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 am a youth leader and surely your words are full of truth, it appears that that today people are not going through God’s word deeply as i am from africa probably Kenya, Starting a church as become a business may God surely intervene for us.
I think what disappoints me most about the church now is that it seems to have lost respect for God…for coming before Him on Sunday mornings to worship Him…so I guess this probably fits into your #4 church. At some point in the past couple of decades or so, the church began trying so hard to become the community…or become cool…or try not to look like church (like that’s a sin) that we’ve become “slackers.” We’ve tried to absolve parents from feeding their families breakfast at home so we’ve provided coffee and donuts at church on Sunday mornings. That was tried at my church awhile back and they had to get rid of that “non-ritual” because it became a mass of confusion with children (and others) going back and forth during church to grab food. Even now, people get up during the sermon and go get coffee…and bring it back into the sanctuary. The sanctuary isn’t a restaurant. This isn’t for everyone, but in our church we clap to the music and raise our hands in surrender and worship. During this portion of worship I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people nursing a cup of coffee or whatever instead of participating in worship. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people turn over their drinks that they’ve set on the floor beside their chairs. The floor is an embarrassment because of all the atrocious stains. I have to wonder what pigs visitors think we are. It looks like Stanley Steemer should come once a month…and what poor stewardship that would be. Yes, I know I’m being ostracized by some reading this because it looks like I care more about the carpet than the people, but I can remember a time, even in this church, when attention was on the worship service and not on feeding our bellies. At what point did people become unable to go an hour and a half without having to have something to drink? This next comment I’m sure will offend some, and before you get too upset please understand that I know God looks at the heart and not on the outside, as man does, but to me it’s disrespectful to God (and maybe He doesn’t think so) that people spend exorbitant amounts of money for prom dresses, tuxes, wedding clothes, party clothes, etc., yet dress for church like they’re going to a tractor pull. Again, I know it doesn’t matter to God what we look like as long as He has our hearts, but it just seems so very disrespectful to me to show up for church looking like you slept in your clothes. Maybe some show up like that because it’s the best they have…which proves my point: they feel they need to wear their best. Please don’t attack me…it’s just observations I’ve noticed over the years. I love the Lord and I love these people and I love my church. I just don’t love what we’ve become when it comes to disrespect for our Savior.
I am an elder in a church that is filled with traditionalist that would rather see the church dissolve then consider any changes. Our youth are running out the door at a rapid rate. Our pastor is awesome and understands the changing culture and what we need to do to reach our youth and our community. We have a bully cartel that is going unchecked causing those that are the workers to throw their hands in the air and leave because everything they do is criticized. Becoming relevant in the community is looked down upon and ministering to anyone but ourselves isn’t even considered. I fear we don’t have long to last, numbers are dwindling and the real workers are leaving discouraged and hurt. The inmates are running the asylum and it’s killing us. It will take a miracle and a miracle is what we are looking for.
we are in an older community and our church has been on the same site, though physically expanded we are decreasing in numbers. I cannot say that we fall into various conditions of a dying church. We are undertaking the process of a possible name change. When the latest building with addition built, it was state of the art. this was done in the 50’s and sixties. We use to have upwards to 250 in attendance with a youth group of about 75+/-. we have made changes to the service to incorporate both old and new songs. we are very involved with community and beyond. Evan with these changes we still are only having an attendance of about 85 on Sundays. I believe we need to change more on the inside rather than the outside.