American Churches Are at a Tipping Point

Tipping Point (noun)the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.

If current trajectories continue, American churches will pass a tipping point. Our congregations will begin a likely unstoppable path toward decline that will rival many European churches of the past century. If there is not a significant movement of revitalization, there will be an accelerated rate of decline and death.

The good news is that many leaders are not denying this reality. They are seeking God and responding obediently. Church revitalization has become a real and powerful theme. As I indicated in my book, Scrappy Church, more and more churches are moving in incredible and positive directions.

How will God move in our churches? How will we respond? While I will not address those two paramount questions in this particular article, I do want us to see the three specific areas of the tipping point: theological, attitudinal, and actionable.

The Theological Tipping Point

If a church does not have a solid biblical and theological foundation, all other issues are moot. In some congregations, there is slippage on the doctrine of exclusivity, the biblical truth that Christ is the only way of salvation (John 14:6). In other congregations, leaders and members are questioning the absolute authority of Scripture. That issue is as old as creation when the serpent questioned God’s Word, “Did God really say . . .?” (Genesis 3:1).

We can’t even begin to deal with other tipping points until we have resolved the issues of truth and fidelity to Scripture. The slippery slope of questioning God’s authority leads to the decline and death of churches.

The Attitudinal Tipping Point

At some point in the recent history of the Church, particularly North American churches, becoming a part of a local congregation became a consumer-driven activity. Too many church members want, even demand, their own preferences and desires. In some congregations, we are more likely to hear a member fight over his or her own worship style preference than ask how he or she might truly serve the body of Christ.

Read 1 Corinthians 12. Becoming a member of the body of Christ means we serve others for the greater good of the body. The needs of others come before our preferences and desires. Paul admonished the local congregation in Philippi: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). That doesn’t sound like some of our church business meetings.

The Actionable Tipping Point

There are many presumably Bible-believing churches that like the idea of evangelism more than doing evangelism. Frankly, I deal with evangelical church leaders and members every day who profess unwavering fidelity to Scripture but haven’t intentionally had a gospel conversation in recent memory.

We are so busy with church activities that we neglect active obedience of the Great Commission. We can be passionate about the placement of the offertory in the worship service but never invite people to come to those worship services. We can complain when the pastor doesn’t visit members sufficiently, but never visit the hurting and lost ourselves.

A church leader recently asked me why I thought his church was not growing. I asked him what his church did every single week to reach, invite, and serve the community. His silence was his own answer. Many of us conservative Christians would rather fight each other than fight against the gates of hell.

It Is Time

Still, I am not discouraged. The tipping point is not inevitable. Our obedience may have waned, but God’s power has not. Many church leaders and members are recommitting themselves to a renewed and vibrant mission. Many of their churches are seeking and seeing revitalization.

There is indeed an incipient movement of scrappy churches. It is real. It is growing.

It is time.

With whatever years God gives me, with whatever breaths I have remaining to breathe, I ask God to use me in my church to serve Him and others with unwavering commitment.

And then, and only then, may I dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

Do you and your church desire to be a part of this movement of leaders, members, and churches committed to the ministry of greater church health and revitalization? Join us at

Posted on December 3, 2018

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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  • “Many of us conservative Christians would rather fight each other than fight against the gates of hell.”

    “We can’t even begin to deal with other tipping points until we have resolved the issues of truth and fidelity to Scripture. The slippery slope of questioning God’s authority leads to the decline and death of churches.”

    My interpretation of the author’s article is that he is saying, “We have to stop the infighting and focus on evangelism!” in one breath, then in the next says, “We can’t focus on our other problems of evangelism until everyone agrees with how I view Scripture!” It seems like he’s saying “Stop fighting! (But you have to agree with me!)”

    I’m probably not what the author would consider a conservative Evangelical, but I do want to help tell the world about God’s great love for them as displayed through Jesus Christ. My frustration is that I often get the message that evangelizing is incredibly important, but that it’s not important enough to work with someone with whom one has legitimate disagreements.

    I’m willing to work with folks who view Scripture differently than I do. This article’s thesis seems to be that evangelical outreach is of paramount importance to the North American Church surviving and thriving. Yet the author also seems to be dismissing me and folks like me as part of the problem, to be corrected, ignored, or even fought against, rather than a part of the solution, with whom partnerships can form around mutual goals.

    All in all, I think the author is right about needing to do the hard work of showing the world God’s goodness and inviting them to be a part of God’s family through the Church. I worry that as he exhorts us to prioritize unity over infighting for the sake of reaching more people with God’s love he draws some lines of demarcation on whom Christians can and should exclude from this effort.

    • Jenae Bauer says on

      I agree with you and am right there along side you!

      Why can’t we as Christians work toward a common goal in evangelism just because we differ ever so slightly on less than 1% of our beliefs?

