have observed is that many times it does not go well. The fact that the world is changed by young leaders on mission, doesn’t necessarily mean that all changes are good. The NT tells us that church leaders should not be new converts; leaders need to be mature Christians (regardless of physical age). I believe a church that has ONLY young leaders is a recipe for disaster. There needs to be some harmony on the leadership team that includes the wisdom of years, with the energy and potential of youth.

  8. Bill Cooper on November 18, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    “And the gap between you and culture is growing wider every day.”

    I should hope so.

    I do agree with much of what is in 2, 3 and 5 though.

    But where is number 4?

    A caution though :The wisdom of man does not indicate what God will do – it is only the wisdom of man.

    He can do wonders – we can only offer explanations and comments on things we see dimly.

    The future church leaders will not come from seminaries – they will be from the ranks of the experienced in life and those steeped in God’s presence.

  9. Tammie J on November 18, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    My husband and I serve in a church like Carey describes. We sing songs that are way outdated yet to some people they are “new”. Songs like “Through it all” by Andre Crouch. If you have to ask who he is then you can understand….

    We’ve been here 3 years and every Sunday is a struggle for me. It’s a KJV preferred church. It’s in the foothills of the mountains in a rural area.

    I read Carey’s articles and want to weep because I wonder if we will ever see any significant changes take place. And I am tired. I’m tired of the same old same old, but I’m also tired of the battles we face when we introduce change…and no one gets on board…and then we wind up doing everything ourselves….

    For those of you criticizing this article…try Living it.

  10. Robert on November 18, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with what Carey says; much of what he says is good for many places, but not all places and all cultures.

    I’m also wondering, where is God’s word in this article? Where is the attribution of growth to the holy spirits movement? Where is the blessing of God? We must be careful not to try to formulate God’s movement like Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8.

  11. Joe on November 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    One of your best articles I’ve seen yet. Relevance does matter.

  12. David on November 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Excellent. Excellent. Excellent.

  13. Norma Tilton on November 18, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Very good article that I will definitely weigh and pray about. THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT AND CONSULT. It has definitely helped me.

  14. Stephen Nelson on November 16, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    Solid gold! Solid. And gold. Thanks Carey!

  15. Bob on November 16, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    OK you hooked me on your commercial. What you’re saying may be a good idea but is it a God idea? Too many times pastors make changes without asking God what he wants done. This is very dangerous. If God is in it it will work.I was on staff of a church and they made a drastic change Graham bass Church to a cell Church and today it is no longer effective for the church. At one time they had approximately 30 cells now it’s down to about 12. The people we’re set in their ways and did not want to change. Again what does God want?

  16. Andrew Wakeling on November 16, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Totally irrelevant article,
    For starters if it’s “your” church then yes you’ll have to build it yourself, cos Jesus said I will build My church – and He does.
    The church is made up of living stones and it is God’s Word that brings life not the latest (probably mindless, repetitive, soulish) songs.
    People are saved by the preaching of the Word, it doesn’t need dressing up or to be made relevant to our ‘culture’.
    If you use Walt Disney to get converts don’t be suprised if u end up with mickey mouse christians.
    Why should we take you seriously when you can’t even proof read your own article ?

    • Paul Crowther on November 16, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Having a bad day by any chance Andrew? Cheer up brother, the King of kings is still on the throne!

    • Ryan Rose on November 18, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      People are actually saved by Faith alone, not the “preaching of the Word”

      This is a very relevant article for churches struggling to grow or slipping into decline. It always makes me laugh when ministers and churches are completely resistant to change, because things that are new must not be of God. What everyone seems to forget is that Jesus didn’t preach from a pulpit, his followers didn’t sit in pews, they didn’t sing “The Old Rugged Cross” and they for certain didn’t where suits, ties and dress shoes.

      So no matter how straight and narrow you may think you are doing it, everything in your church, when compared to the Church in the book of Acts would be perceived as “New,” “Radical” and “mindless.”

      • Ryan Rose on November 18, 2017 at 12:30 pm

        they didn’t WEAR suites, good grief I can’t type today!
        (not where)

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