The Five Kinds of Churches That Must Change or Die

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Change or die.

Imagine hearing those words from your physician. I hope you would be motivated to change. Eat well. Exercise. Stop smoking.

You get the picture.

Okay, I have some tough news for you who are members or leaders of about 100,000 churches in America.

Change or die.

You read that correctly. In fact, if your churches don’t make substantive changes in the next few years, your church will die.

So what churches are at risk? Instead of naming the specific churches, I have listed them in five categories. The categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  1. Shallow roots. These churches are no longer rooted in Scripture. They have drifted from the clear teachings of the Bible to a secular or social approach to ministry, which is really not ministry at all.
  2. Self-entitled. Another name for these churches are “country club” churches. The members demand the church serve them. They have to have things done their way, or they will leave. After all, the pay their “dues” (offerings) for their perks and privileges.
  3. Negatively critical. The members of these churches spend more time criticizing than they do evangelizing. They are in regular conflict. Some run off pastors. They wear out pastors and staff and “good” church members.
  4. Ignorantly idolatrous. It’s easier to get away with heresy in these churches than to make certain changes. No one can use the parlor. We can only have a certain style of music. We better not mess up my service by adding another service. In each of these cases, the members have idols, though they would deny it vociferously.
  5. Evangelistically anemic. The Great Commission is the great omission in these churches. Church members no longer share the gospel. Maybe the pastor is not evangelistic either. There are no new Christians in the church.

Nearly one of three churches will die in the next few years. They must change. Or they will die.

I wrote Who Moved My Pulpit? to provide leaders a roadmap to lead change in their churches. I wrote out of conviction and a broken heart. I wrote it with the prayer and hope that it can be used to make a difference.

Maybe I wrote it for your church.

Maybe I wrote it for you.

Change or die.

For many of you, there is a choice.

But time is quickly running out.


Who Moved my Pulpit? Video Trailer


Posted on June 6, 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.
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54 Comments

  • Bear with me if someone has already covered this, but #1 is likely the cause of all the rest. Bible believing and Bible teaching/preaching isn’t enough as rooted in implies also Bible living under the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And if it is change that is needed, it is the “apocalyptic repentance” that is urged upon 5 of the 7 Revelation churches in Rev 2 & 3. Pastors and church leaders bear a good deal of the responsibility for letting the believers lose site of the ultimate return of the Son of Man. As that return is preceded by the arrival of the person of the Antichrist, it behooves us Pastors to get back into looking for the arrival and return and teaching the believers to also. If not this generation, one generation will be here for this epochal event. It looks like “Behold Antichrist” could very well be the mantra we will be hearing.

  • 6. the prayer-anemic church

  • Although there is much truth in the perception of the dangers of so many concerning issues within congregations today, I find it amazing those who would call themselves “pastor” in their comments for which designation is the equivalent in meaning as “elder”, ” bishop”, “shepard” or “overseer” a position in the congregations of Christ or the Church that has specific qualifications to be met to be called or hold such a position (1Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9), do not more scripturally identify themselves as being simply a preacher or evangelist of a local congregation.

    The use of the title pastor or elder is seldom used by a faithful preacher unless they are serving within positions in the church as both a preacher and an elder simultaneously. In most cases, this situation is highly unlikely as not too often does a preacher serve as both an elder and peacher, although there are some notable exceptions.

    It would appear perhaps that those who use such designations think this designation is a much more loftier and honorable description than simply being called a preacher or evangelist of Christ – which certainly anyone who holds such a position in the church is worthy of unmeasurable respect and praise from all of us as well as God the Father. It is noted that many of the highly educated and prior occupational professionals serving as Apostles such as Apostles Paul and Luke never reverted back to using their prior secular positions in learning, as a scholar or profession as a means of self-promotion of themselves in the work of the Lord other then just a mere and humble statement of fact of where they came from.

    Romans 10:15
    And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

    Sadly, the same concern or misuse can be said about those who run around calling themselves “Reverend”, “Father”, “Holiness”, “Master”, etc as this misuse is also condemned in the Bible and scripturally misapplied by those who would call themselves such. (Psalms 111:9-10, Matthew 23: 9-12).

    While the positions taken in this article are major concerns, they would be even more valid if the article would address the scriptures they violate as in an example of: Just what is the mission or function of the local church? Which areas of work are they actually authorized or not?
    (Which answers can be clearly found in the New Testament scriptures as the acceptable answer following God’s will and authority.) Many denominational congregations have no doubt lost their way in this regard and are violating maliciously the Word of God by adding to or taking away from the truth and mission of the Church with no scriptural authority for what they do whatsoever … as if they know better than God on how to operate and oversee Christ’s Church.

    I would like to think these so called “Pastors” would stop misleading their congregations by not speaking as to the oracles of God which God has given to us either by the New Testament teachings: command, example or necessary inference or by the admonition and examples of the Old Testament given to us for our learning – so we may not make the same mistakes of not taking God’s will more seriously and to our own detriment if we fail to do so.