      I’m sure Satan is having a hay day knowing he has gotten his foot in the 1% crack in that door!

      It’s really shameful.

    • Christopher says on

      Thom didn’t say you had to agree with him, he said you had to agree with Scripture!

      90% of the Bible is clear and straight forward if you simply accept what is written on the page in context.

      Yet, too many people echo Satan: “Did God really say homosexuality is a sin?Did God really say Jesus is the only way to receive eternal life? Did God really say we are all sinners?”

      What’s the point of evangelizing if you preach a false Gospel?

      • If I were to agree to your point on 90% of Scripture being clear, what of the other 10%? I grew up in a conservative evangelical church that refused to partner with any other church on evangelism if they disagreed with our stance on instruments in worship. Our stance on not working with others who didn’t agree with our interpretation that silence in the New Testament equaling prohibition inhibited our ability to partner with other good folks who wanted to share God’s love but had a difference in interpretation. I think it’s fair to say that was not a great reason to withhold partnership. I believe there are far weightier matters that earnest believers can disagree upon and still choose to work together.

      • I am keenly aware and knowledgeable of that particular group who believe in the regulative principle. They also had a penchant for condemning to hell any group and person that did not agree with them 100%

      • Christopher says on

        I think it’s fair to say that’s not what Dr. Rainer is talking about. He is talking about a correct view of the Gospel. This involves a correct view of sin, a correct view of ourselves as sinful, a correct view of the person and work of Jesus, and a correct view of how to receive eternal life. All of this is clearly, and redundantly presented in Scripture.

  • Greg Ross says on

    Don’t blame congregants. They go where they are led. Too many churches, too many denominations, too many voices, too many tapes, DVD’s, videos, and “junk” being pushed on folks for profit. What about Bible study? Tired of smoke, mirrors, sandals, ripped jeans, mindless sermons we have all heard a million times – just repackaged. Too much dogma in a world where legitimate information on religion is readily available. I’ve learned more on Wiki and YouTube than while sitting in adult Sunday School class for 50+ years. Get it together Protestant leaders – get it together! My worship occurs in my home. My favorite church music on YouTube plus intellectual sermons. Where did we get the impression God was impressed with our opinions?

  • bobby gilbert says on

    This is why and the biggest reason why weeks are important. We have miss read daniel’s seventy sevens. There are only 15 weeks. the seven sevens are workers, seventy who work these 15 weeks. By the time we figure this out, the 14 and the 15 week will be almost over. Some of us will be here on this earth and some of us will not. If we can understand the 15 weeks, we might better understand why Jesus understood that he had to go to jerusalem. He is at this point the only one who walks into the week to take on the week. Paul is a good second by him going to rome. Peter was led to take on a week. This was the issachar week.

    I wish there was a better person who could write a book on these weeks. I have tried and have not been successful. I will keep trying.

    There are 15 weeks.
    11 weeks are done to include the passion week.
    4 weeks remain. time is not what it seems, and time is running out. Time will be completely done when the genesis week enters the 8th day, this means god is in his complete form of light. Revelations . . .

    The 4 weeks that remain are the genesis week, the benjamin week, the 1st resurrection week and the 2nd pentecost week.

    church history for the most part has been a pawn of the benjamin week because the only two active weeks from 112 AD to 1897 has only been the genesis week and the benjamin week, two of the longest weeks.

    As far as the 1st resurrection week and the 2nd pentecost week, they most likely are very active. For the 1st resurrection week, the temple has to fall. For the 2nd Pentecost week, the spirit has to leave the temple.

    The best example is Jesus dies and the temple curtain tears. Two events for two different weeks. If one can understand, Passion week has seven days plus one. Pentecost has 50 days. It actually is 100 days long. So if the 1st resurrection week is seven years plus one, the 2nd ´pentecost has to at least 50 years long. It also has a 100 years.

    We shall know soon. If we can see the temple falling, we must feel the spirit leaving the temple.

    all weeks mirror the passion week.
    Jesus works the passion week. The week has one worker.
    The passion week is the paradigm, the passion paradigm.

    Still . . . we work.

    • Craig Giddens says on

      This is a good example of the first Tipping Point (The Theological Tipping Point – If a church does not have a solid biblical and theological foundation, all other issues are moot.)

      Daniel’s seventy weeks has to do with God’s dealings with the nation of Israel and not this … (you choose – nonsense, gibberish, claptrap, rubbish, balderdash, blather, hocus-pocus; informal gobbledygook, bafflegab) referenced in Bobby’s post.

    • Christopher says on

      None of that makes any sense at all.

  • Christopher says on

    Every heresy and false doctrine begins with questioning God’s Word. The main reason why this has happened in the American church is because we are obsessed with being accepted by the community.

