Anglican Watch

Ten signs your church may be dying

The Episcopal Church is Dying

If there’s just one thing that’s broadly true about the Christian church, it’s that Christians love to ignore inconvenient truths. And no truth is more problematic or unpleasant than the possibility that a beloved church may close. As a result, vestries, bishops, standing committees, and others in authority often wait until it’s too late to head off a church closure.

Before we go further, a quick disclaimer: We’re using “church” in the sense of a parish building.

That said, we’re not fans of the notion that a church is a building, and we believe many parishes will, in the coming 20 years, offload costly and cumbersome real estate while recognizing that the church is a community of people.

Additionally, we live at a time when there is a significant surplus of office and commercial space in many markets. As a result, like the early Christians who met in the catacombs, we are not convinced that modern churches need to shell out big bucks for what is often little more than a prop for the theater of Sunday worship.

So, how can you know your church is in danger of closing? There are lots of indicators, but here are some of the more common:

Fewer people do more

Instead of looking at total church revenue, look at the church’s pledging units. The remaining members of dying churches almost invariably ramp up giving in an effort to stave off the end, so pledging units is a more accurate indicator than revenue.

Thus, if you have three or more years of steady decline, your church may be closer to closing than anyone realizes.

Your community is growing, but your church isn’t adding members

If you live in a high-growth area but your church is struggling to keep its current members, things are worse than you realize. That’s because your church is, to use a phrase from for-profit organizations, losing market share.

In other words, if your parish is such a slice of stained glass paradise, why aren’t people flocking to your doors?

Unresolved conflict

Study after study correlates unresolved conflict with church decline. And if there’s one thing the Episcopal Church is good at, it’s ignoring problems or making excuses. Even worse, conflict ignored is conflict multiplied, so if the conflict has been going on for a while, chances are your church is a toxic family system, even as it shrinks in size.

That begs the question: If leaders know there is a problem, why isn’t anyone being an adult and doing something about it?

The same people show up again and again

Every church relies on a core group of loyalists. But if the same names show up again and again, irrespective of their spiritual maturity or leadership skills, you have a problem. Healthy systems embrace newcomers and select leaders on the basis of their leadership qualities — including their willingness to address challenges.

Dying churches typically fiercely reject change.

Some people are unwelcome

A healthy church is welcoming and inclusive. Toxic systems develop an us-versus-them mentality and reject criticism as “divisive,” “threatening,” or even “domestic terrorism” (yes, that’s a real-life situation). Being inclusive extends to persons of varying political perspectives.

So if there are people who are persona non grata, it’s time to ask if Jesus would take the same approach and why your church isn’t living out the Christian faith.

Everyone knows there’s a problem, but no one wants to deal with it

At a dying church, everyone knows there’s an issue. Leadership may even say, “we need more members,” or “we need to grow.” But no one wants to deal with the real issue, which is that there are issues within a dying church that prevent growth.

Healthy churches are willing to look issues in the eye and actually do something about them, versus blaming others, making excuses, or hoping that the matter will go away.

Your church lives in the past

If your narthex has more memorial plaques than people, you have a problem. Healthy churches look towards the future, not the past. In short, there’s no such thing as the good old days. All we can do is to live in the present and plan for the future.

You’re using bequests to pay the bills

In a healthy church, all expenses, including capital replacements, are paid for either from savings or income. Capital campaigns are backup plans, far riskier than relying on current revenue streams.

If you’re relying on bequests to repave parking lots, replace roofs, and overhaul HVAC systems, you’re in a dire way. That’s because you’re saying you no longer have the income to maintain your physical plant, so your income is too low or your expenses too high. And sooner or later, your church will run out of bequests, which means you’re in dire trouble.

You never seek reconciliation

Every church has skeletons in the closet. Healthy churches recognize this and proactively work to make peace with the past, including fixing past wrongs. But too often, Episcopal parishes either treat their past misconduct as water over the dam and say, “That happened before I got here,” or they serve up a heaping dollop of cheap grace, where they say they are sorry and leave it at that.

Neither approach reflects a Christian understanding of forgiveness, reconciliation, or healing.

People don’t love each other

The biggest reason to be part of a faith community is to get and receive love. So if members of your parish like to gossip about each other, engage in petty intrigue, or try to bully/intimidate others, there’s no reason to be a member.

