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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why Dying Churches Die -

This is so powerful of a message that Christians everywhere need to read and be willing to stand in the gap and change the direction of our churches. Remember eternity is in the balance for individuals that may not have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ!!!!

Why Dying Churches Die -

August 9, 2017 10 Comments

Why Dying Churches Die

The doctor told my dad he was dying.

Our family physician was a kind man, a true friend of the family. But he was firm. Dad was on the short path to death.

My father, then 58 years old, had been smoking for four decades. I suppose his time in the military in World War II proved to be the primary impetus to his taking on the bad habit. His peers smoked. There were hardly any voices suggesting the evils of smoking then. And it proved to be a relief and escape from the ravages of war he witnessed day after day.

To be clear, our doctor had not declared to my dad that he was terminal. At this point, there was no cancer present. The only sign was an early onset of emphysema.

But the kind physician could see all the signs. Dad had to make major and dramatic changes or he would die within a few years. Indeed, it might already be too late regardless of any changes he made. He never stopped smoking.

Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 61. He died one month after his 62nd birthday.

Many churches are dying.

Some are so sick that they are a few years, perhaps just months, from death. But too many refuse to do anything. Any potential and dramatic turnaround will not take place because these churches do nothing.

Why? Why do these dying churches walk resolutely down the path of death? Why don't they attempt something dramatic, something bold? I have worked with too many of these churches. Allow me to share six common responses to these questions.

  1. They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick. I have worked with churches whose attendance has declined by over 80 percent. They have no gospel witness in the community. They have not seen a person come to Christ in two decades. But they say they are fine. They say nothing is wrong.
  2. They are still waiting on the "magic bullet" pastor. They reason, if only we could find the right pastor, we would be fine. But they bring in pastor after pastor. Each leaves after a short-term stint, frustrated that the congregation was so entrenched in its ways. So the church starts the search again for the magic bullet pastor.
  3. They fail to accept responsibility. I recently met with the remaining members of a dying church. Their plight was the community's fault. Those people should be coming to their church. It was the previous five pastors' fault. Or it was the fault of culture. If everything returned to the Bible belt mentality of decades earlier, we would be fine.
  4. They are not willing to change . . . at all. A friend asked me to meet with the remaining members of a dying church. These members were giddy with excitement. They viewed me as the great salvific hope for their congregation. But my blunt assessment was not pleasing to them, especially when I talked about change. Finally, one member asked if they would have to look at the words of a hymn on a screen instead of a hymnal if they made changes. I stood in stunned silence, and soon walked away from the church that would close its doors six months later.
  5. Their "solutions" are all inwardly focused. They don't want to talk about reaching the ethnically changing community. They want to know how they can make church more comfortable and palatable for the remnant of members.
  6. They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959. Those were the good old days. If we could just do church like we did then, everything would be fine.

These churches are increasing in numbers. Culture indeed has little patience with a me-focused congregation, much less so than, say, 15 years ago.

Is there hope for these churches? Will these dying congregations indeed die?

I have seen God intervene a few times in such situations. But, in every case, the church has turned its face to Him, and forsaken all of their own preferences, desires, and human-centered traditions.

But most dying churches will die.

I pray that your church, if it is indeed on the path to death, will be the rare exception to the glory of God.

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  1. Words have never been more true. I currently attend a dying church. The main group has been there for ten years, and since I left a decade ago and came back I cannot see any big wins for the church. It still runs about 40 or so, still stuck in the old ways. I was asked to become a deacon and to be honest I'm torn. One the one hand I think God can use this as an opportunity to light some fire and passion for change, but on the other will the congregation listen to me if they haven't been listening to the pastor for the past nine years.

    Dr. Rainer as always you have a gift of insight. Thank you, I hope this blog serves as inspiration for pastors and lay leader, but also is the catalyst that causes much needed change.

  2. I am there now. Their number is down to a few, they live in the past. Their solution is to go back to the past. Community outreach? "Let's have a singsipration!" Reaching the lost? "We don't know any lost people. They need to come. Maybe they'll come to a singspiration!" Even trying to guide their prayers for God to move in this matter goes off the rails.

    No matter what I try to teach them about how the community, how it has changed, how they view the church, and how we need to reach them with that in view, they still want to play church, circa 1976. And that will not work.

    My heart breaks for these sweet people, and for the church.

  3. They would rather die than pass the reins to a new group of leaders. There are many qualified people who will not be allowed to enter church leadership because they do not agree with the current leaders 100% and pass all litmus tests.

    They will not risk going to hell for having changed anything. Some churches believe that one's salvation depends on getting the church structure and worship right.

  4. Your blunt assessment and prophetic words are a necessary word for today's church. I grieve for those churches and especially their pastors.

    Thank you.

  5. Ron Swindall says

    August 9, 2017 at 8:26 am

    I'm perplexed with this whole issue of dying churches. If churches didn't die – wouldn't the Church of Corinth and Ephesus still be here? I'm not sure that churches should die, but if they are not fulfilling the great commission – aren't they only a shell of a church?

    I am serving as an Interim Pastor at a church that is very weak. I don't think they will make it. So, should our focus be on "dying with dignity" and working toward leaving a plan that would utilize the assets of the church to the work of the Kingdom?

    What options are available for a church on life-support?

  6. Thom Rainer says

    August 9, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Ron –

    I am a strong advocate on church replants. In October, Jonathan and I will begin a second and new podcast called "Revitalize and Replant." I think you will find the resources and information helpful. Please join us.

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