Seven Potentially Deadly Church Sicknesses

For the past two years, I have been monitoring the comments and challenges mentioned by church leaders. I am attempting to answer the question: What is hindering many of our churches from achieving health and vitality?

As I have categorized the problems and challenges the church leaders shared, I have seen seven distinct categories of hindrances. Since I am primarily concerned about church health, I call these hindrances “church sicknesses.”

The good news is that none of these sicknesses have to become terminal. They can be reversed from sickness to health. The bad news is that, without intervention, each illness can potentially lead to the decline and death of the church. Let’s look at all seven sicknesses:

  1. Attitudinal Angst: a church illness where church members are most focused on getting their own desires and preferences met, rather than being a serving member of the body of Christ. It is also called Church Country Club Membership.
  2. Slippage Syndrome: the church illness where a church stops focusing on its primary purposes. Evangelism slippage is the most common.
  3. Detail Distraction: a church illness where there is too much focus on minor issues to the detriment of major issues. For example, routine meetings can become more important than compelling missions.
  4. Institutional Idolatry: a church illness where the members have an unbiblical devotion to inconsequential matters such as facilities, order of worship, or styles of worship.
  5. Activity Acclimation: a church illness where the members see busyness to be the same as commitment and/or godliness. The church calendar becomes the guiding document for the congregation.
  6. Purposeless Prayer: the church illness where corporate prayer is non-existent or steeped in non-useful tradition. Such prayers can be perfunctory, showy, or gossipy.
  7. Detrimental Defensiveness: a church illness where the members and leadership are fearful to move forward because of memories of past conflicts and the presence of troublemakers and bullies.

I plan to cover these sicknesses in detail in a series of videos on “The Rainer Report,” our Wednesday video blog at this site, The series begins on March 21. I hope you can join us. In the meantime, give us your feedback on these seven sicknesses. Do you recognize any in your church?

Posted on March 12, 2018

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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  • Thom, at the end of this article, you said you would be addressing each of these 7 “sicknesses” in the Rainer Report video blog beginning March 21, 2018. I can’t find where that happened. I only found one video and it was from January 2018. Did you ever follow through with this? If so, where are the video blogs? HELP!

    Thank you!
    Stephanie Usrey
    Warrenton, Virginia

  • Colin Mattoon says on

    Thom, I really appreciate this series of videos! They are great and I’m definitely going to use them in the future. It would be extremely helpful if you could spend some time, or even do another series of videos, talking about the treatment/cures/medicine for these church sicknesses. I can see the problems but I’d love to hear more about how we can work to fix them.

  • Certain forms of fideism and/or anti-intellectualism as well.

  • Our staff has been doing a sermon series on your book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”. The first week, our Pastor discussed the “Inward Focus” (chapters 1,2,5,6,11) that caused the slow erosion toward death. The second week, our Associate/Youth Pastor discussed the “Lost Focus” (chapters 4, 10) that churches had in regard to reaching their communities, and becoming a reflective representation of those in their communities. This week, I (Associate/Worship Pastor) am looking at the “Control Focus” (chapters 3, 7) that the churches had in holding on to personal preferences, wants and objectives, as well as not being able to let go of the past. The Pastor will then wrap up the series with 2 messages. The first looking at the “Self Focus” (chapters 8, 9), which will discuss the lack of vision of the church in regard to soul-winning and prayer as well as the lack of encouragement for staff and leadership. The last message will look at the responses in chapters 12 -14. Please be praying that our church will recognize the areas where disease and sickness have set in — and will seek to find ways to get healthy and to fulfill the Great Commission, and become the church God has called us to be.

  • To all the healthy churches out there; what is the specific evangelism strategy that has produced the most fruit for you?

  • As an Intercessor for the Body of Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit has revealed to me over the last 20 years 11 sin issues that are holding us back from being a healthy Body. As I read your 7 points, I believe, these 11 sin issues line up with each point you mention.

    May we be open to allowing God to examine us of these sin issues, individually and corporately, repent and totally turn to Christ, as He is the Way, Truth and Life. Becoming the church He has created us to be for His Honor and Glory.

    Father uproot pride, unbelief, idolatry, fear, unforgiveness, busyness, accusation, legalism, prayerlessness, jealousy and lust. May we come to see the truth of Your Word. John 8:32.

    Blessings in Christ

  • In the last church I was at, for 5 and a half years, the members were more focused on getting their preferences met than they were on reaching out into the community and seeing souls saved. They were very inwardly focused and the church has had a history of it for a long, long time. Known in the community and town in a bad way. Corporate prayer, there, was non-existent. As the pastor there at one time, I tried to get them to pray and they would not. I got rebuffed on it. They would not come together for corporate prayer. Didn’t want to, didn’t see the need to. It was disheartening to me after 3-4 years as the pastor and showed a lack of purpose and aimlessness. I should have left there far earlier than the 5 and a half year point, but I stayed. They, too, often laud themselves for their busyness and they equate this to godliness. I told my wife, after about a year or two there, “I don’t understand why they so feel the need to pat themselves on the back for teaching Sunday school and doing a few things here and there. People should just do ministry to be involved for God, not for praise and acclamation.”

  • Thom, do you have a system where a church or church leadership can evaluate themselves to determine, which, if any, of these illnesses they have (and the severity of the illness)?

  • That’s some Alliterative Awesomeness! I’m impressed.

    Thanks for your ministry to Churches & Pastors.

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