  • Christopher says on

    The consumer driven tipping point happened a long time ago

  • IMHO, the lack of the Holy Spirit is the main cause of the decline of our churches. He has been quenched corporately and individually. Sermons are preached in the pastor’s own power without the leading of the Spirit. Invitations are no longer given at the end of the sermon so that sinners moved by the Spirit can respond at the point when they are most apt to make that decision. All kinds of good programs and community outreach are being done in Jesus’ name, but the Holy Spirit is not a part of their plans. Unless the Holy Spirit is in it, we will fail. And once you’ve tasted of the power, presence and passion of the Spirit, nothing else satisfies. A handful of churches have not quenched Him…the rest have fallen over the cliff.

    • Archbishop Garnet Dlamini says on

      The rest have fallen over the cliff because we do not listen to the holy spirit.
      Plans, experience, and profession will not help us much but the intimacy with God.

  • Cultural Christianity is dying. That is not necessary a bad thing. I pray churches will take the initiative and step out in faithful obedience to Christ. We must get out of our four walls and go and make disciples. Folks are not just going to come to church anymore. We must go out and reach them.

  • Greg DeMuth says on

    I’ve found a number of helpful resources, and the best of these has been stuff published by 3DM ministries. They grew out of the European church decline, and so their materials are tried and tested. Their materials have been a blessing in the post Christian American church. Their high values are discipleship and missional community.

  • Are we building battleships or cruise ships. I am afraid that much of the church growth movement has been hijacked into a consumer model rather than producer. We sell the christian faith as a road to prosperity or of creating a better self image where we come together for a mutual support society not training and equipping believers to carry our cross all the way to a sacrificial form of worship that kicks in the gates of hell.

    We are creating fat, fat, fat little babies (Amy Grant…old school video).

    But there is hope in disciplemaking that reproduces believers who are on the mission for their Saviors name sake. We just gotta cut through the “churchie” stuff and be churches that are mission agencies. Recruit, Train, Equip and deploy. Repeat often.

    Staying On Course. Heb 12:1-3
    Pastor CJ

    • Christopher says on

      Speaking of cruise ships most revitalizing efforts are simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic

    • Ronaldo Beco says on

      How important is its manisfestation on this article, because the apathy and secularization that reached the American church also affects the churches of the countries evangelized by the American missionaries, as is the case of Brazil. As a Baptist pastor we have faced daily this grave threat, seeking to return to the old path, to discipleship, to the simple and pure gospel.

  • “Many of us conservative Christians would rather fight each other than fight against the gates of hell.”

    Great article! Thanks for fighting for the Gospel ministry.

  • The “Institutional church” (small “c”) has accepted the LGBT agenda, skipped baptisms, failed on life style choices (heard a sermon on abortion, promiscuity, alcohol and drugs lately?), and abandoned the Great Commission in favor of sanctuary upgrades, programs, and pot lucks. Thankfully, the Church is not the church. And there is a Spirit Filled, on-fire remnant out here sincerely fulfilling the full New Testament mission of the Church, the Body of Christ!

    • Peter – thankfully not EVERY church has done as you say! But I think what you are describing is really #1 above – the THEOLOGICAL TIPPING POINT. Once you start to question, “did God REALLY say that…” you are ready to fall away.

    • Could one of the reasons for the decline be because of God’s judgement on churches for giving control to the government through incorporating with the state and/or through the 501c3 designation?

      • I’d surmise the 501(c)(3) designation is not the cause of decline. I believe there is a combination of certain churches not being able to adapt their method without losing their message. Money is an issue but I believe only a symptom. Many churches did things the way they’ve always done them and left an entire generation (if not more) behind. Couple that with their response to the first stages of decline when they tried to mimic someone who was successful (in their mind) without reevaluating their real ministry – to share the gospel of repentance and reconciliation, to minister to the underprivileged and underserved, and to change the lives of all believers. Form became more important than function.
        But that’s just my opinion.

  • Thom, another great, sobering article. In my local Church experience ‘The good news is that many leaders are not denying this reality.’ may be replaced by ‘The good news is that a few leaders are not denying this reality. There are whole groups and denominations that are oriented to managing decline.

      • Arthur De Boer says on

        I am completely frustrated and saddened at the few churches I have been to lately. Seems to be all about judging and money. People trying to get employed by the church and no outreach.

        I have a “Christian” biological family who hate my wife and have shunned me. They went as far as having her and I arrested in order to leave their family activities.

        The church I attended and the church they attend agree with such actions…

        How do I trust church?

      • Captain Cassidy says on

        May I gently suggest you seek out a qualified secular therapist to figure out what happened with that arrest? It should never have gotten so far that the cops got involved. That sounds a lot like someone intruding on others to the point where they needed help to get you gone.

        Trusting a church sounds like a terrible idea in any situation, because Christians are incredibly flaky, duplicitous hypocrites, but it sounds like your reasons for distrust are kind of skewed.

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