I've been on a cleaning/organizing kick recently. Going through old church files, I came across a document from 1979 entitled "Church Officers' Retreat: Evangelism." It recounted the tremendous dropoff in worship attendance my church experienced from 1963 to 1979 (from an average of 418 to 160, a drop of over 60%). The report then outlined a series of actions they needed to take to stem the tide.
Most of the ideas were pretty obvious. "We must create a friendly, accepting church." "A way must be found to note visitors." "We need to investigate our relationship with blacks and Hispanics." "Minister to singles." "Explore possible service projects in the community."
Not enough of these things happened. Over the next 15-20 years the decline continued, though it slowed and eventually bottomed-out a few years before I arrived. Today we're still growing, and our average worship attendance is now the highest since about 1974. Why? When I looked at the this 1979 report, it seems that we've actually implemented almost everything on the list. We've achieved a significant level of racial-ethnic diversity. We have a singles group. We are definitely friendly and accepting. We have implemented a variety of community mission projects.
The 1979 report even identified some geographic opportunities, such as noting that there is no other Presbyterian presence to our east/southeast. And sure enough, a huge chunk of our growth is families attending who live southeast of us.
The interesting thing is that we didn't even have an officers' retreat to determine that we should do these things. We just started to do them. We consciously focused on how welcoming we were. We paid special attention to underrepresented populations of all kinds, from ethnic groups to singles. We noticed the lack of churches to our east/southeast and focused our marketing efforts in that direction. And it is working.
Lesson: diagnosis is easy, execution is everything.
I'm amazed at the amount of energy we expend (both in our local churches and in our denomination) creating "study groups" to study our situations, diagnose the problems, and propose solutions. It is an absolute waste of time.
You don't need a retreat to determine what's wrong. You simply need to start fixing what's wrong. You already know what needs to be done. Go and do it.