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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  • Geert Tap says on

    Dr Thom,

    Thank you for your refreshing and painful insights over the last couple of years I have been reading your books and blogs.
    I remember reading a quote from you where you stated that churches, unwilling to change, will no longer exist in 30 years time…
    Was that a statement from you, and if so, could you enlighten me where I could find it (again)?

    God bless you in your ministry
    Geert Tap
    SDA Church UK

  • Religion is the problem. (Feslmogh’s reply hit on it as well referencing Isaiah chapter 1.) Man seeking God through the efforts of man (I’ve heard this phrase from a few biblically sound pastors). Display, display, display. Men-pleasers, eye-pleasers, tickling of the ears, little milk, no meat. Ritual without reality. Robes, altars, chants, call-and-response, standing, kneeling, standing, sitting, standing. Energy of the flesh (force and guilt) forced singing, guilt giving, display of passing of the plate and donations, guilt volunteering, privacy violations, standing, kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing, shaking hands, holding hands, fake rosy glows, yelling, nosiness, prying, rules, taboos, must-dos, can’t-dos, legalism, zealotry, religiosity, churchianity… People trying to impose onto others out of the energy of their own flesh rather than letting God do the work. “In God We Trust” Really? Not evident with all the guilt and force. If it’s not being taught, then it has to be forced. If it has to be forced, then it’s not being taught.
    If the Word of God were taught and explained in a grace-oriented teaching, learning, growing environment, it would draw people. Look at what colleges are shoveling and how much people are sacrificing for that. Instead, we have cult environments chasing the ones already there away and keeping the ones who might be curious away. A lot more people than just the church-goers are curious about God’s Word. Problem is, they go once, or go to a wedding or a funeral, see religion (Satan/fallen man at work) and don’t return. Christianity is God seeking man through the efforts of Christ. Problem is “churches” are getting in the way.

  • I would love an expansion of #1 ‘cultural Christianity’ what is included here?

    and # 5 using biblical words unbiblically.
    What other words, and how are they used incorrectly.

    Help me understand the fullness of each.


  • Marita Gladson says on

    Might you expand on #5 We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.

    I am not clear on what exactly you are suggesting. Sound inviting but I don’t know how to do it.

  • Randy Bowman says on

    Churches can grow bigger and still be dying. Attracting a crowd is not necessarily a sign of health. The church can be “heavier” and not be “healthier.” The church must grow by obeying the great commission and it go it will both in size and health if the principle outlined here are acknowledged and applied. Easier said than done!

  • Nay rather, first the Evangelical Church leaders, seminaries and gatekeeper-publishers must stop insisting prophets have to submit to pastors. Baloney. Prophets are supposed to be outliers… whom correct church and state. Both church and state are a mess because prophets have submitted to pastors!
    The answer for the problem with state is that Borg Queens and Drone Slaves are created by Prog (1984) Ed in K-12, university and grad school. The solution is defunding Prog (1984) Ed in K-12, university and grad school (i.e. stop spending tax monies on it.) Nay rather, install Western (1776) Enlightenment as the replacement education. It is to love Natural Law, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness… as our 1776 charter so indicates. (Church leaders, seminaries and gatekeeper-publishers must repent of pushing the wrong solution: the wrong solution being a theocratic system whereby Christ is taught in public K-12, university and grad school. Nope, nope and nope. God does not want America to be theocracy-based. Church and state are to be different, so that one can correct the other when one is bad. Now, both are bad and no correction is possible because the prophets have to submit to bad church leadership! (And shockingly, seminaries and gatekeeper publishers love this system whereby prophets are not in position to correct church or state!)
    To repair Evangelical church, its leadership, seminaries and gatekeeper-publishers must admit that this triune cabal has totally blessed and promoted the most unclean of unclean things! And that is the concept that Evangelical Church serves up a variety of styles wherein the fearful are fed fear as a subtext (via end-times-ink-blot imaginings,) the greedy are fed greed as a subtext (via give-to-get shenanigans,) the lazy are fed laziness as a subtext (via Emergent gobbledygook… or seeker-friendly-truth-avoidance… etc.) and the inane are fed inanity as a prophetic subtext (via prophets submitted to bad-emotion selling pastors) … all of this uncleanness… is delivered as a subtext to the text of the bible. This creates a greater-weakening effect on those with a predilection to weakness (i.e. fearful go to fear, greedy go to greed, lazy go to laziness, the inane go to inanity.) AND THIS MUST STOP!
    Evangelical church leadership can pray for God to give them eyes and ears to see and hear this. (Right now it’s hard, because folks have a hard time seeing truth if they receive a paycheck requiring them not to see this truth!) And church leadership can repent of this massive hypocrisy of selling truly evil emotions as a subtext to the text of the bible. For shame! For shame!
    Then, Evangelical leadership can see what they have been missing! They have been missing (and never expecting, in fact waging war against) the creation of holy saints and the path of “meat” Christianity vs. “milk” Christianity. Rigid Righteousness is okay, but God wants 3-5% of churches to be “meat” and not 100% of them (as it now is) being totally “milk” and a mess of sin, to boot!
    Currently, Evangelical leadership, gatekeepers-publishers and seminaries are doing an excellent job of “Smash-the-Mole”… wherein the rigid righteous smash the heck out of any saint-in-the-making. Scripture tells us to bless those who come in the name (and I add the nature) of the Lord, lest our houses remain desolate. Well, this is why Evangelical Christianity is desolate. It hates, it loathes, it despises, it is waging war against… Christ-in-You.
    But nay rather, Evangelical leaders could (if they humbled themselves)… actually bless Christ-in-You! And then Christ-in-You could eventually redound back unto them! This is the way it is supposed to work!
    See http://www.inthatdayteachings.com
    Reno, NV Cheers

