The Moribund Church

We’ve done extensive research and provided a number of resources on churches that have died. The reason we’ve conducted these “autopsies” on deceased churches is to learn from them. Why did they die? What warning signs did they have? What intervention might have proved fruitful?

We have extended our research on autopsies to moribund churches. It’s likely a phrase you have not heard.

What Is a Moribund Church?

The term “moribund” is an adjective used to describe something that is at the point of death or in a state of near collapse, often used in both literal and figurative contexts. The word originates from the Latin “moribundus,” meaning “dying.” It is used in medical contexts to describe a patient who is on the verge of death and whose condition might seem irreversible.

In a broader sense, “moribund” can describe anything that is in a state of decline, stagnation, or near failure. For example, it can refer to a church that is declining and unlikely to recover. The term implies a level of deterioration or decay that is almost to the point of being irreversible.

We are confident in our research in several aspects. Two issues for which we have high confidence are that church closures will increase in number and that the number of moribund churches will increase as well. Obviously, the latter directly affects the former.

Is There Any Hope?

In a word, yes. There is hope. Even though moribund churches by definition are congregations on the precipice of closure, we believe God is not done with most of them. I wrote about these incredible miracles of God in my book, Anatomy of a Revived Church. Most of the churches we studied for that book were moribund churches.

Indeed, we know that the data can be gloomy and discouraging. We understand that our continued focus on deceased churches and moribund churches can be a downer. But we do this research for a reason. The more we learn about church death and church sickness, the more we can understand how God can use us to prevent these problems and, in the case of moribund churches, to turn them around.

New Research and New Hope

Church Answers Research will soon release our most recent research on moribund churches. In anticipation of this release, may I leave you with two thoughts?

First, be prepared for bad news. Most of you will not be surprised at the challenges we will highlight as we inform you about the increasing number of moribund churches in America.

Second, be prepared for hope. The same God who can heal the sickest person and resurrect the dead can give new life to moribund churches. I say that in the confidence of the power of God. I say that because we continue to see powerful examples of very sick churches that are now congregations of vitality.

We believe that research on moribund churches is thus warranted. And we believe that this research can lead us to discover how God has revived incredibly sick churches.

Stay tuned. You will hear a lot more about moribund churches.

P. S. Sam Rainer and I will lead a free webinar on “Autopsy of Deceased Churches (with New Information on Moribund Churches)” on February 22.  For those of you familiar with our webinars, it will last for an hour like our other webinars. However, I am going to stay on live for an extended period for questions for any who want to stay. You can register here.

Posted on February 12, 2024

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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  • Robin Jordan says on

    I was introduced to the term “moribund church” decades ago, back in the 1970s. The church where I was a licensed minister at the time embarked on an ambitious strategy to keep the church from becoming in the words of the senior pastor, “moribund.” This strategy included a school, a retirement community and assisted living facility, and a new church plant. I don’t know how well the church did during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic but it entered that period in much better shape than many other churches in the same denomination.