I’ve never stood face-to-face with a tsunami, and trust me, I am thankful for that. These monsters of the deep are as fascinating as they are fearsome. Just the other night, what started as a quick dive into tsunami videos turned into a full hour of awe with a dash of trepidation.
Here’s what this amateur earthquake enthusiast learned: when the Earth’s fault lines shift, it’s a red flag. And in a way, many churches have their own fault lines – trouble spots that, if ignored, could lead to serious problems.
On the one hand, I am hopeful for local congregations. I continue to see God working in countless churches. Those stories remind me that He is not done with us. On the other hand, I see numerous warnings, more than I can remember in my lifetime. I call those warnings “fault lines.” If ignored, those fault lines can result in earthquakes which will produce deadly tsunamis.
So what are the fault lines we see as we move into 2024? Here are nine of them in no particular order. They give me great concern for our churches.
1. Denial. It’s the church version of “see no evil.” But ignoring issues doesn’t make them vanish – they become bigger.
2. Complexity and busyness. Have you ever seen a church try to spin too many plates? Spoiler alert: they crash. I spoke with the leadership of a church with fewer than 40 in attendance. The church had 9 committees and 15 programs and ministries. Their members were so busy spinning those plates that they had no time to reach those in their community. Obviously, this church is declining and probably dying.
3. Silver bullet obsession. Many churches think if they get the “perfect” pastor, everything will be fine. That pastor must be married with 2.7 kids, 42 years old, and have 25 years of pastoral experience. In some cases, the silver bullet is an era instead of a person. If our church just did everything like it did in the 1980s or 1990s, all of our problems will go away.
4. Evangelistic ignorance. In many churches we help, our consulting and coaching team has to define “evangelism.” Only 5% of churches have any type of true evangelism initiative where the church intentionally reaches people in their communities with the gospel. We can no longer grow our churches with biological growth and transfer growth only. Evangelism means we will reach people with conversion growth.
5. Staffing for the year 2004. Too many churches hire staff like it’s 20 years ago. Their job descriptions fit well in an earlier era. Churches can also be extraordinarily slow in moving to a bi-vocational or co-vocational model of staff ministry. Some positions are no longer needed, and others can be filled virtually.
6. Doctrinal deviation. Much has been written about the leftward slide of mainline denominations over several decades. Our team at Church Answers has been using the same church survey since 1996, and we are seeing an alarming increase in doctrinal deviation in self-described evangelical churches. For example, more church members in these churches are unwilling to affirm the doctrine of exclusivity. They are denying Christ’s own words in John 14:6 where He said unequivocally that He is the only way of salvation.
7. Ignoring toxicity. Church toxicity is often denied or ignored. Our team recently received a plea to work with a church that had lost two-thirds of its attendance in just a few months. They refused to deal with a toxic member who ultimately ran off the pastor. Church members were already leaving regularly because of the toxic church member. When he succeeded in forcing the pastor out, one-half of the attendance left in a week. The toxic member is still at the church.
8. Deferred maintenance. Many churches have delayed maintaining and repairing facilities, grounds, and equipment. They find themselves in a position where they cannot afford to pay for repairs today. Sadly, I spoke to several church leaders who feel like their church will close in 2024 because they cannot pay for even the minimal repairs needed.
9. Lack of priority of groups. One clear trend we see today is that healthier churches tend to focus more on groups: small groups, Sunday school classes, community groups, life groups, etc. Those who participate in groups tend to give more, attend worship more frequently, be more involved in ministries, and serve with joy. Failure to give priority to groups is a certain sign of a fault line.
Any or all of these nine fault lines could become earthquakes that produce tsunamis in 2024. I pray that you will deal with the fault lines in your church before it becomes too late.
Posted on December 18, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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