Planning on Closing Anytime Soon? 21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

Sometimes I think we should just hang signs like this in some churches or organizations when it comes to change: people are just closed.

And if you’re closed to change, it’s probably only a matter of time until your church or organization closes.

Okay, no one actually says they’re closed, but in reality, they’re not open.

Here’s how it happens.

The need for change is easy to spot in others, and very difficult to spot in yourself.

So leaders are left wondering: do we really need to change?

They tell themselves:

It’s not that bad

Things will turn around

I’m sure it’s going to be okay

Sometimes all of us go a bit blind to the need for change because we’re afraid.

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.

As a result, 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 you need to change.


21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change

What are those signs? Well, there are plenty of them.

At the macro and micro level, here are 21 signs your church needs to change:


1. Your stories are about what used to happen

When your stories are about what used to happen, not what’s going to happen, you need to change.

Your memories exceed your dreams. And that’s dangerous.


2. You’re still growing but any real innovation has stopped.

For some churches, growth stopped years ago. But some are still growing.

Remember. 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.

For more on alignment, see this post on what I’ve learned from North Point about alignment, and this post on how alignment can revolutionize trust in your organization.


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 see more obstacles than opportunities when you look at the future

Leaders who are afraid of change only see the downside of the future.

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.

If you wonder why you’re losing volunteers, this post might help you.


8.  Your volunteer turn over is too low

Surprise. I just said the opposite, but turnover that’s too low is as much a danger sign as turnover that’s too high.

If your volunteer turnover is exceptionally 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 missional effectiveness.


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

The Gospel is anything but boring, so why is your church boring?

Stagnation starts subtly. Keep an eye on it.


11.  You’re not offending people

Organizations that make a difference always anger someone. If you’re not upsetting someone, you’re likely doing nothing significant.

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 

Thinking you’ve arrived is a sign that you’re vision has departed.


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

I know. This is obvious. But you’d be amazed at how many organizattons and church have stopped growing but aren’t responding to it.

The change probably should have started a year or two ago. Analyze and act now.


17.  Your community wouldn’t notice if you disappeared 

This one hurts, but does your community notice you?

Churches that only serve themselves miss their mission.


18.  Your passion level is average-to-low 

Declining organizations always lack passion.

If you want to get your church passionate about your mission, read this.


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. You talk a great game, but you do nothing about it.

Jesus didn’t call us to make decisions, he called us to make disciples.  Act.


21. You’re still breathing

This one’s just fun. Keep changing.

Change is a constant. The day we stop changing is the day we begin to die.

Those are 21 signs I’ve identified.

I don’t think there are any exceptions, we all need to change.

What would you add to this list?

Leave a comment!


  1. Quote: Stories About What Used To Happen on July 30, 2014 at 11:33 am

    […]  21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change by Carey […]

  2. Interesting Reads | Second Chance Pastor on July 26, 2014 at 8:16 am

    […] * Carey Nieuwhof wrote about “21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change” […]

  3. Wednesday Hyperlink Record | Posts on July 24, 2014 at 12:31 am

    […] Canadian North Level affiliate pastor has a fantastic again-catalog of management articles on his weblog. Lately posted, 21 indicators that a “closed” signal could also be heading on your church, unless things change… […]

  4. Wednesday Hyperlink Record | Posts on July 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    […] Canadian North Level affiliate pastor has an amazing again-catalog of management articles on his weblog. Just lately posted, 21 indicators that a “closed” signal could also be heading on your church, unless things change… […]

  5. Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud on July 23, 2014 at 5:23 am

    […] Canadian North Point affiliate pastor has a great back-catalog of leadership articles on his blog. Recently posted, 21 signs that a “closed” sign may be heading for your church, unless things change… […]

  6. Lee A Zuehlke on July 17, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Fear of change is what I refer to the deer syndrome. Deer rarely get hit by cars going from one side of the road to the other. They get hit when they see danger (the car) and go back to where they knew they were safe. Many churches are like the deer. They know that they were safe with the way things were in 1957 so let’s go back there.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Great metaphor! Love this. Thanks Lee!

  7. Alan on July 17, 2014 at 9:35 am

    19 is a tough one. It will pose serious issues for long established churches.
    This happens when there is a major demographic shift in your community to
    non English speaking groups. Some will adapt and help
    With the transition while many move on.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 20, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      For sure Alan. And maybe it’s a chance for an older declining church to flip the deed and keys to a younger group with more energy and vision for the new reality.

  8. […] 21 Signs Your Church Needs to Change – Carey Nieuwhof […]

  9. Jim on July 15, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for this. Using this as a way to begin a leadership council meeting this week.

  10. Brent Dumler on July 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    Carey, love that you mention volunteer turn over being too low. Not only does this not allow room for new, it mistakenly communicates that all ministries are adequately covered/staffed. In the church world we all know this is never the case. There are always needs.

  11. Chad Hoffman on July 12, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Straight and to the point. This would even make for a good questionnaire to do quarterly.

    I would add: 22. Good staff are leaving. 23. Nobody is talking about you on social media. The staff isn’t, your attenders aren’t, and the community never does.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 13, 2014 at 5:32 am

      Really great additions Chad. Thank you!

  12. GWC on July 12, 2014 at 7:51 pm

    Ouch. But I needed to hear this

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 13, 2014 at 5:32 am

      Glad it helped!

  13. James Wheeler on July 11, 2014 at 11:57 am

    Carey – I am always so blessed by your writings. When I first ran across you on twitter I started to realize there is a guy who speaks and resonates with things I have thought and written about so often. And God has really given you influence and a voice to speak it out in a big way. I just want you to stay encouraged and keep bringing healthy leadership to the Body of Christ regardless of any resistance you may face. So many quality leaders are stuck in toxic church cultures and the 21 things you share here can give some good points for us to pray about and begin to bravely embrace needed change.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 12, 2014 at 7:38 am

      James, thank you so much for taking the time to write such an encouraging note. Appreciate it. The encouragement means a lot!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.