Eight Reasons Many Bible Belt Churches Are in Trouble

What a big difference a region makes.

Or use to make.

I served as pastor of four churches, and three of them were in the Bible Belt. One was not. It was my favorite.

The Bible Belt refers to that region of the southeastern and south-central United States where church attendance has been higher historically, and where biblical values are more closely aligned with cultural values.

But the buckle of the Bible Belt is coming off. That means the entire belt will soon fall off. And it is happening rapidly.

There are thousands of churches in the Bible Belt. Sadly, too many of them are not adjusting to the changing realities of the area. They still act like it’s 1975. Here’s why:

  1. They don’t recognize the decline in cultural Christianity. They refuse to admit the world has changed around them. And they are often angered when someone suggests they make methodological and stylistic changes.
  2. They have many “church rules.” The church rules could be related to attire worn on Sunday, or times of worship, or inconsequential polity issues. The point is they do things like they did 40 years ago, and wonder why those on the outside are not interested in their churches.
  3. They have leaders who have never led in a highly unchurched mission field. Of course, the problem is that the mission field around them is growing increasingly unchurched. Birmingham and Nashville, in that regard, are looking more like Spokane and Boston.
  4. They confuse traditions with truth. That is a dangerous reality. When our church members equate biblical teachings with some of the bylaws and processes of the church, the congregation is in big trouble.
  5. They do outreach the way they’ve always done it. So if Tuesday night visitation was effective in 1975, it should be effective in 2016.
  6. They have significant conflict due to frustration. A number of the leaders and members of these churches can’t understand why and how things have changed so much. They want their old church back, but it’s not coming back. Their frustration can lead to conflict that exacerbates their other problems.
  7. They are very slow to respond. Their internal culture moves at a much slower pace than the community around them. If they do respond to an opportunity, they might be five years late. Or ten. Or twenty.
  8. They have significant facility challenges. Many of these churches were built for one big crowd one day a week one hour a week. They might have old and dated education and recreation facilities as well. Some of them are in worship centers with a capacity multiple times their actual attendance. They can have significant unused space and deferred maintenance. A lot of their funds go to keep the lights on.

Many of you readers are in churches in the Bible Belt. I would love to hear your perspectives. Of course, I am always happy to hear from any of you who take time to read this blog.

Posted on October 31, 2016

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.
More from Thom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  • Helen Revell says on

    Please pray for my family and I, We live in Lancaster California. There are things being said and done here by God’s people, to God’s people that have gone out into the city and have affected non Christians along with our young people that are very wrong. Pray for Almighty God to uproot the weeds that have grown and cut them out, we will be in one accord and a good example so that God’s people can carry the banner of Christ into the next generation and leave our city better than it was. Thank you. Lord Bless you
    Helen R.

  • I am a Christian, a Southern Baptist. I can remember Cottage prayer meetings at my grandfathers houses and in my own home as a child. It was at one of these fervent prayer meetings that I came under conviction and gave my heart to the Lord. I believe in order to nourish and protect the message of salvation we must return to a simpler, more honest was of spreading that message person to person. It will be in the homes that children will learn of God’s love for them and hear the old songs based on biblical precepts. The big churches are not preaching to convict hearts, calling for a profession of faith, helping new converts to in grace- the steps in establishing a relationship with Jesus as a personal Savior. Often invitations are not even given. I believe God’s word says we must confess Him before men if we expect Him to confess us to the Father. My whole family has served in the Baptist and Methodist denominations, some have founded churches that grew to be large congregations. But they would all say that the smaller the church the greater the Spirit of The Lord can be felt and move among the people. They minister to each other and the community more effectively. Tithes and offering gs are used for the mission field at hand, right here. Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

  • Michael Roloson says on

    To give the indication that a church should change because the world changes is wrong . To say such is to say that because man changes , God must change . I have been a minister for over 23 years and have always preached and taught the word of God as it is written without changing to the ways of the new age . Just last Sunday we had four people saved . A church must remember what the Lord said in Malachi 3:6 ; ” For I am the Lord , I change not .” That means that the ways of the church that that were set down over 2000 years ago , are the ways for today . If a church fails it is because they have allowed the ways of man and the world to dictate how the church is to be run instead of being run by the Word of God . Remember people , If a church is failing , then that church needs to examine themselves . For it is not God’s fault that it is failing .

    • Anne Tanner says on

      No, it’s not God’s fault. I do not think that this article is about changing doctrine; I think it’s about adapting the truth of the doctrine to a very different world. Keep the truth; change the setting and delivery.

    • Amen!!!

  • Gregg Doyle says on

    I am overwhelmed by the continual focus on church buildings and denominations in so many of the replies. I am perplexed by the discussions on worship styles. I am amazed at how many messages I have heard from Mathew 28:19 used to raise money for missions, then we are told to make friends with sinners and bring them to church. Paul has given us the answer in 2nd Corinthians 3:6, He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant-not of the letter of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. In talking of the demise of the denominational churches not once have I heard mention of 2nd Corinthians 2:17. Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. I am not saying the systems and authorities are all bad, but the evidence clearly indicates to me that it is not all good either.

