Five Prayers for Leaders of a Declining Church

Many churches, like mine, find themselves in a state of plateau or decline. We want our churches to grow and believe that God desires that too, but we seem stuck and don’t know how to move forward. Our first instinct ought to be to pray, but pray for what? If you are leading a declining church, here are five prayers to be sure to include on your list:

1. Pray for wisdom. Here is a prayer that God promises to answer when we ask in faith (James 1:5). Leaders always need wisdom and we should seek the Lord for it. We need wisdom to understand why the church is not growing, the steps we need to take to reverse the trend, and to gain a clear direction from the Lord. We need the Lord’s wisdom to show us whether we have neglected important aspects of the Great Commission. We also need wisdom to discern whether or not there are any sin issues in the congregation or in our personal lives that may be hindering growth.

2. Pray for forgiveness. Often, our churches are in decline because of our own sinfulness. Sometimes we have allowed conflict to divide us or deter us from our mission. Other times we have simply neglected to prioritize evangelism and have failed to engage our community with the gospel in any significant way. Further, God may withhold blessing from a church if its leaders are harboring hidden sins. If there is a failure of leadership in any of these areas, we need to seek repentance. Sometimes, the first step to church growth is getting right with God.

3. Pray for revival. Declining churches have often lost their spiritual fervor. There is no excitement about the things of the Lord. Our hearts have grown dull. The people are blind to the things of God and do not see the lostness around them. There is no urgency for evangelism and missions. Leaders must pray for revival – for a fresh zeal in our own lives and in the lives of our people. When God sends revival, it will always lead to a renewal of evangelism and missions. Growth follows a church that is “on fire” for the Lord as the Spirit of God works in and through His people.

4. Pray for laborers. I’ve always been intrigued that in Jesus’ harvest teaching, he does not ask us to pray for more harvest, but more laborers in the harvest (Matt 9:38; Luke 10:2). Too often, churches complain of a field being hard when in reality the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. The Lord instructs us to pray for more laborers in His harvest. When we pray such prayers corporately, there is an implicit admonishment for each person praying – you too should be a laborer in the harvest. Church growth occurs when the number of gospel laborers increases.

5. Pray for boldness. One common prayer in the New Testament is the prayer for boldness (Acts 4:29; Eph 6:19). If fear is one of our biggest hindrances to evangelism, then boldness is one of our biggest prayer needs. Often, we see the opportunities around us, but we allow fear to keep us from sharing Christ with those who need Him. Churches identify needed changes, but fear keeps them from altering the status quo. The radical expansion of the church in the book of Acts came as the Spirit of God worked through the bold sharing of the gospel message. Pray that God would give you boldness as you make His Son known to those around you.

What prayers would you add to my list?



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  1. Greg Harvey says

    Pray for patience. Our timing isn’t God’s timing and what appears to be the situation might not be how God views it. Continuing to do what we know to do is one aspect of patience. The other is continuing to wait for God while we do it.

  2. D.L. Payton says

    In a declining church it seems to mer that it is wise to pray (1) for wisdom and guidance in doing the day to day ministries (2) that God would show me/pastor what I need to do on a daily basis to walk in obedience to Him. If a church is taking advantage of the ministry opportunities around them and the pastor is obedient as a servant, then the rest is up to God.

    Am I wrong? Serious question!

    • D.L. Payton says

      Number 1 is intended to reference the church . I did not make that clear. My bad.

    • says

      While that is theologically correct, I personally would encourage a thorough self-assessment before placing the responsibility for a long-term absence of conversion growth on God. In my own studies both in Scripture and experience, the normative pattern is that over the long term, healthy churches grow.

      • says

        That is to say, I would first exhaust all other possibilities for identifying the reason for decline before determining that it’s just God not choosing to bless.

      • D.L. Payton says

        I failed to communicate clearly, I apologize for that. I think we are saying about the same thing. By ministry opportunities I mean that a church must diagnose the problem and minister to that diagnoses. For example many churches decline because of a change in neighborhood. When this happen people move out but others MOVE IN. There are still the same number of people in the community, they are just different that what was there. Churches decline because they fail to minister to those who move into the community. Their ministry practice is the same as it was for those who moved away. Perhaps it was professional people, now it is blue collator low income.

        My reference to obedience on the part of the pastor is to the point that when a church declines the pastor many times simply looses interest and does not minister to those around him as he perhaps once did. I have seen a lot of this. The rationale seems to be the church is declining, I can’t do much about it, so I will just coast along.

        Concerning blaming God for not blessing; I do not think this will happen if the church effectively ministers to the community and the pastor is obedient (again, working at his ministry). God will bless. Simply stated i am not worried about God doing his part, it is man that concerns me.

        Concerning a healthy church will grow: I think that is generally correct. However in transient areas such as military etc. one has to have a healthy church just to break even. I think there are other scenarios in which a church can be healthy and not grow.

        • says

          Yes, I believe we are saying the same thing. Let me do something I’ve never done before on the blog and quote from my dissertation. In my final chapter I speak directly to the issue of lack of numerical growth:

          Because the actual numbering of results is subject to such a variety of contextual factors, how should one interpret a lack of results; especially in what McGavran has called “sterile” areas? Facing a lack of numerical results, and certainly before deeming oneself faithful in evangelism, individuals, churches, and mission agencies should ask a variety of questions:

          1. Has there been a faithfulness in the amount of evangelization that has taken place? Is the lack of results because of a lack of evangelism?

