9 Dangerous Fault Lines for Churches in 2024

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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21 Comments

  • Jack Haberer says on

    Thom, I am an evangelical. Actually, I coined the term fundapentacharisgelical to describe not just myself but the millions of Christians worldwide who have exploded in growth over the past century. I am a trained theologian. I have led significant churches to grow substantially. I preach John 3:16 with a clarity that matches Billy Graham (who was chair of the board of my seminary). And I have led thousands into a saving knowledge of Christ (though not anywhere near the nany Villy had reached). While I totally affirm John 14:6, I do not summarize it as the Doctrine of Exclusivity. Not only does John 3:16 say “God so loved the world…” (not a select few), John 3:17 clarifies that Christ came into the NOT to condemn it but to save it. That’s the missional passion of Jesus, and the doctrine of inclusion. No, I am not a universalist nor a pluralist . But Jesus and I are inclusivists. He saves not just adult believers in a fully understood biblical faith. He also saves those adults who believed in a faith that has never uttered his name, as is affirmed in Hebrews 11 (read the whole chapter to the last verse). He saved infant bastards lacking baptism, dedication or circumcision (see David and Bathsheba’s firstborn). I have not only led thousands to faith, I also have performed hundreds of funerals. Never have I extolled the likelihood of the worshipers’ deceased friend as now languishing in the fires of hell, getting what s/he deserved. The new testament writers do extol Jesus’ welcome of and embrace of sinners and outcasts. Please join with them in doing so.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jack –

      Thanks for your input. Your position of inclusivism became one of signficant debate many years ago through the writings of the late Clark Pinnock. It does have its appeal to some because it softens the exclusive claims of Christ. Though there are variations of inclusivism, it essentially holds that Christ is the only way, but that Christ might be found in other belief systems, even if the person in that belief system does not profess Christ explicity. We could spend hours and thousands of words in debate on the differences between exclusivism and inclusivism, and we could put pluralism in the mix as well. I will reiterate that I do not see inclusivism in John 14:6 even in light of John 3:17. Jesus explicity said that he was the only way, and he did not suggest or imply that he could be found in other religions or beliefs. I cannot do the work of an evangelist with conviction if I believe Christ can be found in other belief systems. The urgency of declaring the gospel is simply not there.

      • Jack Haberer says on

        Thom: You don’t need to post this if you don’t wish. But I want you to read it and respond.
        Thom, I’m not going to let you off that easy. First of all, I’m not Clark Pinnock; I am not making his argument. Second, I am not saying that other religions lead people to Jesus. I fully affirm that John 14:6 is true. It means what it says. Jesus is the only person to have built a bridge from heaven to earth for people to cross from earth to heaven. Third, John 14:6 doesn’t say what it doesn’t say. When a group of fellow evangelicals led a split from my denomination, they formed their “essential tenets” document in which they said, “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by faith in him.” I called them and said that they are guilty of adding to the scriptures. They said oops and changed it back to the original. But your “doctrine of exclusivity” does as they did. It adds a requirement that is not in the words Jesus spoke and John quoted. Fourth, the essence of what you are saying is not that people are saved by grace through faith, but that they are saved by faith through knowledge; that is, clear, thorough knowledge of the full plan of salvation without any equivocation or unintended misunderstanding. The problem with the whole debate back in Pinnock’s day was that nobody was confronting or admitting that the doctrine you’re still promoting today was and is based on Enlightenment thinking in which Rationalism has the final say on all matters. In very fact, the scriptures were God-breathed 1500 or more years prior to the Enlightenment. In fact, the 2000+ year old scriptures included gospels and epistles that were written to correct errors in the thinking, believing and behaving of Christians; they were not told that they’re going to hell due to their heresies (they had plenty), even the intended errors (they had their rebels). The writers were simply teaching them how to correct their errors (often being very argumentative the the process). Fifth, how can a person consulting with pastors even talk about a “doctrine of exclusivity?” We pastors have performed funerals of numerous people lacking a clear faith. Most obviously, the stillborn, infants and toddlers. Also preschoolers who may be able to sing Jesus Loves Me, but don’t get what that means. Add the mentally challenged, and those late in life with dementia. Add those other church members whose children or parents or spouses have died when they were in a state of disbelief. How do you advise us pastors to care for the survivors? Do you bluntly tell the surviving believers that their loved one is walking around in the fires of hell? Come on. Please tell me that there is a pastor’s heart somewhere inside you. Sixth, and finally, go back to Hebrews list of Old Testament figures who died in faith. True to your point, they could not be saved apart from Jesus. In fact, some of them demonstrated very shaky faith–like Rahab, whose faith was shown by her welcoming the strangers; what else would a prostitute do? But Jesus was able to save her apart from her lifestyle, because he alone is the only bridge builder. But Rahab and the rest were they were saved by Jesus “at this time” because Jesus did die for their sins without them knowing who he was, how he was going to be incarnated, become their atoning sacrifice, their resurrected Lord and their ascending transit across the bridge he did build centuries after their deaths, thereby taking them to heaven. His salvation is exclusive to those going with him. There is only one road to heaven. But it is not theological education (I have three academic theological degrees–evangelically trained throughout; I know a thing or two on the subject). It is the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and him alone who saves. Thanks be to God.

