Six Types of Churches That Have Died During the Pandemic

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. 

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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. 
  1. 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. 
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
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32 Comments

  • Andrew D. Green says on

    I find this article very interesting having been a pastor for 40 years and now occasionally filling pulpits since the pandemic. I am presently in the difficult position of trying to find a full time pastorate position which seems difficult at this time. I ask for prayer.

  • Prince Tetteh says on

    Am glad to join e family I have a challenge in our fellowship bcus of e pandemic we are not meeting for service n looking at the new variance of e disease its becoming difficult to regroup to start afresh
    Any help from your leadership thanks

  • abednico Baikakedi says on

    I WANT THE BOOK

  • Michael Rowe says on

    I regularly follow your posts. Every country had it’s peculiarities but many situations in common. In the U.K. , I am an ordained Elder in the United Reformed Church, although not at present serving. I’ve been involved across a wide range of Churches as I ‘ve moved around and now think of myself rather as post-,denominational. Happy to have always had excellent relations with the Catholics. Over in the U.K. many Denominations are now sharing Church buildings, sometimes in local union sometimes with some common services but also regular services of their own Denomination. Common pairings URC,/Methodist, URC/Baptist, Anglican/Methodist. This helps with both Church officers and running,./maintenance costs as well as with outreach. Many village Churches now also contain a local post office, small village store and even library. They become a social centre that includes even the unchurched : this helps greatly with the problem of loneliness. We lived in France for some years, where I was both the equivalent of an Elder in the Eglise Reformee and an Anglican Chaplaincy Council member as well as taking services. The Churches need to come together much more in Christian love and humility. The emblem of the Roman Republic (and, sadly, later the Fascists) was the fasces. An axe in the middle of a bundle of wooden laths – each easily broken if separate but incredibly strong bound together.

  • Michal Krchnak says on

    Greetings from the Czech Republic. I got the contact to your ministry through a leader in the ministry of EE US during our quarterly prayer and fasting day in November 2020. Since that time I have subscribed your messages. In spite it is sometimes connected more with the US background, I am glad to get the impulses from you – even today:
    Beside working in EE ministry I lead a small (15 members) church. And definitely the nr. 1 – aged church is our problem with the membership average of about 64.
    Even all of my 5 children are not involved in this fellowship – some left earlier to bigger fellowships with the youth ministry and later moved with their spouses to US, Germany and other Czech cities.
    I really love to speak with youngsters in evangelism (all over our country), but it is more sowing than reaping until now.
    When some young believer came to visit our church, he did not stay – being alone…
    My prayer is that 3 new young people would come in the same time so that they stay together.
    I am very happy that just today a student of a Bible school asked me to do his practice /OJT in our church. So he will be part of the regular zoom meetings now and I hope he will not only receive but also be a vessel of fresh impulses.
    Praise the Lord we survived two splits in the 18 years of the fellowship´s existence.
    Nevertheless, I hope we will not close, even not survive but thrive. Lord, have mercy on us and guide us.

  • I agree with much was said, but I disagree on the infant fellowships. I am one of many pastors who are trying to reform the church. We started a ministry the first week of the pandemic and continue to see growth as we come up on the end of our first year of ministry. Much of the success we are seeing is because of the reforms we are seeking to bring us back to a more simple structure of Church fellowship. We have a pastor and will develop elders; however, most of the traditions and doctrines of the traditional church have been removed. With no assets, no building, no church board, no membership, and no need to raise funds outside of minimal expenses and filling needs, we have the flexibility to meet in different locations from coffee shops and townhalls to homes and fields. We are finding that almost everyone that is coming has left the established Church and seeks Christ outside of religion. You would think that this would create a theological vacuum, but we are finding the opposite as the Word of God has become the fellowship’s manual and sole source for accountability. With humble hearts, these seekers of God are hungry for the real food that comes straight from scripture. Instead of me giving a long and prepared oration, I prepare a college-like class to help make disciples of those who hear. We field questions and debate tough topics, yet everyone leaves knowing more about God. I have found that when you take the need of money and control out of ministry, people begin to take more ownership in the relationship of others as they invest in each others lives. The other great part of this reform is that it will be flexible enough to handle any coming persecution as a church with no building or assets is much harder to target. For more info about what we are doing, feel free to add me on Facebook under “Luke Oakes” A time of great reform is here… Blessings

    • Luke, I totally agree. The business model “church” is so out of touch with scripture that (I believe) the focus on money has very much corrupted the real church; Christ’s bride. I hope this non-money centered church style spreads. Do you have any info regarding a trend of Christians giving up the social club version and moving toward a more biblically based congregation.

      Luke, when I clicked on your name my security software indicated that oakesministries.com uses an invalid security certificate.

  • I just sent this to my parish council as we are in the midst of catching up on maintenance and I preach almost every Sunday about resolving our differences but we have yet to address the lack of young people in the parish and how the neighborhood around us has changed.

  • Gary olsen says on

    Thank you for this article I can see in each church of the downfalls from not serving God I thank God for our church that is strong it will remain strong

  • Thank you for you insightful and sensitive handling of a serious problem. You are correct in your assessments. It is sadly true that there are “run-the-pastor-off” churches, but there are also the “kill-the-church-and-won’t/can’t-leave” pastors. Unfortunately, I witnessed both scenarios in my former positions as a state missionary. I appreciate your heart for churches, pastors and the kingdom, my friend.
    Blessings.

  • LeRoy Smith Jr says on

    Thank you for your leadership with Churches and ministries trying to help them get through times like these.
    The comments you have shared does fit many Churches Pastors leaderships.
    My prayer is that we all can see this and reach out for help.
    Matthew 28:18-20 does give us our focus.
    I am a Gideon and we are a Ministry that try to pray for our Pastors and Churches encouraging them .
    However we can and share these in our own Churches that we are a member in.
    God bless you
    LeRoy Smith

  • These are all spot-on. I recently had a funeral in a church that I do not serve but is of the same denomination as the church that I serve. I have begun praying about my church “adopting” this church. They are an “aged church” and they usually run around 10 people in worship. They have been struggling along for years. I felt the Lord laying it on my heart but I have only shared this with one leader in my current congregation. I asked that person to pray with me that I am hearing the Lord correctly. They are only about 10 miles away from my current church. I guess what I need to be asking is what are some things to be aware of and to avoid in this process. There will always be a struggle but I seek to avoid the hills I do not need to climb. Any wisdom would be appreciated.

  • very good thanks for this

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