Step 1 of 12
Inclining Churches are Future-Oriented – Inclining leaders are always looking ahead, making decisions today based on their implications for tomorrow. Leaders of inclining churches would never trade what is best for the future for what seems best for the present. There is a sense of destination and all energy, resources and focus are fixed on reaching that destination.
Reclining Churches are Present-Oriented – Reclining leaders are quite satisfied with how things are and if they could they would freeze time, preferring an eternal present where all Sundays would be just like this Sunday, characterized by a solid congregation with solid finances, good staff, good programs, and nice facilities.
Declining Churches are Past-Oriented – Declining leaders desire to go back to some former time in the church, perhaps when Rev. So-and-So was here. Decline has a point of reference, a point from which ministry declined. So, the natural tendency is to want to return to the way it used to be, a time that is perceived as better than today and a time that is sugar coated with nostalgia.
Inclining Churches are Community-Focused – Inclining leaders give priority to the group of people that is living in the community, as yet unreached by the church. These community residents are the objects to key
Scripture passages such as the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Who are the neighbors in the Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself? They are the people of the community. When the Great Commission commands us to go and make disciples, to whom are we to take the gospel? We are to take the gospel to the people of the community.
Reclining churches are Congregation-Focused – Reclining leaders give priority to the group of people that is inside the church, those already reached. Surely, a healthy church will focus on both community and congregation, but the natural inclination for leaders is to focus on the congregation at the expense of the community. In-reach has its own voice, but outreach needs an advocate. Otherwise the focus will be so heavily weighted toward the congregation that the community will be ignored. The church that fails to reach its community ultimately finds itself on the backside of the lifecycle.
Declining Churches are Core-Focused – Declining leaders focus on a remnant of the declining church whose influence becomes stronger as the church grows smaller. Key influencers in this core often prove to be barriers to growth as they remain entrenched in their authority and hold the congregation hostage by means of that authority and influence. One key element that is leveraged in this way is money. Often the influencers in the core give significant percentages of the church’s budget. Others in the core believe that the church couldn’t sustain without that income, so they acquiesce to the influencer’s demands.
Inclining Churches are Vision-Driven – Inclining leaders have discerned God’s vision for their churches and are fully committed to that vision. All decisions are made in light of and for the benefit of that vision. The rightly discerned godly vision is the point of reference from which all else flows.
Reclining Churches are Program-Driven – Reclining leaders are convinced that the success of their churches lies in the strength of the programming. All decisions are made in light of and for the benefit of the programming. The programming is the point of reference from which all else flows.
Declining Churches are Structure-Driven – Declining churches are living in a church world that is devoid of vision and devoid of effective programming. In light of this void, these leaders cling to the structure of the church as evidence that the church is still alive. They are preoccupied with elements such as organizational charts, boards and committees, finances, payroll, and building maintenance.
Inclining churches are Innovative in their approach to ministry – They keep abreast of new ideas and developments and thrive on making good ministry better through creativity and experimentation. Inclining leaders will adjust, modify and even replace ministries, programs or systems that are working well if they determine that something new would bring greater benefit. Constantly being in research and development mode and putting new prototypes on the field is labor intensive, but Inclining leaders are willing to pay that price.
Reclining Churches are Routine in their approach to ministry – If the machinery of ministry is working, don’t mess with it. This approach might best be described as fill-in-the-blanks ministry. Make sure people, curriculum, programming and the like are in place and let the system run. Templates are developed as much as possible for standardization, such as a Sunday morning template that gets filled in by ministry leaders with song titles, sermon title and text, announcements, etc. Often in this environment, leaders of different ministries or departments rarely communicate but simply make sure the blanks for which they are responsible are filled.
Declining churches are Complacent in their approach to ministry – It’s not that Declining leaders don’t care, it’s that they are resigned to the belief that they cannot make the future happen, but can only wait and let it happen. In a sense, they see themselves as victims of circumstances and consequently hope that these external circumstances will change so that they will be less victimized. This is a passive posture that incubates in the wishful thinking that somehow God will do something to better their plight. They believe that God does great things through His church, but struggle to believe that He would do something great in theirs.
Inclining Churches exercise high-risk faith – Inclining leaders are committed to following God wherever He leads without contingency. As such, no risk is too high when God’s leading is ascertained. Given this proclivity, much time and energy is invested in pursuit of God’s leading with an expectation that God will in fact guide these leaders on their journey of faithfulness, a faith journey that is willing to risk all but that faith.
Reclining churches exercise Low-Risk Faith – Reclining leaders are surely committed to following God, but are also committed to guarding resources and all that has been accomplished carefully. These leaders are willing to try new ideas, but in a controlled environment where not much is at stake if the new endeavor fails.
