How to Overcome the Top 10 Challenges Facing Today’s Church

POINT OF THE POST...

Are you struggling with declining attendance, financial strain, or volunteer engagement in your church? Learn practical solutions to overcome the top 10 challenges facing today's church leaders.

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If you lead a church (or lead in a church), you’re facing plenty of challenges.

Let’s call them “opportunities,” like when we discuss “areas for growth” with a struggling employee.

These “opportunities” may feel overwhelming. Or like an immovable object. You may be pondering leaving the ministry in the face of these challenges.

I was a lead pastor for about 13 years and have been in professional ministry for nearly 18 years. I’ve also consulted with churches and coached pastors for the past three years. With all this in mind, here are the top 10 “opportunities” and one practical suggestion for each you can implement today.

The Top 10 Challenges Facing Today’s Church

Challenge 1: Declining Attendance

Many churches are experiencing decreased weekly attendance, both in frequency and new members.

Solution Idea: We have to add attendance to engagement. In the past, we focused on things like small group involvement, volunteering, and serving. Engagement requires (or is predicated upon) attendance. Rather than assume attendance, add it to your engagement focus.

I recently wrote a post about a fun idea called “Yes, We’re Going!” You can read the post here. Email me, and I’ll send you some artwork for a magnet or keychain.

Challenge 2: Financial Strain

Churches are facing financial difficulties due to lower tithes and offerings. Giving is down in most churches. This parallels Challenge 1. When people stop attending, they eventually stop giving.

Solution Idea: Growing generosity is an act of intentionality. Rather than speak to everyone in your church about giving through a sermon or an offering moment, try segmenting your church population into four, five, or six giving categories. I have a course on this topic, but wait to get it. I’m launching something on July 1 that will make it a much better value for you.

Challenge 3: Digital Transformation

The year of COVID forced every church into the digital space, even if barely. Too many churches assumed they were now “hybrid.” This is a misnomer. Digital channels should support discipleship and integrate into our spiritual formation plans. The key word is “integration.”

Solution Idea: The best way to use digital channels is how they’re created and intended to be used. Decide what kind of person you’ll target with each digital platform to be even more strategic. For instance, Instagram stories and reels are how those under 40 will first engage with your church. Use these spaces intentionally. Facebook posts are the most insider of social media, but when you post stories and celebrations of life change, your insiders will be more apt to share with their digital circle. Finally, don’t use any of these social channels as an information conduit. For information, email is, and will probably remain, king.

Challenge 4: Volunteer Engagement

People are way less likely to commit today, and they are also less likely to keep the commitment once made. When you consider the average attendance frequency, it’s no wonder getting new volunteers feels like pulling teeth.

Solution Idea: Churches need more accessible, small, and incremental on-ramps to serve. Gone are the days when we can ask people to show up every week for multiple hours. Create dozens of one-hour opportunities and promote them directly to non-volunteers. A great taste of serving is the best step towards more engaged volunteering.

Challenge 5: Community Relevance

Many churches want to meet the needs of their community. That’s admirable, but it’s not our mission. Hang with me. Churches are not non-profit organizations. Their mission is discipleship (evangelism plus spiritual formation). Running a food pantry can be used within this mission, but too often, churches allow things like this to become their mission.

Solution Idea: Complement these community organizations to refrain from competing. Rather than creating a food pantry or homeless shelter, inspire your congregation to fund and serve at those organizations already in your community that could use the help. This keeps your mission the priority while engaging in the community.

Challenge 6: Leadership Development

Nearly every organization suffers from a lack of effective leadership and succession planning. The church is particularly susceptible to this strain. We ask for a handful of volunteers and pay staff members less than any other organization in the community. That’s a recipe for a shallow leadership pipeline.

Solution Idea: To deepen your leadership bench, you must prioritize leadership. This means creating leadership opportunities and responsibilities throughout the church and allowing people to lead.

Challenge 7: Addressing Social and Cultural Issues

In our outrage culture, navigating controversial social issues while maintaining unity feels impossible. The easy path is to pick a side and embrace only those who agree while pushing everyone else out the door. This isn’t how a church should function.

Solution Idea: Model a posture of curiosity over criticism. Culture isn’t the enemy – it’s the opportunity. Churches can’t insulate from the world and expect to reach the world. Hold monthly question-and-answer forums about cultural issues, but come prepared to offend everyone equally while continuously pointing to Jesus.

Challenge 8: Member Retention

High turnover rates make member retention a challenge. People seem less apt to commit and less willing to live up to their commitments than before.

Solution Idea: People leave places but don’t often leave connections. Work to make your church a connecting experience, not a content experience. In every space possible, prioritize relationships and connections. And not just through small groups. Consider how you can make your church service more conversational and connecting. How can you use the pre-service or post-service time more effectively?

Challenge 9: Spiritual Growth

For too long, churches focused on attracting outsiders without a significant plan for growing insiders. Paul suggested that people must move from spiritual milk to solid food. As a church, we can’t force spiritual growth, but we can create a conducive context for growth.

Solution Idea: Perhaps the greatest gap in spiritual formation is believers’ lack of desire. As a church, begin adjusting your discipleship pathway by creating a hunger for growth. No plan or strategy can overcome a lack of desire.

Challenge 10: Balancing Tradition and Innovation

Finding the balance between honoring traditions and embracing innovation isn’t always possible. On average, churches focused on transitions are churches focused on selfish insiders. The church is more concerned with what “they want” rather than what the lost community needs.

Solution Idea: Decide who your church is for. Do you exist to keep people or reach people? I realize that sounds too binary, and it is, but “keeping churches” become only focused on honoring traditions while ignoring what outsiders need or want. Through repeated vision, help your insiders become multipliers. The renewing of our minds should pull us away from selfish desires and to the needs of others.

Church Challenges Are Nothing New

While the specific issues we face today may be unique to us, church challenges are as old as the church itself. Just look at the Pauline Epistles. Much of Paul’s letters were intended to course correct and rebuke churches that had gone off track.

If you do this one thing, you’ll resolve most church challenges: Celebrate Discipleship.

Churches full of people growing in their faith bring momentum that is impossible to contain. Movements like this are attractive to outsiders and move insiders to focus on others, too. The fastest path past these problems is to create a robust discipleship pathway.

THREE Quick Things…

  1. If you found this helpful, please share it with anyone in your circle who would benefit.
  2. I’m offering a FREE WEBINAR on Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST to help churches and pastors engage first-time givers. Register today.
  3. I’m launching something new for churches and church leaders on July 1. Stay tuned for more.
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