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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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I have read many, many of these. And I feel like it should just be called “The 4 Cliches Authors Use To Sell Books, But Miss The Mark”
And I used to work for a church trying to help them survive, and I never once saw anyone mention anything even close to that church.
I honestly think you are so consumed with what the world sees of the church, BUT these seem to be a diagnosis of the Symptoms….not the actual issue.
It’s like when a doctor says “I see your problem, you have a fever and swollen glands.” But that is a result, not the cause.
If I had to pick one, I’d probably say that the church USED to be The Country Club Church…..but it hadn’t been for years and years. It is a category all it’s own. It’s Members are In The Bible, but have no idea what it says. The preaching is Expository, but the Exposition is lacking and only superficial to the text. There is a lack of Knowledge in all areas; on any doctrines, theology, biblical hermeneutics. The phrase “If people are questioning Calvinism don’t talk to them, it’ll just confuse them. It confuses me.” was uttered by the *Senior Pastor*. “But Moses was a Christian” was once said in anger by a *Bible Study Teacher* at the mention of Moses forming the Jewish Religion.
Its a form as Astroturf, it looks good from a distance, but it’s only an inch deep. You can roll it up just like a carpet.
And the whole problem boils down to: Lack any Accountability in Leadership. The Pastor and 2 Elders are Theological Infants, with terrible biblical knowledge and Everybody including the Pastor is too busy in life to be concerned with the Spiritual Maturity or Growth of the church.
I don’t know…..it just seems no one has been particularly helpful in helping turn churches around. It’s like the Self Help Books that say “The way you stop being depressed is to stop being depressed. So Stand up and get to work”
I would try to show people things and because they didn’t actually seem a parallel, they’d dismiss it.
I don’t know. It just seems like its the same Word Salad Christian-Idioms as the whole “Let’s Do Life Together” and “Love On Them” everyone sits and says “Country Club or Out of Touch or Non Biblical, blah blah” but it’s just word salad, same ol’ same ol’.
As a Pastor and Seminary leader, I am a bit confused by your categories although I do not disagree with what you describe. I wondered about whether or not these points were data driven or more conjecture. I do see that there is validity in your criticisms however. I wonder if you feel that changing these elements will save the evangelical church, or whether or not there is something more going on in them than we care to give voice to.
I’ve Come to a realization about the Kingdom of Heaven and the churches of today.. Every church that keeps us in sin conciseness if they believe there is still sin then there still waiting for Jesus to raise from the grave. If you Believe In Jesus and have repented then there is no more Sin think about it when Jesus said it was finished and he died for our sins that meant there is no more sin but if the churches still believe in sin then they don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead
Dr. Rainer, I have spent 30 years preaching in country churches, to which I was called. My greatest battles were not on the outside, but on the inside. The Bible says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” but they believe it this way… For me to live is control, and to die is pain. The Lord sent me to preach on every continent but Antarctica to see a harvest of souls. The churches I served as pastor (21 years at the same one) never assisted me or went with me. I taught evangelism classes from every program from CWT to FAITH and all those in between. I couldn’t get the deacons to go with me … they were positional not purposeful. Finally the DOM asked me to try to help a failing church, after prayer I went. In 17 months they declared the pulpit vacant. Two Sundays later was Easter Sunday and there were 16 people in a 300 seat auditorium. God has me as a TDCJ Prison Chaplain and we have trained over 500 offenders in our Follow Me Class. They are leading their family members, friends and other offenders to Christ. We had just over 1,000 souls saved last year and I’m trusting the Lord for 1,500 souls in 2016.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (1995). (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version., Php 1:21). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Hi Thom., Boy am I seeing the church I’ve been attending when reading these posts. We to are seeing our numbers falling and our leaders seem to be spinning their wheels trying to hang on. We’ve lost pastors and currently are being Shephard with a part time pastor pulled out of retirement. She is also serving another church in our area. Some members want to leave the denominational church group we are associated with others do not. This has caused a rift. Most say something needs to be done, but no one has any ideas of ( what to do ) so we seem to be just going through the motions. Sure do need prayers.
The Ex Community Church has forgotten the reason for their existence, to reach the lost.
They are placed in that community to do Outreach.
We, at Church Job Fairs ( ChurchJobFairs.org) have been able to partner with those not plagued with the dying church.
