Ten Warning Signs for Churches

Prior to my present place of ministry, I spent over 20 years consulting with churches across America. I have also had the wonderful opportunity to research churches primarily in the United States. Over time I began to notice certain patterns or signs that would indicate a congregation might be headed for trouble.

After reviewing my consultation notes and research, I found ten warning signs for churches. If a church had four or more of these signs present, I would let the leadership know that remedial efforts were in order. If six or more signs were present, I was concerned that the congregation was in immediate trouble.

The List

The warning signs below are not listed in any particular order. Nor are they the result of a scientifically accurate study. Though the information is both experiential and anecdotal, I found it immensely helpful in diagnosing the health of a church.

Church leaders should be concerned  . . .

  • If the pastor does not have adequate time to be in the Word or if he chooses not to do so.
  • If the members are spending time arguing about how money should be spent.
  • If none or only a few of the key leaders are actively sharing their faith.
  • If there is no clear process of discipleship in place, just a plethora of programs and activities.
  • If corporate prayer is not a major emphasis in the church.
  • If church members are arguing about worship style or worship times.
  • If church members expect the paid staff to do most of the ministry, instead of the staff equipping the members to do the work of ministry (“Why didn’t he visit me in the hospital?”)
  • If there are ongoing disagreements about matters of the church facilities.
  • If the church has more meetings than new disciples.
  • If the leadership of the church does not have a coherent plan for what is taught in small groups and Sunday school classes.

The Pattern

There is a common pattern for most of the warning signs. Church members are more concerned about their preferences and desires. They are inwardly focused. They ask what the church can do for them, instead of asking how God can use them sacrificially and radically through the ministries of the local church.

True Christianity is a faith that always seeks to put others first. Sadly, in many of the churches across our land, members are more concerned about getting their own personal needs and preferences met.

Your Story? Your Church’s Story?

I would love to hear from you about any of these signs in your church. I particularly would like to hear from some people how their churches address these matters positively and proactively.

Do some of the items on the warning list take place in your church? Are there others not on the list?

What is your story?


Posted on April 27, 2011

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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  • Jimmy Gentry says on

    A good and insightful word, Dr. Rainer. My question is “Who do you consider leadership to be?” I know it is different in all churches, but from your vantage point, who is leadership? Thank you for your ministry.

  • how do I get a copy of Simple Church and Eating the elephant – publisher name? thanks for all the helpful comments above and the great article itself.

  • Danny Belcher says on

    I have pastored a church for 16 years that has 7 or 8 of these characteristics. I came to this church after it had a really bad split. I knew what God called me here to do but the 7 or 8 characteristics that are in the church now were the cause of the split and no matter how hard you try to lead, show them that they need to get rid of this mentality and focus on faith and the calling of evangelism of the church, they keep on with this stuff.
    God can bless and show that his way will bring great blessings but it is still my way or no way. The church is drying and I grieve over this but know that God can do great things if we will put aside what we think and do what He has asked us to do

  • I would put that god doesn’t exist as a churches number one problem.

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