When churches settle into extended periods of decline, they sometimes adopt a defensive rhetoric that touts spiritual growth or spiritual health over numerical growth. Such false dichotomy often masks a tragic loss of vision, a lapse into spiritual sloth, and even defeat. Numerical growth can never substitute for spiritual health and may even cloak spiritual rot. But true spiritual health always longs to see the body of Christ grow. It longs to see the joy of the gospel shared and to offer more praise to its Lord.
From 2000 to 2007 only four states saw numeric growth in the percentage of the population attending an established church (i.e., one more than forty years old).
Only a tiny percentage of churches that sink to a certain depth ever truly recover. In the vast majority of cases, prolonged decline proves terminal. Close to 8 percent of all churches in North America have reached a plateau or are declining.2 The vast majority of most churches’ growth comes from people switching churches. Only a small percentage (1 to 3 percent) of the growth comes from conversions.
Darrin Patrick and Mark Devine, Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2014).