Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die

It broke my heart.

Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.

But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing.  Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
  7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
  9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.

Time is running out. Please, for the sake of the gospel, forsake yourself and make the changes in God’s power.

Posted on March 27, 2017

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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  • It’s all part of the sifting process none of us can invade it. Churches die for a reason, but what’s really sad is the people who are dying because of bad witness and wrong teaching. Jesus himself told us this would happen why do we act surprised?

  • CommonSenseMom says on

    Many (most?) in the millennial generation view as repugnant the Biblical teaching regarding homosexuality . To them, it is equivalent to racism. The broader culture has been wildly successful in this regard.

    Would you go to a church that preaches/practices racism? Of course not. Our beliefs regarding homosexuality are a stumbling block to so many of that generation. It causes them to be simply unwilling to engage with Christianity.

    We can (and should) adopt any and all available means of winning souls. Abandoning Biblical truth will never be among those means, so our message will never be acceptable to the world at large. Jesus Himself told us so. The gate is narrow. The world hated Him; it will hate us as well. We are strangers and aliens.

    Again, we can (and should) adopt any and all available means of winning souls. We can make all 9 of these changes (and I agree with all 9), but maybe these will just be working at the margins against the tidal wave of our culture.

    Our enemy is powerful. He is a master deceiver. It appears that his success is increasing. There is only One who can combat him. We must be diligent to pray for the advance of the gospel, both within our own sphere of influence and in the broader world.

  • The Rev. George T. Rahn says on

    I am not on board with a few of these above items. I firmly trust that wherever the Gospel is truly preached (and that may part of our current problem: we must return to the question of what is truly the New Tetament Gospel?) and the sacraments are rightly administered that there the church is. Our churches (Lutheran) do not believe that churches die but perhaps other messages or other gospels can kill “churches”. The church will always remain. Individual groups and communities which might change their message for another gospel (See St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians chapter 1) will die off since they do not maintain or retains as principal the New Testament message.

  • Tom Howard says on

    Thanks Thom for such consequential thoughts, , but I just remembered something a great man once said about “Church”, and its urgency there of;
    “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” —C.S. Lewis

  • ogbonnaya chibuzor says on

    if we examine ourselves with the word,judge ourselves with the word most of us will know that we are not doing what is expected of us as pastors,evangelists,ministers.”GO YE” is a command, the master is not pleading neither is he begging us to go.
    the church today has become worldly while the world has become ‘churchy’

  • Everyone with criticism should maybe read the article again. Maybe that’s why committees are not working? Yes. I think so. Everyone has an opinion (that’s good), not everyone accepts and respects the leader when they don’t operate the way they think they should (that’s bad).

    Great thoughts Thom. Thank you.

  • I am all for ministering to single mothers as was mentioned above. But the thing is, for a woman to have children and not be married, a lot of things went wrong, and that is not all on her shoulders. For one, the man involved has failed. Men need to step up, grow up, man up, and get saved and follow Christ. How do we call men to their rightful honest place if “judging them” is deemed unacceptable?

    Children are meant to be born to married parents. We cannot pretend that the people out there who think they can have children without being married are doing something that is biblical and acceptable. We all make mistakes, but we cannot ignore wrong doing.

    So, it is a tightrope to minister to single moms, and yet recognize that single motherhood is not what we need to be doing.

    • Daughter of the King says on

      Thanks Mark for addressing this very important regarding ministering to yet addressing the issue of celibacy until marriage whether it is in regards to single parents or youth, or just single people. I wouldn’t have a sermon on it. It should be discussed in the single moms group with experienced female christian mentors like myself. This is where mentorship within the church comes into play. Yes, it is a sensitive thing and one must approach it that way. There is a reason I do not say single parents class. Single parent men, in my opinion, should not be in the same group as single moms. Mentors should also be accountability partners. Before any conversation that, though, love compassion support and RELATIONSHIP must occur first to be successful. These things will lead them to a relationship with Christ. The bible is clear about not judging those that are condemned already. That is the point right :)? They will reject Christ, as too many have, when they are judged before salvation. We all know that there are many long term, well respected, and even ordained church members who are involved in these types of sins and any other sin like gossip, lying, pride, etc. Why do some people (not even close to most) treat single moms like like they are the worst of sinners? ALL sin is an afront to God. Simply being a single mom is not is sin. And a divorce is not always her fault. Next, you have to think about the psychology and put yourself in their shoes to understand why many single moms lay with men when they are not married. In generational poverty, when a girl is raised without the love of her father, they go looking for a man’s love in other places. Also, when they have no family support with the refrig empty and the children are crying for being hungry day after day, the mother would do just about anything. This is why many single moms go looking for a husband or always have a boyfriend. They cannot afford to provide for their children. These single moms and their children, the majority, are extremely vulnerable population. Men take advantage of them, not all. This is why I so heavily spoke about men mentoring boys and young men. Can you see various ways a church can help these people? We do want we see and learn in childhood until we see and learn something different. The church must step it up with this population or they will be lost forever! You are not financially supporting anybody. What they need are christian people to be supportive, encouraging, compassionate, and helpful. They need Christ! In my post above I list many things a church can do. But, please! Be welcoming! Don’t run them off. BTW, many single moms are celibate, intelligent, talented, not looking for a husband, and doing the best they can. However, they are usually active christians.

      • Daughter of the King says on

        Just to clarify, one cannot paint all single moms with the same brush. That is pre-judging them. Some may be widowed (they arent treated much better), some could be biblically divorced, some may be running from abuse, some may have been raped, some may have been unmarried also…do they deserve forgiveness less or compassion less? Not according to the Bible. The Samaritan woman at the well…she believed he was the Christ she told the townspeople he was and many were saved John 4. Then there is the adultress John 8 for which the Pharisees were going to stone…Jesus advised them “If any of you are without sin, throw the first stone.” They laid down their stones and went away. Jesus then asked her “Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, sir.” Jesus declared, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Discipline of church members is not the same as judging or judgement. Judgment is God’s alone. I pray that the church lays down our stones not just for single moms but all those that may be seen as undesirable.