Declining churches exercise No-Risk Faith – Declining leaders are committed to protecting whatever limited resources remain and therefore will not put those resources at risk. They see this as prudent, as stretching resources out as long as possible in the hope that God will make some unanticipated move at some point and make ministry better, as if the state of their ministry is God’s fault.
Inclining Churches make faith decisions based on their high-risk faith – Inclining leaders will move forward in faith despite the fact that things might not add up on paper, despite the fact that not all of the needed resources might currently be available, and despite the fact that the outcome is uncertain and there might be much at risk. This is predicated, of course, on the belief that a godly vision has been rightly discerned and that God’s leading is clear, compelling leaders to act decisively though there might be holes in the initiative.
Reclining Churches make resource decisions based on their low-risk faith – Reclining leaders will move forward only when all of the necessary resources are on hand or anticipated, and when those resources need not be diverted from current programming. They see this as wise and prudent and in keeping with counting the cost before undertaking a new initiative.
Declining Churches are paralyzed by indecision, based on their no-risk faith – Declining leaders are fearful of making mistakes and falling further into Decline, so they hesitate in making decisions or fail to make decisions altogether. Ironically the decision not to make a decision is a decision, usually a wrong decision.
Inclining Churches place people in serving positions by identifying their gifts – Inclining leaders understand that people are most productive and most fulfilled when they are serving in their areas of giftedness, talent, passion, experience and calling. Care is taken to deploy people in ministry accordingly in order that they are utilized to their full potential in a manner that is sustainable over long periods of time. When people are integrated into service through this approach, they understand that they are serving as a privilege, not as an obligation or as a means of simply helping out.
Reclining Churches place people in serving positions through slot-filling – An inventory is taken to determine how many slots need to be filled to man each program. The congregation is then grabbed by the collar and dragged through the grid of these slots in the hope that a live body will land in each slot. Once this is done, the nominating committee reasons that its work is done since each program has proper coverage. Though all slots might be filled, this approach is not fulfilling for those involved and leads to burnout and ineffective ministry as people are not matched properly to service.
Declining Churches place people in serving positions by default – There are typically more slots to be filled than there are people, so those remaining in the church are likely to fill a slot because “somebody has to do it.” Usually those willing to serve commit to serving in multiple slots, wearing so many hats that they are spread too thin to be effective.
Inclining Churches approach money (and other resources) like an investor – Inclining leaders regard the funding that God has provided as money intended to produce the fruit of ministry, so they invest that money in ministry with the expectation that ministry fruit will result, thirty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred-fold.
Reclining Churches approach money as a provider – Reclining leaders are driven by the church’s programming and see money as the financial provision to keep those programs running. The focus is on hosting program activities rather than on the fruit of ministry that might be produced.
Declining Churches approach money as a preserver – Declining leaders see the church’s money as the financial means of the church’s survival. The focus is on stretching the church’s ability to stay alive as long as possible in the hope that God might unexpectedly move at some point to create more viable ministry that recaptures the past.
Inclining Churches are always seeking the development of new leadership – Inclining leaders understand that for the church to continue to grow there is always the need for new leaders to move into existing and newly created ministries. This commitment to new leadership is reflected in aggressive discipling toward leadership and the sending out of existing leaders to create new ministry and open doors for new leadership.
Reclining Churches are led by established leadership – With programming reaching capacity and leveling off, the leadership positions have been identified and filled, leaving little room for the emergence of new leadership. Those who come into such a ministry with leadership giftedness and potential are unable to realize that giftedness and potential, so their growth is stunted or they migrate elsewhere to apply their leadership calling.
Declining Churches are led by Incumbent leadership – Declining leaders have often been in place for long stretches of time, perhaps even serving for decades in the same leadership positions. Routine prevails as the same kinds of decisions are made the same way based on the same criteria with little change or progress being seen. The prevailing attitude is to do things the way we always have in the hope of a better result. At its best, this is wishful thinking.
Inclining Churches grow by conversion – A significant percentage of growth can be attributed to people’s coming to Christ and making professions of faith. Inclining leaders commit to the regular presentation of the good news of the Gospel and strategically provide opportunities for people to voice those professions.
Reclining Churches grow by transfer – The programming emphasis of the Reclining church draws already Christian people, providing programming for all in the family that is appealing to the Christian who might attend a church with less attractive programming. Since transfer growth is adding to the church’s growth statistics, reclining leaders sense that they are fostering church growth and miss the fact that significant conversion is not taking place. The church grows by transfer, but the kingdom of God does not grow when already Christian people church-hop.
Declining Churches by definition experience no growth – Or perhaps negative growth would be more accurate. With programming failing through lack of resources, the church offers less and less, losing more and more people in the process.
Based on your assessment, your church is showing symptoms of recline. Please take a moment to answer the following short questions.
Based on your assessment, your church is showing symptoms of incline. Please take a moment to answer the following short questions.