5 Signs Your Church Is Becoming Irrelevant

So how relevant is your church?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant churches make almost no impact on the community around them.

Why is that?

Because relevance determines impact—that’s why.

Relevance gains you a hearing. It determines whether or not people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

By all accounts, most churches appear to be losing relevance.

Before you push back, just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn’t mean you are.

Even growing churches can lose relevance. Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

So whether your church has no momentum or whether it’s losing steam, here are 5 signs your church is becoming irrelevant.

1. You Increasingly Think Most New Ideas Are Bad Ideas
Hey, it’s easy to resist new ideas. But if you think back, there was a time when you were likely far more open to new ideas.

Now you’re older and wiser, and you’ve got a way of doing things.

The human mind is great at preserving the status quo. You can think of 10 reasons why a new idea won’t work, and you and your team never hesitate to list them.

The leadership graveyard is filled with the bodies of leaders who say “We haven’t done it that way before.”

Not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea.

When was the last time you embraced a radical new idea? If you can’t answer that question, you’re already in trouble.

2. The Copyright Dates On Your Music Are From Another Era
You can argue about church decor all day long, or about the less tangible aspects of church life, but few things give away a church’s true age than the copyright dates on the music it sings.

Many churches will embrace change to an extent, and then they stop.

Many churches think they’re relevant and current. After all, they have a band, not a choir. They have screens, not books.

But dig a little deeper and most songs they sing were written somewhere between 2002-2012. In other words, they froze a few years ago.

The danger here is that they think they’re being relevant, but they really aren’t. The truly new songs, they’ll tell you, are too long, too non-melodious, too weird to sing.

Besides, our people love the songs we sing because they know them.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with singing older songs, but if all the copyright dates are older, it’s a sign that you’re actually not that relevant.

You’re in no-man’s land. You’re too contemporary to be traditional, and too traditional to be contemporary.

And the gap between you and culture is growing wider every day.

3. Everyone On Your Team Is Your Age
This isn’t so much a problem if you’re twenty-two and just starting out. To have a young leadership team of idealistic people is an awesome thing.

Sure, some wisdom wouldn’t hurt, but still, the world often gets changed by young leaders on a mission.

But what happens is that twenty-year-olds eventually turn 30. Fast forward a bit, and everyone on your senior leadership team is in their mid-fifties.

That’s a big issue.

Left uncorrected, churches tend to age with their leader.

As a leader in my early fifties, I’ve had to be incredibly intentional about surrounding myself with leaders in their 20s and 30s, something that really energizes me.

You may not have the chemistry or familiarity with younger leaders that you do with your peers who have been through life with you, but renewing the leadership table with younger leaders is critical.

It’s easy for older leaders to think that younger leaders are too young to lead.

You were too, once. And someone took a chance on you anyway. And you did some of your best work then too, didn’t you?

4. Change Makes You Tired
Change is difficult at the best of times, but if even the sound of change makes you tired, it’s a sign that you’re becoming irrelevant.

It’s normal to default to the status quo. We all do.

Last year, my dentist told me I needed at least five crowns. The thought of that made me feel tired and broke all at once.

I got a bit of the work done but then took a break.

One afternoon I was eating some cereal and I noticed something that didn’t feel like cereal in my mouth. It was half a molar.

Guess where I went the next day?

Too often, that’s exactly how we approach change in the church. We wait until something breaks, and then we’ll try to fix it.

That may work with a tooth, but it’s a terrible strategy for churches (okay, and for dentistry).

In our rapidly changing culture, waiting until something breaks to fix is one of the fastest ways to ensure you become irrelevant.

If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your church will make you even more tired.

5. Your Dominant Emotions Toward To Culture Are Negative
If social media is any gauge of how many Christian leaders feel about our culture, the church is in trouble.

And even if you’re not posting on your social media is ALL CAPS, telling the world how bad it is, your attitude still matters.

Negativity leaks.

Constantly criticizing a culture is no way to reach it.

I am constantly reminded that Jesus loved the world. He saw the mess, the brokenness, the godlessness and embraced us anyway.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it.

You should care enough about the world to do the same.

Some Help
I talk to many leaders who use posts like this one to walk their staff or boards through the issues they’re facing.

I’ve designed two resources to help even more.

My book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow has helped over 25,000 leaders navigate the cultural change we’re experiencing today.

You can pick up the book here. I’ve also developed a video series designed to facilitate team discussion on the issues I cover in the book. You can download the Lasting Impact Team Edition videos here.

Additionally, I have a course designed to help church leaders and their teams break through the growth barriers that hold so many churches back. You can download that here.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Carey Nieuwhof is founding pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto and is author of several books, including his latest #1 best-selling work, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to church leaders around the world about leadership, change and personal growth. He writes one of today’s most widely read church leadership blogs at careynieuwhof.com and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast where he interviews some of today’s best leaders.