And there’s nothing so special about any church that people want to be part of a toxic system. You may think your parish is the most fabulous place on earth, but if people are being bullied or mistreated, healthy individuals can and will take a pass.

Remember: In the tongue lie the powers of life and death.


Do these warning signs mean your church is doomed to die?

The answer is no–many churches can and do come back from the brink. 

But just like a stroke or heart attack, minutes matter. 

Survival of a dying church depends on taking the reasons for church decline seriously, addressing the underlying problems, and choosing health and wholeness over death and destruction.


  1. The Episcopal church has known its been dying for well over two decades now. If you have to wonder if your church is dying it probably is. If you really want to save your church maybe leave the big corporate organizations that do next to nothing for personal spirituality.
    The Episcopal church is very much a boomers church. Hell, they didn’t even bother to change the damn prayer book. They are so far out of touch with reality that they have ZERO chance of reviving their church now. These are the same tired old people who couldn’t tell you why their own children wont come back let alone a stranger. They ran the organization into the ground. Personally I think its hilarious to watch such a pandering, useless group of people realize not a soul in the world cares about their wisdom.
    People act like its just now that we are starting to learn of the endless unspeakable crimes of these churches.

    the steps to get more people in would be remarkably easy but they would require change. Most people Don’t change which is why the passing of generations is good for the progression of humanity. Many of out bad ideas die out with us. Christianity and religion in general is the mother load of bad ideas. I remember mention John Spong to a priest at a wedding and she immediately responded, “He’s very controversial.” I would say controversy is needed when your talking to the staff of the titanic.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with your article. TEC is dying and those in charge, bishops and priests, just want to eke out one more year of life support so that they can continue getting their fat salaries and march on towards retirement. That is their sole gospel message. They have no other vision. Then there are the laity who just want to see that their parish stays open long enough so that they can be buried from it. The two groups collaborate with each other in attempt to secure their selfish agenda. What? Go make disciples of all nations?!?!? There will be none of that nonsense.

    If the clergy are forced to say something comforting, or “churchy” to make sure that you come back next week with your pledge amount in hand, then by God, they will say it.

    The “can” called evangelism and growth has been kicked down the road for so long that no one sees they are out of road.

    Then there are the crimes and scandals, one after another, which are covered-up, and/or denied. People are not dumb. They see what is happening. However, those same people lack courage to get involved and demand real substantive change for fear of being bullied, shunned, or shamed. So, they slowly drift away, or worse, keep silent.

    I agree, with Colin, TEC has been run into the ground, and the steps to grow it are simple, but the personal change and accountability needed for that to happen will never occur.

    1. Ha! They have no idea what a battle is going to come for the few remaining Christians once the boomers die off. all over the western world belief is collapsing past critical mass. The Netherlands Catholic church is almost finished closing 90% of their churches down to consolidate. The Church of England is desperately looking for a reason to justify its existence when less than 1% of the population shows up to their services. The Natives are burning the churches in Canada and nobody is going to rebuild them. Why bother when there are dozens of empty churches in every city?
      Younger people allow themselves to question more and the internet blew the lid with unlimited access to information. Organized religion doesn’t stand a chance. Especially such a weak old cow like the Episcopal church. Its a race the bottom when it comes to seeing whether its them or the Presbyterians to be picked off by the herd.

      Whats worth saving? the official Episcopal church USA from the 1960s. The priest are organized exactly like how a 1960s corporation would be. They got every congregation to sign over the titles and trust to churches older than America. Massive amounts of property and tens of billions of dollars in trust and just a small amount of executives overseeing it. In gods wisdom of course! I’m no longer a christian but that doesn’t seem to me like Jesus wanted to make sure the Mayo house and the building off second avenue were well taken care of. Sell it all and feed the poor turn over your beautiful churches camps into retreats for kids instead of juvenile? Scratch that, the episcopal church has a really bad history with juvenile abuse and what 73 year old has the energy? Jesus really would have wanted us to travel to fabulous hotels and location every three months to debate the baptism ritual or something. Who has the liquor?

      PB is always one hospital visit away from seeing if God really was an Episcopalian from Boston. Then we get another long, boring process of electing the next 77 year old into a promotion. The cycle starts all over again.

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