    I share these comments as simply a Christian guided In my study in the faith by God’s Word by following such principles and guidance found in the Bible and the closing scriptures I have provided for thought at the end of this comment. I am not a congregational preacher, but simply a Christian who finds peace in sharing the truth with others who perhaps need to go to God’s Word more often to make sure what they are receiving from anyone is in fact true. I blindly followed such men way to long until I was encouraged to examine such false teachings and gospels more closely in God’s Word as a better way of being right with (saved) and serving God in my daily walk with Christ. Perhaps it would do many “Pastors” good to go back once again to the warnings of Psalms 111:10 and Matthew 33:11 provided earlier as to the proper attitude in this regards when one carries an unscriptural representation of themselves.

    To those who have lost their positions for preaching the truth, no doubt the hearts and prayers go out from many of the faithful to you. Perhaps if most so called Christians and leaders in the Church were more grounded in the Bible and the truth, rather then their denominational doctrines, creeds, articles of faith and teachings of men, they would know better and avoid the condemnation that is surely to follow them by letting so many good men go if they do not make right or amend their ways through repentance and continued faithful living before this life is over. 1John 1:6 – 2:6.

    Also, age should never make a difference in teaching the truth especially for those who have such rich experience and knowledge in the Word – such in my opinion are diamonds in the rough and worthy of honor and respect – double honor if serving as an elder! 1 Timothy 5:1, 17. It’s so sad that many Christians are so mislead by social gospels and worldly secular services in their churches to the extent that most obviously don’t know better or are totally ignorant of. Three scriptures that immediately come to mind in this sad regard:

    Acts 17:30
    And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

    John 2:16
    And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

    2 Peter 2:3
    And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

    I close with these thoughts found in the scriptures:

    1 Peter 4:11
    If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

    Acts 17:11
    These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

    2 Timothy 2:15
    Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    2 Timothy 3:16-17
    All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

    Matthew 7:21-23
    Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

  • Last post I promise. We also need to repent for failing to carryout the things I mentioned above or the church will die.

  • By the way, I enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  • Thom, your list is spot on, but I think you are addressing the symptoms rather than the root problem. I am not trying to sound like a know-it-all, but I think my list above here more to the root of the problem. I would also like to add that churches that don’t practice regenerate church membership will die. I think that is a biggy in the SBC. 16 million members and 10 million are no where to be found on any given Sunday morning. We as Southern Baptist have to clean up our sloppy evangelism methods and stop producing so many false converts. We need to examine the methods of our founders, and more importantly, the evangelistic methods employed by Jesus, the disciples, and the apostle Paul.

  • I would like to add to this list: 1.) Churches that don’t pray, and I mean pray, will die.
    2.) Churches that preach easy believism and a watered down version of the Gospel will die.
    3.) Churches that care more about the felt needs of the peo ple rather than what God demands from His worshippers will die.
    4.) Churches that have no regards to holiness and fail to practice church discipline will die.
    5.) Churches that have abandoned their belief in the sufficiency of Scripture and have embraced pragmatism will die.
    6.) Churches who esteem men more than God will die.
    7.) Churches that are busy and slept reliant, yet fail to see their desperate need for Christ and are devoid of the Holy Spirit’s power will die.
    8.) Churches that abandon or demphasize Bible doctrine will die.
    9.) Churches that replace true biblical preaching with self help talks and theatrics will die.
    10.) Churches will die when Christ is not the center of all things.

  • Great article, as usual. While the Church (capital C) will continue until the Lord’s return, do you think that many healthy churches (lowercase c) will have a natural life span and give way to other healthy churches? Maybe in places where population/demographics/languages have changed? Thanks!

  • Dr. Gary B. says on

    I find your article honest and truthful, and also I find i have served in, at least, one church that resembles 2/4. Five years ago, I was voted out of this church because I was instructed, by the leadership of the church, to “quit preaching Jesus and the Bible so much”, that i needed to “tell stories and be more accommodating” in my messages. While I was on vacation, I was informed I had been voted out of my position because their rules were not being honored and they were not interested in changing their “preferences into convictions”. After 25 years of pastoring, and almost 800 souls led to the Lord, I have not pastored again, even though my heart still desires too. My greatest challenge seems to be the newest disqualifier among a lot of churches today…age. I feel most churches are looking at my birth certificate longer than they look at my resume. So, I guess, as time goes along, the church changes it’s spots and becomes what it thinks it wants to be, rather than what Jesus died for it to be. I appreciate your back-bone in these matters, and would appreciate your prayers.

    • Plant a church, dear brother. Start one in your home. There are people who are hurting and who are in desperate need of the glorious truth of the gospel. I don’t consider it a tragedy that some of these “pretender” churches will die. A new generation of churches can arise from the ashes that will welcome the broken and hurting and disciple them to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  • Joanne martin says on

    Jesus said to Peter he was the rock he would build his church on..Peter understood Salvation by Grace through Faith it is a gift from God not of works least anyone should boast..Church today must get back to this teaching if it is to survive..?

  • I agree and have seen this far too often. Especially number 2. As a seminarian search for a pastoral ministry to join I see on 90% or more of the job descriptions “must be in agreement with XYZ church doctrine” so it’s believe what we believe or go away. Very clubish. Thank you for the post.