          2. Is the gospel being presented clearly? Is there something in the way the gospel is being presented, apart from the gospel itself, that serves as a barrier to communication. Is there something about the receiver of the message that he/she is hearing something other than what the messenger intends to communicate?

          3. Are there any cultural barriers that are unnecessarily impeding the progress of the gospel? Is the gospel message so communicated in the language and forms of the culture of the messenger that it is fails to communicate to the hearer? Are there any cultural behaviors that are erecting barriers before the gospel can even be presented?

          4. Do any social/personality barriers exist? Is there anything in the practice of the gospel messenger that hinders the communication of the gospel?

          5. Has there been sufficient prayer and dependence upon God for results or are gospel messengers working in their own strength?

          Such questions will go a long way in evaluating oneself in terms of faithfulness to the evangelistic task.

          To those missionaries and agencies who minister in areas where they see little or no response, harvest theology should lead one to rigorous self-examination. If one finds that lack of results is in reality a lack of faithfulness, then the appropriate response is repentance and a recommitment to faithful evangelistic witness. If, however, the gospel has indeed been faithfully proclaimed—if it has been proclaimed abundantly, clearly, and free from unbiblical barriers—we can stand in faith that God’s sovereign purposes will be accomplished. We must remain faithful to our calling regardless of response and continue to exercise faith in a God whose will is to save, trusting that “in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” We can and must examine ourselves. We can and must be faithful witnesses. In the end, however, faithfulness is something assessed by God alone (1 Cor 4:3-4). To one’s own master he stands or falls. Numbers do tell a story. They do not tell the whole story.

  3. Raymond Dix Jr says

    Pray for more friends like you brother. I think the wisdom piece is crucial. Is every church planted meant to be? I do not know and maybe the answer is above my pray grade. If every church is meant to be, then are some meant to struggle? I think we must lean on His wisdom in these matters.

    • D.L. Payton says

      It seems to me that God’s will is always perfect, complete, lacks nothing, and is discernible. From this and to this wisdom flows.

    • D.L. Payton says

      Raymond asked ” Is every church planted meant to be? That is an extremely valid question. Herein lies a critical issue. I am SB thru and thru and make no apologies for it. However when we put a new work in an area where there is another evangelical work, based on the philosophy that there is no SB work, that is arrogance and will not receive the blessings of God. Deciding WHERE to plant a church is as important as WHAT to do once we are there.

  4. says

    On #4, it has long struck me that in these verses there is an acknowledgement that we *are* dependent on the Lord to send out (or thrust out – the verb here is very strong – I’m tempted to make it “shove out”) laborers. We are to pray to the “Lord of the harvest” – an acknowledgement that *he*, and not we, is in charge of the harvest, and to ask him to send laborers into *his* harvest – an acknowledgement that the harvest belongs to him, and not us. We pray as one of the few laborers who are in the field, asking the one in charge for more co-laborers, not as an outside observer asking for more workers in a work we’re not involved in. The idea that we would try to recruit more workers on our own doesn’t even seem to be in view.

  5. David says

    Will Christ will always be building his church (Matt 16), there does come a time for an individual church to “die.” Rev 2-3 speaks of Christ “removing your lampstand from its place,” Rev 2:5. Where is the church of Ephesus today? Long gone. Each situation is different, but there is a time to realize this church isn’t working and probably won’t. Some churches were started not for God honoring reasons, but because of sinful splits. And if things were as they should be, repentance would take place and often churches should reunite. And some churches were started for God honoring reasons, but spiritual atrophy has set in and “the pillars of the church” don’t want to make changes to keep the church reaching its changing community. It is true: Some people would rather watch their church die, professing to be “faithful,” rather than make changes (not doctrinal/core, but traditions) necessary to reach their community. And they do die!

    Todd, some churches should pray for wisdom about closing the doors. There are several ways to do that in a way that can benefit the kingdom of God in the long haul. If you are in a struggling church, I suggest you follow this link and listen to this excellent hope giving message for pastors whose churches are failing.

    • D.L. Payton says

      Good word. In my role as DOM I have helped some pastors shut down their church. We had a service that recognized the value of the church in days past. Invited some former pastors to be a part of the service. did much of the same thing one does when one constitutes a church except it was opposite. The disbanding church presented the assets to the entity that was to receive them. This helped the people celebrate the history of the church and bring closure to this part of their life.

  6. says

    This is a cross-category related to all the categories you have listed: Pray for humility.

    1) Wisdom: the fear of the Lord starts with humility.
    2) Forgiveness: the sin of pride, false entitlement, selfishness, etc. is countered by humility.
    3) Revival: only comes when we have been humbled enough to recognize our own desperate need for God and understand the urgent need to get that message across to others.
    4) Laborers: won’t rise up without first being humbled.
    5)Boldness: Often we confuse being demanding with being bold. Without humility we will simply be demanding and we will glorify our wants. With humility, we will be bold and God will be glorified.