In taking an objective evaluation of your ministry setting perhaps two of the questions to begin with are 1) What happened leading up to the point at which decline became visible? 2) What did the organization do in the wake of this visible evidence?
The answer to the first question most often has to do with a financial shortage or a loss of key lay leaders in the church. Until there comes a shortage of financial resources or manpower to carry out ministry many church leaders ignore the signs of decline. The second question is designed to allow church leaders to draw on retrospect of actions taken or the lack of action.
While it is designed in an attempt to keep leaders from moving to defensive responses, some will instinctively react with a defensive reply. A coach might ask questions following the two listed above to assist the coach in understanding the motives and actions of the church enabling him to assist church leaders in recognizing any misguided actions as well as good achievements.
Churches that have been in decline for several years have a tendency to gradually move to what I refer to as a turned-in mentality (not reaching or benefiting the community). One line of questioning I have used at times is to ask for the thoughts of church members and leaders on what are the strengths of the church. (What is the church good at doing?) I have a scribe write on a board or large sheet of paper all of the responses. After everyone has had a chance to list his/her ideas of the strengths of the church, we take each response one by one and ask the question, “Who is this for?” When someone responds I ask, “Is that someone in the community or church members?”
Normally the trend is most if not all of “perceived strengths” in a declining church are for the church members, not the community or the lost world. Sometimes it takes two or three questions to bring the realization to the table.
For example one response at a particular church was, “We prepare and carry meals to senior shut-ins.”
“Who are these shut-ins?” People who can’t get out. (as if I didn’t know this already)
“How do you get the names of these shut-ins?” We know them.
“How do you know them?” They are members of our church, or their family comes here.
The realization was this may have been a strength of the church but it was not being used as an outreach or strength to grow the church. It was “for members only.” I then led these church members in discussion using a series of questions to help them see that if this is a strength of the church how it could be used to carry the love of God to other shut-ins outside the church.
Most churches in decline have strengths that could be used in reaching the lost, but they have forgotten and drifted toward a turned-in ministry – turned in to only the members of the church.
George Yates, Reaching the Summit (Essence Publishing, 2012).