My purpose is neither to be morbid nor sensational.
Death is a delicate topic, especially the death of churches. My purpose is to send a warning so changes can be made quickly and urgently. My greater purpose, ironic as it may seem, is to send a message of hope.
These six types of churches are described categorically, but the categories are not mutually exclusive. Many of these deceased churches fit most, if not all, of the categories. We have spoken with the leadership of these churches. The conversations were sad but enlightening.
All of the churches noted in these categories have either closed or announced their intentions to close. Thankfully, some of them generously gave their sites to healthier churches. We hope to follow their adoption progress closely.
- The aged church. For the churches where I have data, the median age of the remaining membership was 76. In all cases, we learned that the church had been a church of older members for some time. In many cases, they essentially ran off younger members who would have brought changes to their congregations.
- The fighting church. The deceased churches had numerous conflicts and, often, church splits. With each new conflict, the church declined. Guests stopped coming to the divided church. When the pandemic came, those who remained were too weary to keep the ministry of the church going.
- The deferred maintenance church. These churches did not make wise decisions to keep the facilities in good condition. One church argued over choosing the contractor to install a new HVAC several years ago, so they did nothing. Most of the churches simply refused to spend the funds. Giving in the churches declined precipitously in the pandemic. The churches literally could not pay the bills to keep the building maintained.
- The run-the-pastor-off church. These churches pushed their pastors out either through forced resignations or firings on a regular basis. Every two to four years, they fired and hired a pastor. Usually, there was a power group in the church that did not want the pastor to lead. So that group concocted a reason to push the pastor out. Many of these churches could not find or afford a pastor during the pandemic.
- The neighborhood-looks-different church. The neighborhood changed, but the church didn’t. Those in the church looked differently than those in the neighborhood. When the pandemic came, the members stopped making the drive to the church because they didn’t live in the church’s community. COVID exacerbated a trend that had been in process for years.
- The infant church. These churches were relatively new and did not have many members or givers before the pandemic. Some of the churches were in leased spaces that would not let the church regather during the pandemic. In all of these cases, the church had not reached sufficient maturation to survive the implications of COVID.
Please contact someone who can help you if you sense your church is on the precipice of death, or if your church is not healthy. That person could be in your denomination or network. We are also available at Church Answers. Contact us at [email protected] Please seek help. Please have a willingness to be adopted by another church if possible.
Your church has its address for a reason. Your church is to be a light in the community where God placed you.
Don’t let that light go away. We are here if we can help in any way.
And also let us hear your stories, both the good and the bad. We can always learn more for God’s glory.
Posted on February 7, 2021
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
I noted the “deferred maintenance church” that “chose” to not do maintenance. What do you suggest for churches, like mine, that are in the poorest communities, ministering (relatively effectively) to the poorest of people, the very ones who were already unemployed (often due to disability) or underemployed, and with Covid, lost even that? We didn’t CHOOSE to defer maintenance as a matter of irresponsibility, we just don’t have any money, because our people don’t have any money. We didn’t CHOOSE to have our roof blown off in a wind storm, but a $5,000 deductible; it just happened. I would love to hear what you advise for churches that are doing everything ‘right’ – quality biblical preaching, community engagement, discipleship and effective ministry, but we are just poor. Any ideas about responsibility of wealthy churches to help? (As in 2 Cor. 8) I have ideas…25 years of this, and now I have some serious suggestions!
I pastored an aged- fighting- unchanging- run off the pastor church 6 years ago. It hasn’t died but it’s definitely not healthy. Many members have passed away. It has a pastor only on Sunday morning. What keeps it going?
A local church I enjoyed and one which encouraged ideas in action, has recently had an upset caused primarily by the Pastor’s propensity to disallow former retired pastor to attend church or have any church friends from the church where he was pastor for many years….a very long story, but many of us are leaving or have left. The “new pastor” is not qualified for her job, is a relentless lesbian who has formed lots of “cliques” who now run the church and encourages a “hippie” type atmosphere. This is a very sad state of affairs and one which could have been avoided if the search committee had not been fooled by a so called candidate whose background was spotty but who interviewed well, mostly because she took a coaching course to zero in on what search committe was looking for…she now enjoys an income of $100,000+ for very little effort
We clearly have two and maybe three of these conditions. I am very concerned over our future! Many in the church family have either forgotten how to be missional and disciple making or they have lost heart and ability because of age to be the church.
Thanks for sharing, it really blessed me.
This indeed is an experience we facing as a new church plant in SA. The church lost most of her members who felt they needed to move to other churches. This affected how to maintain the place of worship. With much of the lockdowns it will be a while before we start experiencing attendance.
Thank you for the great read..I attend a small but thriving church..Our pastor is open to change and has focused on community outreach..He also utilized the knowledge of a faith community nurse (me) to establish a COVID response team which has helped to guide the pastor during this pandemic.
I love the idea of a faith community nurse. Great work and ministry.
We have a once flagship church in our county that complies with 4 of the 6 types right now, and has for years. But the church leaders believe the church will bounce back when we all get back together (after the pandemic). How does one reach a church like this?
All I can say is WOW! I was taken back by the thought that 20 percent of church members would not return after pandemic. This article is sad and frightening. Thank you Dr. Rainer for sharing. I am grateful for Church Answers!
Grateful for you as well, Barry.