    • Daughter of the King says on

      Sorry, here is the answer regarding men/boys.
      I heard Pastor Tony Evans preach a sermon a long time ago. In it he said there was a single mother in his church who came to him exasperated because her 15 year old son refused to do what he was told, would ‘talk-back to her’, was failing his classes, and being disrespectful to her. She couldnt control him. She didnt know what to do anymore. So Tony Evans told her to bring him to her office at set time/date. When she brought her son in, Tony had gathered like six male deacons in the office ‘big guys’ and they chewed the son out, got in his face I believe.
      Standing over him, something like “Boy, you will NOT raise you voice at your mother, you will Not skip class, etc. You WILL do your homework, clean your room, come home right after school, you WILL do exactly what your mother tells you when she tells you, etc. Because if you dont, she is going to tell us and you will answer to all of us! Because we wont put up with it! Do you understand me?! He at some point told the boy that his mother loves him and takes care of him makes sure he has those nice clothes he is wearing. Well, the boy changes his ways quick and became a straight A student and respectful to his mom and stopped doing all those things. He learned his lesson. I have a 7 year old boy who has refused to do what I tell him, argues with me…it comes and goes as kids will push boundaries..but a few times at church in front of him, I will tell one of the men, and they will tell him same thing in a firm male voice meant for 7 yr old. Works every time. The sooner there is a christian male willing to mentor a boy, the better.

  • Feslmogh says on

    I could list paragraphs and paragraphs about the same thing… like Isaiah 1:13-17The Message (MSG)

    13-17 “Quit your worship charades.
    I can’t stand your trivial religious games:
    Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—
    meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!
    Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them!
    You’ve worn me out!
    I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion,
    while you go right on sinning.
    When you put on your next prayer-performance,
    I’ll be looking the other way.
    No matter how long or loud or often you pray,
    I’ll not be listening.
    And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing
    people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.
    Go home and wash up.
    Clean up your act.
    Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings
    so I don’t have to look at them any longer.
    Say no to wrong.
    Learn to do good.
    Work for justice.
    Help the down-and-out.
    Stand up for the homeless.
    Go to bat for the defenseless.

  • Adrian Montgomery says on

    Ok I am a 65 year old Christian with no denomination or designated “Church. ” I find that the Church today is basically the same today as it was before I was born. Same Sunday structure with minor changes in dress and music and tithe collection. We are continuing to bore our high scholars to the point they walk away. Children and adults are taken care of or offered to help grow but not in a interesting way on many occasions. My goal in life is to reach the 18 to 35 year olds in a meaningful way. Change Church as we see it today. Look at what organizations like Highlands in Birmingham and Hope City in Houston have accomplished. Stop building large buildings and use the moneys for missions and the community.

  • Thom, This is excellent, thanks for posting. I do a training series for church revitalization for pastors & churches. May I have permission to use this article as basis for one of my training videos? With credit given, of course.

  • K.V.Simon says on

    Let us sit before the Lord in submission to the authority of His word – Revelation chapters one to three and yield to the Lord’s dealings with each one of us individually and as local assemblies .

  • Matthew B says on

    Be careful not to shoot the saints while you are transitioning and make sure you are following the lead of the Holy Spirit.

    I’ve been involved in church leadership for more years than I care to admit and have studied, witnessed and been a part of transitioning churches. While your points are well taken, a church can also refocus/evolve too quickly and drive off all the older saints. Because the older generation has been tainted as unable to demonstrate relevance, seeking comfort, un-evangelistic and non-doers; much of the control has been turned over to a younger generation that can be as legalistic and judgmental as any that has come before them. (Also if the church has done such a poor job in the past, seems there wouldn’t be any Christians, churches or missionaries here in the US or abroad) As another unfair generalization, I would tell you I have witnessed less tolerance in this younger generation regarding dress, music styles, church name, church governance, etc. than any other current generation. While this may be too broad of a characterization, it is reality in some cases.

    I’d also ask, “How does following GOD’s will factor into this?” Seems these changes that you have presented as “change or die” borders on denying the sovereignty of GOD. Does he require only a certain formula of ministries, music style, outreach, church name…? Seems your advice should really be to encourage congregations to get on their knees in prayer, studying the scriptures and asking the LORD what He would have them do? Encourage them to wait on the LORD for and answer. He will make it clear where changes are needed. Seems what GOD is after is broken and contrite hearts presenting their bodies as living sacrifices. I’m afraid applying systems, formulas and philosophies that have worked at other places to all other congregations is following man’s wisdom and not GOD’s.

    To be fair, I would also tell you this is one of only a couple of times that I have read your articles, so perhaps I am preaching to the choir.

    • I often quote the evangelism director from the state where I used to live. He said no program or strategy is going to work equally well in all churches. If it did, the program would get the glory instead of the Lord.

      In other words, I agree with you 100%. Bravo!

      • Tim Aagard says on

        God has given many points of specific action and obedience, not mere strategy or programs designed by men. These practices work in every culture, every age group, in every tribe and nation of the world. One such instruction is Heb. 10:19-25. It’s call “the new and living way”, opened up for us by the death of Jesus. It culminates in believers “not forsaking” meetings where they “stir up one another on to love and good works” and “encourage one another.” Do you consider this optional? Do you think this only “works” well in certain cultures? Does this steal glory from the Lord?

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