Four Types of Churches That Will Soon Die

Death is not a topic we enjoy.

Death of churches is not a topic I enjoy.

You see, I love the local church. I love it despite it’s flaws, sins, and hypocrisies. Jesus loves me despite my flaws, sins, and hypocrisies.

But too many churches are dying. And the rate of dying churches is accelerating.

I am concerned. Certainly from a biblical perspective, I understand the bride of Christ will be victorious. I understand the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).

But that does not mean individual congregations won’t die.

They are.

They will.

Unless God intervenes.

In simple terms, there are four types of churches that will soon die. It is sad to watch the churches in these categories. Some congregations are in more than one category. And some are in all four.

  1. The Ex-Bible Church. These churches have abandoned the truths of Scripture. A few are explicit in their denials. But many just give lip service to the Bible. The congregation does not study Scripture. The pastor does not deal with the biblical texts and the whole counsel of God. The Bible is just another book that rarely gets read, studied, or proclaimed. The Word of God has no power in these churches.
  2. The Country Club Church. Members in these churches see their membership as perks and privileges. They want their styles of music, their worship service times, their types of architecture, and their preferred lengths of sermons. They pay their dues, so they should get their benefits. Or so the thinking of the members goes. Don’t ask them to evangelize, to put others first, or to make sacrifices. After all, it is their church.
  3. The Bad Words Church. If you want to see a “good” fight, go to these churches. Their business meetings are more contentious than a presidential election. You can count on many of these church members to speak to or email the pastor regularly. And those words of communication are not nice words. These are the churches where bullies go unchecked, where personnel committees and boards work in darkness, and where gossip and backstabbing are common. These churches expend most of their energy on bad words. They thus don’t have the time or energy to share the good news.
  4. The Ex-Community Church. Go into these churches and look at the members. Go into the community and look at the residents. They don’t look alike. They don’t dress alike. They don’t go to the same places. The community has changed, but the church has not. “Those people” are on the outside. “Our kind of people” are on the inside. The idea of building bridges to the community is resisted if not repulsive.

How many churches in America today clearly fall into one or more of these categories? I have not done objective research, but I would not be surprised if the number is more than 50 percent.

Too many churches are dying.

So how do I remain an obnoxious optimist about churches in our nation?

The answer is simple. I am seeing how God is delivering a number of churches from these death throes. I will share more about that positive reality in the future.

In the meantime, let me hear from you.

Posted on August 22, 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 *


  • Hello, I’ve read all the above comments and let me say I’m not seeing too many positive responses as to “How to turn around a dying Church” I have only the experience God has shown me about this issue, I’ll try to put it as simple and short as possible: 1> Go back to the basics it all starts in “Act’s ” 2> “Select” the good men “Spiritual” 3>”Follow” the Pastors lead his vision that God has given to him. 4> Place these Spiritual men in key position thru-out the Church as for lack of a better term “Cheer leaders for God” 5> continually teaching the basics of Jesus nature and His truth from “Scripture” 6> Reach-out to the children in the community by creating “Mothers day out” “Childcare” etc… Note…this will become the most significant ministry in the Church for outreach. 7> Visit, Visit, visit .. Hospitals, jails, prisons, the community.. note: The Pastor should make the very first visit to any new visitor to the Church. 8> Reach-out through food drives, clothes..etc involve as many that will serve and become the hands and feet of Jesus. This of course is not an exhaustive list just simple and basic.

  • Roy Wahlgren says on

    I pastor a “Small” church in a “Small” town. The town is about 350 people and our church has an average attendance of 12-15. There is a bank and a post office and a senior citizen center. These are the only businesses. The school has been consolidated for several years and a few years ago there were 4 high school graduates. I have lost 5 couples in the last 3-4 years as they have moved to other locations to be closer to their grandchildren. With that happening, our numbers have been cut in half. We are one of 5 churches in the community and we are the 2nd largest church. Rural America is slowly dwindling and people are leaving these communities. People are more mobile today than ever before.

    I hate to think of the church dying, but it is primarily a reflection of the community. I feel confident that this is where the Lord has called me and remain committed to preaching the Word.

    Sometimes it is difficult to remain “up” when there are so few in the pews. I smile at those who think of a small church as a church of 100-150. It seems that fellow believers look down on a pastor when he is not preaching to large numbers and feel that somehow that pastor is not really a pastor at all or there would be large crowds clamoring to get into the doors.

  • Javii Pagan says on

    Very well written and glad the. Odyssey of christ is waking up to sad and unfortunate truth.

    Another category that is deeply dying is… the fully functional church. The church with everything that seems just about right and might as well say, can’t find anything wrong with it. Structure, biblical standing, community standing, but one thing that lacks is…. a genuine move of the holy spirit. Where it’s the the holy spirit that brings themail conviction to change people’s lives. To see lives transform. And to see the full gift and manifestation of the holy spirit. Is lacking tremendously.

