By Pete Johnson

It can be daunting to think about all the people who still need Jesus in our area of ministry. There are some 8.4 million people in NYC, 1.5 million in Philly, 622,000 in Baltimore, 658,000 in DC, 438,000 in Virginia Beach. Add to that all our suburbs and rural communities and we have the opportunity to reach well over 40 million people in the Eastern District.

In the last 68 years since the EFCA was formed, the Eastern District has grown to 130 churches in which over 40,000 people worship weekly. Statistically, that is .01% of the population in our district who are being reached with the Gospel through the ministry of the EFCA.

We have our work cut out for us. 

We have blossomed way past our Scandinavian roots to establish congregations from many cultures and languages. But the Eastern District is now 66 years old. Some of our congregations are suffering from St. John’s Syndrome. 

You won’t find the symptoms for St. John’s Syndrome on Web M.D. You’ll be seeing its effects in the decline of engagement and excitement at your church.

Based on the seven churches in Revelation, this syndrome is described by church leadership author Gary McIntosh as “the tendency of churches to become less effective the longer they are in existence.”  When a church is new there’s excitement and hope for the future. A fresh vision propels growth. 

Church Lifecycle Patterns

  • 1 -25 years: best years of growth.
  • 25-50 years: plateau into maintenance mode with good, but non-growth ministry.
  • 50+ years: without strategic decision making, church will decline and may result in the death of the church.


 St. John's Syndrome

Is your church in maintenance mode? McIntosh explains that many churches begin to decline when they have fulfilled their original vision, never taking the time to replace it with a fresh vision for the future. Because some of our churches are in that 50-65 year range they are experiencing St. John’s Syndrome.

Two keys to overcoming maintenance mode:

1. Rediscover the original values of your church.

Ask your people these 6 questions:

  • What does the future look like for our church right now?
  • What were the values of the original founding members that caused them to toil and labor and sacrifice in order to start this church?
  • What place did the Word and prayer have in the early years?    
  • What was the passion for evangelism and disciple making?
  • What resources were set aside for planting this church?
  • If the Lord allows, what would our preferred future look like? What will propel us into a renewed ministry of church multiplication?

2. Discover a new dream for the future based on those values.

Ask yourselves these 5 questions:

  • How can we look forward and develop a renewed dream for our future based on our founding and other core values?    
  • How can our church reignite the early prayer focus?
  • In what way will we make sure disciple-making is taking place?
  • How can we reinvest in church planting?
  • What resources are we going to commit to multiplication?

Every church planter knows that unless evangelism and disciple-making are taking place, a young church will die. But sometimes, when a church is stable and growing, the focus and resources drift to other things like buildings, staffing and programs. To keep that drift and St John’s Syndrome at bay, every church would be wise to look back on its history and bring to the front the original core-values. 

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Peter Johnson

Senior Pastor at Hanoverdale Church
Peter has served as an associate pastor in NH and at Montvale Evangelical Free Church in Montvale, NJ. For nearly ten years he served as senior pastor of Northern Valley Evangelical Free Church in Cresskill, NJ before joining the Eastern District staff from 2007-2017. He is now Senior Pastor of Hanoverdale Church. Peter and Karen make their home in Hershey, PA, where Pete enjoys painting (art, not houses), gardening, and talking to his neighbors across the fence.

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