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.
More from Thom
What’s your take on the mega-church model?
God is a Spirit and he that worships HIM must do so in Spirit and Truth…….Many are called but few are chosen. We cannot fight any battle without God and HIS spirit…. We must identify whose spirit we are under. There are many so called “gods” but the true one resides in the third Heaven…. Not earthly or first heaven where the one who devours abides…Stop allowing people to accept “The Man” or look to “The Man” Remember this is what caused the Israelites to wander in the desert for so long……. We are accepting to much fame, fortune and glory when none of that really belongs to us…. When things fail; we take them out on God when actually it is man’s inhumanity to man that causes failures. Yes, we all claim to do good or be good, etc but what really lies in the secret agenda? What lies in the core of your being. Why do you do what you do or don’t do? Remember, everybody talkin bout heaven ain’t goin there…. Especially those of us who refuse to banish the “sin nature.” We can fool each other some of the time and ourselves most of the time but never for one moment think God can be fooled… He’s omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient……. Many people are driving but who’s really in the driver’s seat?
Found four categories interesting. And my thoughts then turned toward Mt. 25 (v. 37 ff) – in terms of ministry and following Christ’s “Way” – which is where the rubber meets the road. I think of mutual ministry, collaborative efforts versus top down a la narcissistic control freaks; sharing in development of a vision for the faith community and encouraged active participation in reaching goals. Seeking balance between “inreach” and “outreach, spiritual nourishment to actually “go and do”. Not exhaustive observations to be sure, but felt a need to at least share a few thoughts.
Great points Thom,
I think there is one missing, for which I am writing a blog on, and that is a Social Club. It’s Different than the country club in that there are a specific set of leaders that only invite certain others into their circle. The social club has the appearance of warmth and love, while behind the scenes gives no evidence of the Fruit that should be displayed. In this church, the leadership only brings is in their friends as other leaders rather than praying for God to send leaders to help in the church. They only truly interact with their circle and are not engaging with new people or another class in the church. This type of church is cancerous and can easily turn people away from God as feeling rejected/dejected.
Well, then, perhaps the command is being received, to “Come out of her my people, that yer be not partakers of her sins” and also as the author Thom Rainer says, … flaws and hypocracies.
These go back at least to Paul and John, as they noted “wolves among the flock” way back then.
Whom do the pastors truly serve? The body of Christ? Maybe the church board, or the bottom line, or some other “idol of the heart”, as in Ezekiel 14. “You cannot serve two masters”.
Just my $0.02 worth.
When I first began my current pastorate, we were all four of these things and a church of about 30 people. After the hardest year of my life in 2012-2013, the first three are no longer true as the people who were driving them left (some very angrily), and we are now a peaceful, Bible-teaching, Christ-focused church with about ten people on Sunday mornings. The only reason the fourth item on this list is still true of us is that, over the decades that our church has existed, the surrounding neighborhood has become primarily Hispanic, and none of us speak Spanish. So we are selling our building to the Hispanic church that now rents from us and is growing, and we are going to try to start over in a new location, possibly a storefront. It is hard to grow from ten people because, to visitors, it looks like not much is happening. But we are pressing on and waiting on the Lord.
So how do I remain an obnoxious optimist about churches in our nation?
Because God is still the same and completely faithful?!
still: the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands; the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life; who has the sharp two-edged sword; the Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and His feet are like burnished bronze; who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars; the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God; who is holy, true, and has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens…
and is still and always speaking through His word, so “ He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” and repent as He prompts, for whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. (Rev 2-3; 1 John 5:4)
I sat and listened to a pastor with many more years of experience share how he has done all he can do. There have been glimmers of hope which have been ruined by a group of naysayers that loved what was happening during the church’s heyday but are now satisfied with the status quo. One of those actually spoke out in a business meeting and said, “I know some churches use the Bible, but we have bylaws.” I’m afraid that Ichabod has been written on this once vibrant church and will close within 10 years. It’s sad. In our local association, 10 of 65 churches are doing okay. This seems to be the norm rather than the exception. Except for a move of God, our SBC churches are in major trouble.
I have been called to Pastor a small church in a small community. I come from a large church in a large community. I have always served as a staff pastor / outreach pastor. I know that the ministries I was involved in prior to this were on a larger scale but I am still convinced that we need to make disciples rather than members. We can still do some of these things that makes our church inviting to the un-churched people in our community, just on a smaller scale. I am outreach driven but most of the members have not caught the fire to “GO” as Jesus’ commands in Matthew 28. I have struggled in my preaching and teaching this concept that loving our neighbors is more that just “praying for them”. Yes, we need prayer just as much as the next person does(or even more) but when is it time to put our faith into action? Didn’t James remind us that faith without works is dead? my point is this…Sometimes death is a good thing. We must die daily in order to pick up our cross to follow Jesus and some congregation’s must die before new growth takes place. Who wants to wander in the wilderness when there is a land flowing with milk and honey on the other side? Watching or being a part of this death is very painstaking but it is also a necessary part of the life cycle that many churches go through.
The greatest segregation in America is between the church and the community. The church is broken. I have left vicational ministry a year ago. I will never return to a traditional church. I have a masters degree in evangelism and church planting. I am planting a church this fall that will reach out to those “who don’t look like us.” I am targeting the addicted, the ex convict, the homeless, the hungry, those not welcome in a traditional church. Our main focus will salvation first and serving second. We have reduced evidence of salvation to attending church where they are not taught what it’s means to be a follower (servant) if Christ. Pray for us as ‘The Journey’ begins this fall.
The Journey is in my prayers, David.
I think the fourth bullet needs further elaboration in light of immigrant 1st generation churches.
When powerful church committees function on gossip, making their decisions without including the victims in the discussion or hearing their side of the story, then don’t be surprised if the rest of the membership fails to get the point about the importance of good words.
The “bad words” church will have an impaired witness for Christ.
Too much anger in my comment. Yes, the issue definitely needs to be addressed, and overcome with the love of Christ, but I almost forgot about the many kind, gracious and loving people who make up bulk of the membership of our churches!