After 2 1/2 years in the Philippines, I really looked forward to returning to the “healthy” American church I had left. Unfortunately, this church is now an even more intense country club church than ever. I began attending this church in 2006. The pastor and congregation were informed that I held a degree in pastoral theology and that I had an above average amount of experience in Christian service. Yet, during my entire tenure, I have never been invited to deliver a sermon as a guest preacher. Also am normally shunned when attempting to be involved in Christian service activities. The churches in the Philippines usually gave me a guest spot behind the pulpit. I am currently compelled to sit and listen to men who have been given quick preaching lessons by the pastor. Because my funds are now very low, the church has hired me to do a painting project no one else wants. My additional full-time minimum wage job is enjoyable and I see it as an opportunity to share the gospel with the friends I am making there. But anything that is not considered a contribution to the church’s partnering missions agencies is not considered as being up to their standards. So my work friends are not important to them. My Filipina wife is the only foreigner to have been totally ignored from the pulpit. She is a wonderful woman of God who could easily give a dynamic testimony. She also has a background in church administration and leading women’s and youth Bible studies. I have sadly watched her take a back seat to a non-believing exchange student from China. The pastor’s recent two week trip to various places in Asia is glorified while our time of living in the Philippines is shoved to the side and ignored. My mother also died about a week and one half ago. The original response to this was to completely ignore that event while an accepted attender was lavished on over difficulties in a relationship. That took place in a prayer meeting. Revival is an absolute necessity in this church whether they ever regard my wife and I as valuable or not. The country club belongs out on the golf course. May the Lord turn this place around.
Sorry about your loss. As to the other, I would change churches.
Re the “country club church”: and it is possible a church considers its options, refuses to follow a sin sick culture, and closes. Better to close faithfully than to pander to ungodliness.
Which leads to the issue of “community church.” Our town has been hit with major layoffs. Most of the people willing to work have left. We have the drug hazed sagging and bagging gang bangers left. No way are we going to imitate them.
Part of the call of the gospel is a call to sanctification.
Will the churches here staying true to God’s Word and producing people who live by it daily survive or die? I’ve no clue.
But I’d rather be in a faithful church that dies than an unfaithful one that grows like crazy.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. But if it does, how much do we accommodate the ways of Satan to fit in?
I read “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” for the first time back about six weeks ago. This is probably one of the best “little” books I’ve ever read. I just completed a one day conference this past Saturday on this very subject. There are ways to bring these churches back from the throes of death, but it will take a lot of work and a tremendous amount of patience and love. My prayer is that God would go before us and begin to change the hearts and minds of these congregations and to help us to come alongside of these congregations as He does!
I am glad to read this post. Our young family lives in a metro area and can only find two types of churches–rock band religious and old grey liberal. Both are extreme. We cannot find a healthy Christ centered church that has traditional worship (hymns, liturgy, etc) but also is conservative in theology (no transgender pastors) but not extreme if you miss a few Sundays. I know at least 4-5 other young families (not in same area) that share our frustration.
We want to worship God, serve our communities, and raise our children in a basic, traditional way. But everything is so extreme now on both sides. I don’t want a liberal mainstream denomination, as I get eye rolls if I show up with my Trump bumper sticker. But I also don’t want pressure on me, my kids to dance in the aisles or be some kind of perfect Christian family with extreme conservative doctrine.
Where is the balance? Honestly, I am so heartbroken that we don’t have a church these days. Any advice?
Start a new home size church! Find a leader and a visitor pastor. One of our pastors drives 300 km twice a month. God blessed us with a church space in the central and expensive area of the city. Our numbers are 8 to 15 people. But we regular evangelize and baptize people. We serve Russian speaking immigrants but often provide simultaneous translation for English speaking comers or mixed families.. We have small group bible study, prayer group, excellent counselling and pray for strengthening of our Sunday school ministry. You find us walking on the street after church meeting & evangelizing. . We motivated by the 10 family synagogue size church. We loose people due to their mobility – transient immigrant challenges. We have done advertising in the local community paper, Facebook, and picnics for community organized through Meetup social network. We preach the gospel but it’s tough – every new soul needs nurturing. But we feel alive. This is a contrast to a mainstream congregation I came from. I don’t want to judge. They had love, but warm. In my current church we have a mobile chat to share scripture or revelations with each over over the course of the day. We share the love of Christ and support one another. Satan hates us and we under fire like Stalingrad sometimes. We are called names, but some look with curiosity. We preach on Facebook through community event groups. We put empty chairs so God can fill the pews with souls He wants to trust us. God bless you!
I think the thing we struggle with the most is #2: The Country Club, but by God’s grace there’s small and incremental victories made. We’ve got 2-3 sacred cows that present a current struggle that are being “worked on.” I just had a brief conversation with a long-time member who asked about a proposed removal of an item from our sanctuary. The concern voiced by the person had to do with it being part of their own personal history. From 2006 to 2013 the decline in attendance was significant (yearly average of 167 steadily down to 77). I came in 2013 and we have seen a slow but steady uptick since then which has been a definite encouragement. 2 of your books have been a big help for me: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” (which I shared with my Elders & Church board, and your most recent one, “Who Moved My Pulpit?” I’m on my second read through that one.
We’re making progress. You’ve been a help. Thanks.
Thank you, Sam!
As a pastor in a very rural area, it is very discouraging when your people want to live in the past. They remember a time when the congregation was young an vibrant. However now those are in their 80’s and 90’s. they continue to try and compare me to those times and judge accordingly. I want to run… But I don’t, trying to be obedient to Jesus….