    Where sermons are being recycled from church to church, Sunday to Sunday, who preaches it better. It’s hard to find a church where an actual message is from the heart of god and actual mana from heAvenue. Holy Spirit inspired, and not a recycled sermon that was preached by an amazing motivational psychologically inspired pastor or speaker. Thst uses, 3 points to live a better successful life. Rather than anot holy spirit filled inspired message or sermon of righteousness.

    That is what is missing in today’s churches.

  • What happens when the “Community” becomes so secularized that the churches that seem to thrive are non-biblical theologically? A church could be fine #1, but bad #4 and vice versa.

  • Phil Hoover says on

    I’m truly saddened…because I see this in so many places.

  • I once Pastored a church that fell into the “country club” category. They felt that because they paid money to the church, they had the right to call the shots. From dictating the sermon topics to the length of time spent in services. I was raked over the coals more then once for not responding to phone calls for over an hour on my day off. After all, to them I was the “club” manager and it was my duty to be on call 24/7. I was even told that while on vacation, the board needed to know where I was everyday. Even if I was at home in bed, they wanted to know. Any new converts were immediately scrutinized and their faults made public and discussed in the community by club members. One new convert who had been delivered from drugs and had many tattoos on his arms was told by a “club member”, “It doesn’t matter that you’ve given your heart to the Lord, your tattoos will send you to hell.” As a result, new converts didn’t stay for more then a few weeks and I believe it was done in an effort to keep the “club” pure and family run. The church has a terrible reputation in the community and I believe it is on death’s door unless Christ is allowed to be the head again. Thank you for your articles, they are informative and encouraging to those of us to follow God’s calling.

  • How about the Sunday morning only church? They show up on Sunday morning when they feel like it out there isn’t something better to do. They’ll sing, clap their hands, even give the preacher a hearty amen from time to time but don’t you ask me to anything outside of Sunday morning. I live the way I want all week but once in a while on Sunday morning I’ll give a hour back to God. Reaching lost people for Jesus? That’s the preachers job.

  • Hi Thom, We’re in an ex pat area in Spain and have tried to integrate into the local church here which is sort of evangelical, well it would purport to be but there’s no gospel, no life and many of the problems you outline. I try to evangelise among the local community and through Facebook but with almost no effect. I haven’t given you the full situation here but would be happy to discuss and get any advice you feel you could give via email. I’m quite depressed about the situation, your prayers would be coveted.

  • The Ex-community church, that’s a tough one. Referring to last week podcast many churches are facing this.
    The church is + 100 yrs old and generations raised there.
    Over last 10+ yrs community becomes ‘diverse’
    What do you do ?? The diverse community doesn’t speak English.
    People start moving away fast as lightning, those who can.
    The rest hang on for dear life and try to ignore it or start separate worship for the diverse in their language but they can’t sustain it while more and more move away every month. Sometimes maybe churches need to die so that vibrant new ministries can blossom in their place. .

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Perhaps it is time to give the church facilities to the new community residents.

      • Interesting because that is what I led a church to do 9 years ago. We could no longer relate to the community and became an aging church as younger people moved away. Now there is a vibrant church in the community. I know it was the right move. As a result I am pastoring another church that is beginning to see new life in it once again. It is a hard decision to make but that may be what God is leading a church to do.

  • Michael Gile says on

    This list is a good one. Perhaps you should review the issues for completeness with the churches in Revelation.

  • In my experience, churches can be home-blind to these issues — seeing the problems in other churches but never in their own context. How can churches objectively evaluate themselves? Any recommendations?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Have an outsider look at your church and give you his or her opinions.

      • We did through Healthy Church Initiative, unfortunately the people that voted to do the initiative (it was voted through by only one vote, not the best margin in my book) felt the actual work should be done by everyone else, not them. So all the work in reaching out was done by only a few, as usual. The church meets all the criteria of your list, unfortunately. One person even commented that if we were to have new people come to the church, it needed to be the “right kind of people”!
        My husband was the pastor. The only thing he felt good about when we left was having a few elderly people who had attended almost all their lives (the glory days included) remark that for the first time in their lives they were reading the Bible and feeling the Holy Spirit at work in them.

  • I grew up in an area where many of the churches began as community churches and were located at where four or five large families with farms came together to have church. Families are smaller now and young people move away, leaving behind a church building with a few senior citizens meeting there. My opinion is that these churches ought to merge and move to where the community is. But now I live in a very large city. The sense of community is very different. You don’t have the local barbershop where you hear the local gossip. You don’t go to the high school basketball game and expect to see a bunch of people you know. Churches are one of the few things left that really tie the community together, but that is limited because people are willing to drive so far to church. They are also willing to drive across town for their entertainment options. There are limited opportunities to develop relationships with people in the community, even when we’re doing all the same things the community is doing.

1 2 3 4 6