      • Jack Haberer says on

        PS – I have done the work of an evangelist for nearly 54 years (I accepted Christ at age 15, led 100+ to Christ over the next 12 months and led hundreds more to Christ through the years since, without the fear of hell being the incentive to get them in the door). I’ve simply invited them to know God through Jesus and by welcoming the Holy Spirit into their lives.

  • Dean Kurtz says on

    Dear Mr. Ranier:

    Merry Christmas.
    Great article. I love your insight into church matters and read your articles often. Thank you.

    God’s grace to you,
    Dean

  • Charlie Moulton says on

    Informative! Thank you, Dr. Rainer.

  • Chad Current says on

    What is the “doctrine of exclusivity”? It seems the gospel of Christ was to bring good news to the poor, open the eyes of the blind, and set the oppressed free… It seems the message Jesus ate with–formed an intimate relationship–with the sinners and the worst sinners of the day, Tax Collectors…it seemed that Jesus most angered the religious of his day because he included people that the religious of his day excluded. It seems to me that you use of the “leftward” reveals you have bought into a political prioritizing of the gospel rather than allowing the gospel to re-prioritize your and my politics as I have never heard of a time a doctrine of exclusivity.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Chad –

      I am surprised you are not familiar with the doctrine of exclusivity, often called “the doctrine of exclusivity of salvation in Christ.” Perhaps the most well-know verse of the Bible provides a clear foundation as Jesus says in John 3:16: “For this is how God loved the world . . .” The first part of this verse truly indicates that the offer of God’s love is inclusive or available to all (“the world”). While God’s salvific love has an inclusive offer, it has a clear exclusive path: “He gave his one and only Son. so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” In Christ’s own words, only those who believe in him will have eternal life. That is a very exclusivistic message.

      Another clear statement from Jesus about the exclusivity of salvation is John 14:6: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'” You can’t get more exclusive than “no one comes to the Father except through me.” I am not bringing a political agenda when I write about the doctrine of exclusivity. I am bringing a gospel agenda. Remember John 14:6 begins with “Jesus said.” If you disagree with the doctrine of exclusivity, you are not disagreeing with me. Your disagreement is with Jesus himself and his own words.

    • Dean Kurtz says on

      The doctrine of exclusivity is the fact that forgiveness for sins and a right standing with God come only through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus’ death on a cross and His resurrection by God the Father for forgiveness of sins and to receive eternal life.

  • Donald Elvington says on

    You forget one: Pastor taking over churches, making all the decisions without including the congregation or the deacons. Removal of church denomination without consulting members, this is “only” happening in Baptist churches. It’s not about Christ anymore, it’s about large numbers and dollars. Pastors has made the churches “Politically Correct”. Obama would love the Baptist. They have placed the church directionally in the middle of the world that according to the bible, we should be separated from. Removal of church affiliation, removal of paper use (all electronic) and removal of dress code. Pastors dress worst than the congregation, most look like they were playing golf and someone remembered them today was Sunday. Deacons are powerless or refuses to act. The older generation is biting nails and the young generation don’t care and don’t support the church.

  • I just left our church for the 3rd time in 19 years. Yes that’s 3 times and more than likely the last for me leaving them. We witnessed at least 4 of the items on your fault lines. I one point when we left, we attended Bible college and learned more on a church operation. Since we had a degree under our belts, we went back to help the church we left, we thought and felt we could help them grow, it worked for a little while then reverted back to the comfort zone. We learned like Leopard spots don’t change. Any church as we have witness that says their slogan is to Win one and that’s been around for 30 years and hasn’t grown, only by a miracle of God will it change, the Great Commission is optional here. The word says God will only give you no more than you can handle. Well keep them in prayer. Thank you Mr. Thoms I appreciate your 9 Faults very much. In His service only, JB

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    What concerns me, Thom, is that the increasing polarization that we are seeing in our society is also affecting our churches, and having an extremely negative effect on how affected churches see the larger population. It is creating and strengthen barriers to reaching and engaging the unchurched and spiritually-disconnectd. Churches are becoming so embroled in politics to the point that politics is overshadowing the message and teaching of Jesus in these churches. It is amplifying the negative image of Christiianity and Christians in a number of segments of the population, in particular, the younger generations. We not only seeing little evangelism but also negligible community engagement. At the same time there is a segment of the population that identifies itself as “Christian” that seeks to impose its values on the rest of the population by political means and which does not differ greatly in its way of thinking in this regard than the adherents of Islam who promote the spread of Islam by the imposition of Islamic law in a specific geographic territory. This is certainly not what Jesus taught and it cannot lead to a genuine turning away from sin and turning to God, only to outward conformity to a particular set of values. It can, however, be very tempting alternative to obeying the Great Commission.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      You are right, Robin. I hear from church leaders every week about the polarization in their churches. I fear that the 2024 election season will only exacerbate the problem.

  • Great post. I would add #10 Aging Donor Base. What percentage of a church’s gifts come from those above 60? What percentage is under 60? The majority of our SBC churches are well over 50%, with some 80% to 90% of their offerings coming from older members. Boomers are entering into retirement and that will mean more difficult days ahead in terms of giving. This decline will impact staffing and maintenance. The sad thing is we are doing nothing to address this!

  • Barry Gordon says on

    Thank you the “fault line” article, it was another eye opener for me. I read the Autopsy book several years ago then required our staff to read it as well as our Deacons and Trustees. Made a huge difference in our “vision” for the future. Thank you for the blessing you are! Merry Christmas!