Barna’s Eight Symptoms of Decline, Part 2

In my last blog post we looked at four of Barna’s Eight Symptoms of declining churches.  They were; Demographic Changes, Inadequate Leadership, Poor Management, and Old Blood.  Here are the next four with a few brief comments.

5. Building Campaigns

“From coast to coast, the roadside is littered with the debris of churches that have entered into major building campaigns.  One reason for this condition is that the fund-raising campaign often converts the pastor from spiritual leader to chief fund-raiser, from teacher to construction superintendent, from prayer warrior to zoning board nemesis.”  (p.36)

(Before moving into a building program make sure you have a team of people who will carry the ball so that the pastor does not have to devote all his energy and attention to this process.)

6. The Ingrown Family

This symptom is sure death to a congregation. “Declining churches generally focus inward rather than outward.  The ministry that takes place rarely reaches beyond those people who are faithful participants within the church.” (p.36)

(One key factor is your flow of guests.  When I severed as a pastor this was one of my most important lists I had. Who were our guests last Sunday?  Are you having first time guests and do you have an intentional follow up process?)

7. Resistance to Change

Declining churches often enter their tailspin, however, because they lack vision, leadership, and a commitment to remaining relevant to their ministry context.  They tend to repeat their past ministry strategy thinking that what worked then is sure to work in the future.  (p.37)

(Someone said if we ever go back to the fifties Southern Baptist Churches will be ready to grow!  Seriously, we must be open to what the Holy Spirit leads us to do and make the necessary changes to reach and disciple people.)

8. Spiritual Health

In declining churches, you find a lack of passion for ministry.  “Ministry becomes a job or a series of routine activities that are to be performed at the prescribed time by the usual cast of characters like a Broadway play.  The people lose the sense of urgency about the calling to serve Christ.  The energy generated by the exhilaration of striving to fulfill the cause has been replaced by the comfort and security of habit and routine.” (p.38)

Barna says that the problems causing a church decline relate to people, programs, facilities, theology, finances, and style of ministry. (p.32)  He also discovered that there was no single factor to blame.  None of the churches he studied could blame the decline on one single factor of these eight we have looked at.  In every situation he studied, the church was suffering from two or more harmful conditions.

To overcome decline we must address these relevant issues and begin to solve them in our context.  Not to acknowledge the problem is Symptom number nine!


  1. Right on brother. If we can get our people healthy spiritually, especially leaders it will cause us to be true New Testament churches. Thanks for your comment!

  2. How true all these are and symptom nine is the killer. Thank you Mike

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