  • Carissa Denise Caines says on

    Many, many ppl are facing God’s judgement more so in today’s society than ever. Divorce rates sky roketing, falling away from truth, his love, his way and his light, it’s becoming more of a cultural belief rather than a relationship with our Lord, our God. LOOK HOW MANY FOLLOW RELIGIONS!!! But more so riddle me this and riddle me that why do we have so many religions vs in how is this possible if we have ONE GOD???? Not many God’s!!! Just one!!!.. God’s wrath is clear in the end days is near we will be having to have the armor of God within us when that time comes in order to be saved having that personal intimate relationship with him to be lead to safety when that time comes… So are you ready??? Well, I sure hope so because it’s going to be hell here more so without him… I guarantee you this. It has to do with the Bible belt!!! Satanic worship is happening and the battles are getting worse why so many pastors and bodies of Christ not buildings are failing and falling. Hope your ready…. I can not express my heart ache and intense pain I feel knowing my family and friends are being taken by the enemy and there’s nothing I can say or do over it but stand here and spread awareness. Tsunmi to happen on the east coast, new Madrid fault line going,??? Sink holes worsening salt mines diminishing, the ocean is polluted worsening, our Earth as we know it suffers and dying and it’s going to take every mind, soul and body in repentence in the relationship with him… Well, it gives each one of you understanding of the birth pains only gets worse on this Earth and I guarantee things have to change now and fast!!! Before it’s too late!!! So what do we do???? ASK JESUS!!!!!! Because I am wind which carries heavens song and the song is the word of our living living God name Jesus!! Which is the beginning the end the way the truth the life and his light … THE RAINBOW in the book of revelations!!!! Revealed!!!

  • Joe Fincham says on

    Your points are not only spot on..unfortunately too many (rural especially)pastors wear these traditions like a badge!

  • Ok then. Here is the reality of Jesus for me. I was an atheist from age 18 to age 46. The religious upbringing in a Lutheran doctrine that was legalistic and condemning (along with a crazy home life that put me into fear and insecurity) was not a life saving grace AT ALL . The dark path that led me on that journey that held my soul in captivity to a living hell on earth is like the dark path of everyone else: sin, ignorance, rebellion…knowing not what I did. I was not alive in my person, but was a member of the walking dead. I was separated from God and all who know what that means after having been born again know that life without Jesus is not life at all. So what changed me? A woman told me about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Now that sounded “foreign” to me but at the time I was so desperate that my soul was crying out “get on this boat!”. And so I did. Did I then automatically become this mature believer? Oh no! Not at all! I was a BIG MESS! I tried to find “the church” that would fix me! What a crazy idea! And yet that is what lost people do! I spent 21 years in the wilderness of church trying to be the good Christian, trying to heal my own wounds, trying to forget my past pain, trying to intellectualize and emotionalize my faith. The journey was quite tormenting for me. I knew all the doctrine and yet I did not know the ONE that the doctrine was all about. I can’t even begin to tell you what happened along my journey because it was not healthy. And yet I never let go of believing that Jesus loved me and that He wanted me to be free. THEN IN MARCH 2016, I had my Damascus encounter with Jesus. He said “Are you done yet?” Are you done trying to intellectualize and emotionalize your way to freedom?” He then told me to do one simple thing. He said to wake up early each morning and “Come as you are to the well”. I did. I bought the John MacArthur daily Bible and began to open up my heart each morning to receive from Jesus. From March 2016 to today November 2017, God began to reveal Who He is to me. He took me deep into the kingdom of God and began to shine light onto the word. It began to shine into my heart and He began to pour wisdom from above into my wee little person. I say “wee” because I was as a child coming to her Father each morning to learn through His Son and His Spirit what LIFE was. The details are personal and cannot be duplicated. A deep intimate personal relationship with God in Christ Jesus is not a matter of a religious checklist or finding the right church and the right pastor. It is a matter of humbly spending time in the word of the living God and being raised up by a Heavenly Father. Love found me. Love is a Person Jesus. Today love is who I am. Love is a being that acts out of that being. Love hates sin. Love loves love. Love pleases God, not man and not self. Love can love her neighbor as herself because she is love. Love is the Person of I Corinthians 13. She is a new being. She is born again of the Spirit. That is sooooooo odd sounding isn’t it? It should be. It is a supernatural granting of God at the well where Jesus promised He would fill all who came TO HIM with rivers of living water. Today living water is in me. Today life is living water. Today death has no sting for me. Today sin has no power over me. I AM A MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHIRST OF WHOM JESUS CHRIST IS MY HEAD.

1 6 7 8