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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  • Perhaps the sins of the fathers to the 3-4 generation is in effect. Maybe the history of mistreating practically every group of people that have come to this nation or been enslaved is finally being judged. Next year will mark the 400 years of black people being brought to America, mistreated, enslaved, denigrated and still being treated not as humans today, not as brothers. Please don’t say that it’s not true we are seeing it daily. Even pastor friends in foreign countries are asking me, “Why are they treating people like this, politics over your God or god?” In the OT Egypt did the same thing in mistreating Israel 400 years and Elohim grew tired and called forth judgment. If He isn’t an impartial God then should we expect similar judgment today for mistreating and hurting others? Are we the same? I don’t know. However, I do feel that a lot of repentance and restitution instead of patriotism needs to take place in our nation. I was told a couple of weeks ago to take my ((*&^$!! back to Africa. I could only lift my voice in prayer like Habakkuk ” 400 years, How long, LORD, must we call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? 3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.”

  • Francis Chan has become a champion for this very cause. He has not only seen the problem, he is also setting the example for the solution.

  • Great points, Thom on why the church in America is in such bad shape. Sadly, spot on.

  • Matthew 4:16 The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

    Perhaps what seems like a time of darkness is an indication of what might be ahead. The Great Awakenings came in times of decline, darkness, and despair. The Lord’s return might be closer than we think.

  • The fear that this kind of article created leads to pastors running right over their congregations. Congregants bear the pastor’s angst because he can’t make his/her congregation serious enough. Churches are declining because of demographics and society has noticed the gaping holes in American Christianity. It’s not because of of the congregants lack of faith. Stop guilting people into giving and doing more and never measuring up.

  • Food for thought… could it be that 40 plus hours a week of secular indoctrination, and another 35 plus hours a week of secular media and constant reinforcement from peers for 20 plus years makes it difficult to believe what is taught in a religious setting for a couple hours a week at most?…/christian…/

  • Some parts of Christianity got in bed with liberal secular politics and others with conservative politics. This did not help either group. Also, what secular politics did not do, intra-church politics did. People who should be leading aren’t allowed to and some people who are leaders should not be. All this led to many people going elsewhere.

  • Reginald Gabel says on

    We have developed good resources and programs to teach people how to tell people to come to church. But few know what to tell others about what Christ has done for them. They can tell them about the great events, beautiful music, great deep sermons, but lack the ability to tell their personal story. Why? I believe many have not had that personal experience, that one on one heart changing meeting with Christ. They believe He is real, they believe He died on the Cross and rose, but Satan believes that. I think of what Christ told the man He cast the demons out of… “go tell what God has done for you…”. No training, no seminary, no years in church. All the greatness of our churches can not out do the telling of a ‘personal experience with Christ’…. praying for revival….

    • Christopher says on

      “Personal experience with Christ” What exactly does that mean? Where in the Bible is the Gospel ever presented as experiential? Isn’t all experience subjective? Why should anybody else care about my “personal experience?” By definition it’s mine and mine alone!

      The Gospel is always presented as objective fact to be believed, not something to be “experienced.” Did Paul ever tell anyone, “Unless you had an experience similar to mine, you’re not saved,” of course not! Any religion can talk about experience, some much more convincingly than modern Christianity, but how many can point to objective facts of history and a risen savior? Telling our story is pointless, we have to tell Jesus’ story, He’s the one who died.

      According to Jesus, the only thing necessary for eternal life is to believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God. This means believing in both the person and the work of Jesus. He is the Son of God and the Christ who died and rose again to fulfill God’s plan of redemption. Furthermore, this belief can only happen through the work of the Holy Spirit.

      I get so tired of comments like, “Even Satan believes that.” First, the Bible never says that Satan believes in the person and work of Christ. Obviously he doesn’t or he wouldn’t be trying to thwart Him. Second, it doesn’t matter what Satan believes because Jesus didn’t die for him.

      This is exactly why theology has to come first, so that we are sharing the Biblical Gospel and not some “experience” we just happen to have had that may or may not mean anything to anybody else.

  • Good article and makes me realize I am exceptionally blessed.

    We found a church that actually still does solid Bible teaching, sings songs that are not love songs to ourselves, does rock solid Bible study, has a set time for visitation, goes out “soul winning” and is growing. Each week seems someone is saved.

    God is indeed moving. I will say what seems to be dying is the church growth movement all about me manipulated fake church that relies on techniques instead of the Holy Spirit.

    And that may be a good thing.

  • If you look across the whole church {denominations} then I would say that much of the said church has already gone over the theological cliff. Among Southern Baptist I believe there are some but most are standing on the truth of God as the should and preaching and teaching God’s Word.
    Among Southern Baptist it is more the attitudinal and acitonable tipping points. The attitude for quite some time is “how can the church serve me” which goes entirely against scripture. Many baptists are leaving churches to go where other churches are can meet their needs instead of being the agent of change and meet that need in their present church.
    The action is also bringing to that proverbially tipping point. I do believe many have churches to find another church where they can hide in a crowd and not have to serve or be faithful. The exclusion of evangelism deeply grieves me. I know in my own church people have left for those very reasons.
    The growing churches are for the most part simply growing by transfer growth. I’m not against a person leaving one church to go to another place of service if the Lord calls them, but honestly, how many of those members are leaving for right reasons.
    I find that in some circles within the church that it’s not just a matter of not knowing how to evangelize or not doing the work of an evangelist but some are even against evangelism.I also know that my community like many others have 10s of 1000s of people who do not know the Lord.
    For me, I have decided to trust the Lord, preach the Word, love His church, and lead them to evangelize the lost around them.
    a great article Dr. Rainer. Thanks

  • The theological issues are not simply ones of abortion and homosexuality. Theologically conservative churches have forsaken the basic principles of love for neighbor in real and tangible ways, especially those that are from different faiths, sexual orientations and political persuasions. Even with our ecclesiology, it must start with the life of Jesus not denominational structures or tradition. The church is designed and sent to assault the gates of hell. How do we train and equip our churches to do that?

    • Christopher says on

      Spoken like a true liberal. It doesn’t matter if you get it right as long you “care.” Don’t judge you by your results but by your intentions. It doesn’t matter if someone is going to hell as long as they feel validated in their false religion and sinful lifestyle.

      Conservatism in the church is simply an affirmation that God says what He means and means what He says. The life of Jesus is the ultimate illustration of this truth.

      • Conservative churches are notorious for not liking anyone except a very tiny group of people. I am well aware of the unwanted ones and what defines us, as I am one. I would bet that Tom is not as liberal as you think he is.

      • Christopher says on

        Conservatives certainly do not have a monopoly on being unloving and ostracizing. The most unloving and intolerant people I have known in church have all had a liberal bent.

        You want to see hatefulness come out, suggest to a liberal that the Bible is God’s inerrant Word.

  • Shane Fickling says on

    What appears to be “declining”
    Churches to us is actually The Lord “refining” His Church in preparation for His return.