Five Lessons We Learned from Deceased Churches

It has been a decade since we did our original research on churches that have closed their doors. Our findings were published in my book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, in 2014. Our work obviously hit a nerve since the book became a number-one bestseller.

Church Answers has continued to talk with church members and leaders whose churches closed or those that were on the precipice of death. While the original information in Autopsy of a Deceased Church is still relevant, there is more information we’ve gleaned since then. We will release that information in a major new resource in January 2023.

For now, let us share with you five updated lessons from churches that closed.

1. The churches had no ongoing effort to reach the unchurched in the community to become churched. That last phrase, “to become churched,” is key. Many of the churches had good ministries to their communities, but they were not intentional about inviting them and getting them to become a part of the worship and small group gatherings of the church.

2. The pandemic increased the pace of decline and, ultimately, death of the churches. We’ve noted this reality on several occasions. The pandemic did not change the trends of churches. They exacerbated them.

3. The leaders and members of the churches were in denial. They refused to confront their reality. If they did, it was often too late.

4. The churches did not have new members’ classes to set expectations. Most of the deceased churches did not have a new members’ class at all. The few that had such classes only provided information; they did not use the class to set expectations. All of the deceased churches were hurt significantly by decreased attendance patterns of members. Their failure to set expectations was a key reason members attended less frequently.

5. The churches kept waiting for the silver bullet. The most common silver bullet was a new pastor who would turn things around. The second most common silver bullet was a new youth or children’s minister who would do all the work to reach young people. In other words, the members desired to abdicate their ministry responsibilities and pay someone else to do it.

We will unpack more of the issues related to deceased churches in January when we release our new resource. Stay tuned to our daily email to get this information soon.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about these issues related to churches that closed. I would love to hear from you.


P. S. We are offering my book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, for $5.49 for a limited time: Order now!


Posted on December 5, 2022

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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  • Brad Hales says on

    Wouldn’t it be great if leaders and congregations could use the resources that God has already provided them to do renewal ministry.

  • James Payton says on

    Morning Blessings. I’ve been reading your work for many years. The knowledge God has given you is spot on. I Pastor a small group in the central valley of California. It’s and older Afro-centric congregation stepped in deep southern tradition. It’s a struggle to get them to embrace and minister in a current day social/religious/political environment. The power brokers are killing this ministry. Truth of the matter is we are on life support. Please advise.

  • kehinde mafolasire says on

    Thanks and God bless. May we not miss our position before God. Remember the seven churches in the province of asian in the book of Revelation 2 & 3. Today, none of these churches exists in the modern day Turkey. Devil & its cohorts is seriously waging war but we shall surely overcome. Rom. 8 vs. 37. I prayed, the gate of hades shall not prevail over HIS Church in Jesus name. Thanks.

  • In meetings with denominational leaders, they bemoan the fact that they can’t get pastors to participate in meetings or churches to participate in any events. One denominational leader was concerned about the work ethic of the pastors under his care.
    I meet with pastors weekly and the vast majority are struggling. Help is offered but rarely accepted. They will accept a handout with information but not interested in a personal visit.
    It is as you have already reported, when churches say “they aren’t ready” for an interim or a consultant, they are in denial and think they can just wait it out till “things get better.”
    It’s all about leadership.

  • Barry Carroll says on

    My thoughts are these. No church needs to go out of business if the Holy Spirit is active in its people and that Holy Spirit is empowering those people to serve the church, but more importantly the community. Those people will be glorifying God and edifying people they serve. I Corinthians 12:1 talks about not being ignorant about spiritual gifts yet most churches are blind to this. Most churches operate from a business model – small, medium and large. If our churches operated with spiritual gifts, existing churches could not contain the number of people wanting to be there.

  • Sadly, most pastors who end up letting a church die a natural death are far removed from the actions (or inactions) that started the demise. It can take 10-20 years (or more) to finalize the process of death and a lot of times the members start looking outside themselves for answers – the new pastor, the Diocese/Synod/governing body, the greatest “new program,” etc.

    I sense there is mixed culpability for the demise. It is hard to fault people for not diagnosing the demise – churches are filled with people who are hopeful and believe that change can happen. Pastors can believe they can turn things around. These are traits which are good in faith communities but the implementation of those things is not always straightforward and needs people who really want change to be involved.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      So true.

    • Leon Fields says on

      Amen and Amen, my brother! This is an incredibly honest, yet complete look at the condition of the church (people) in my opinion. One author stated that we have “sleeping pastors preaching to sleeping members.” The answer to all of our problems is JESUS!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Absolutely. Now we have to decide what actions the church takes since Jesus is the solution.