    Robert Winkler Burke

  • The writer did what he “instructed” the readers not to do, confuse modern terms with Biblical terms. The Word Church is the Greek word Ecclessia or called out ones. The Bible never refers to a building as a church. Secondly, the church is not cultural but relevant. Anytime something is cultural it means another group is being excluded. Because the multitude left Jesus and only the twelve disciples remained did not infer or imply that the church was closing down. The Church is strong and vibrant and will never close down because it is the Body of Christ with members in particular and not a building.

  • The heart of this article is right on. But until the veils are lifted our society will still keep seeing church as a place or building we go to instead of the revelation that we are the church the actually body of Christ. One man’s headship over a group of believers when gathering is not biblical.Christ is the head of the body and until the modern day church structure releases there traditions and sets free the body of believers to function as a whole in community there will be one man speaking up front behind a pulpit while the rest of the body and it’s gifts are silienced. There is a place for lecture hall style gatherings but this is not the intended normal for the body we see in scripture. Freedom for the Holy Spirit to operate in a community of believers brings communal accountability with spiritual maturity being the hall Mark of leadership as elders and spiritual fathers and mothers equipping and raising up those new and unequipped in the faith. Church as an institution and as a business needs to end .The Lord in his goodness has still used the current structure for good but its not his will that it continues.

  • Tim Aagard says on

    David – God has given us a simple instruction set for increasing “love and good works”. It’s the exact opposite of gathering believers into a special building, facing a pulpit for a Bible lecture and consuming 84% of their giving to keep up the building and hire the professional. Here it is from Hebrews 10:19-25 19 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Do you have confidence in this specific instruction set to accomplish greater “love and good works”?

  • David Griffin says on

    The gospel of Jesus is a sold rock but you and I must be fluid in how we carry it. If we sit back and wait for people to come to our churches, we will end up being a graveyard. The church must get out, stop hiding in our social clubs, trendy venues, and isolationism. We must walk our streets, visit our elderly, and reach out with the love of Christ.

  • The Biblical reason the church closes down,

    “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5KJV

    “… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.”2 Timothy 4:1-3b KJV

    Most people do not want a real church, a real man of God that preaches on sin from a real Bible. And most Christians/people have no clue to what is even a true New Testament Church.

    C C E

  • Carol Smith says on

    Thanks, Thom. Yours is a call to alarm that is needed so much! That is the story of a church I attended for many years. It was a fun place to be for beautiful, accepted people, but very little emphasis on being passionate about sharing the Gospel. I heard recently that attendance is about half of what it once was.

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