Renewal and Downsizing Well

Written by Keith Doornbos
January 24, 2023

Most North American churches need downsizing. The goal is to embrace strengths while managing weaknesses. Here are 7 investments to downsize well.

Most North American churches need downsizing.  Lifeway Research (see here) notes that today’s median worship attendance is 65, down from 137 in 2000.  This downsizing trend has been accelerated by three factors: a cultural shift away from institutional affiliation (especially churches), a slower than expected in-person return following the pandemic and a preference for larger congregations (7 in 10 churches are fewer than 100 but 7 in 10 church goers attend congregations of 250 or more).

  • Being smaller is not all bad, of course.  Smaller congregations tend to be more committed, more connected, more participatory, and more generous.  They also tend to be older, less evangelistic, less staffed, less given to change and bear a greater burden for keeping the lights on.  When it comes to small(er) the goal is to embrace strengths while managing weaknesses.


Investment 1: Embrace the Present
  • Some smaller congregations refuse to get over their past.  They believe the best is behind them.
  • Downsizing well demands celebrating the past but embracing the present believing, in faith, that the Spirit remains active among us. This creates the possibility that the best is before us.
Investment 2: Name What Is So
  • Downsizing well demands taking a clear-eyed look at what is so.  Three stories/narratives should be developed: our current reality, our default future (what will come of doing what we are presently doing) and our God-preferred future.  Commission a vision team for this work.
Investment 3: Choose To Continue Intentionally (Or Not)
  • Key to downsizing well is making a prayerful, wise, and deliberate decision to continue in ministry based on a deep sense of call to serve neighbors, members and a greater Gospel and Kingdom work.
  • Being small is challenging work and demands an all-in commitment.
Investment 4: Find a Partner to Explore the Options
  • Downsizing demands new ways of being in the world.  Most congregations lack the skill sets for doing small(er) well.
  • Finding a coach to help guide the transition is imperative.  A coach will help explore options including mergers, extension campuses, a new ministry focus, etc.
Investment 5: Economize All Systems                                                                                                                                                    
  • Downsizing demands economizing dollars and hours.  Councils must become leaner and more responsive.  The work of committees should be given to volunteer staff.
  • Full-time employees may need to become bi-vocational.  Buildings can even be made available for rent or purchase.
Investment 6: Shift from Programs to Relationships
  • Redemptive relationships are the superpower of downsized congregations.  There should be a conscious transition from a program focus to a mentor focus.
  • Teach the ABC’s of Hospitality (Awareness, Boldness, Conversation, Develop a friendship, Enfold into faith and faith family)
Investment 7: Stay on Mission and Keep Hope Alive
  • Those that downsize well know their unique calling and have a plan to live into that calling.  Typically, there are one or two ministry/mission investments that receive the lion’s share of corporate life.
  • Embrace the best. Leave the rest.  Always remain thankful and hopeful.

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