Article: Why Churches Die

By Thom Rainer

Whenever I come across an article by Thom Rainer, I take the time to read it. He is one of the best church consultants and church “practitioners” I have come across. I have read many of his books and he is rarely wrong in his assessments.

This past week, I saw an article entitled, Why Churches Dieby Thom Rainer and I of course read it.

Denial is a bad thing and will cause a local church to close its doors. If you didn’t know, the ELCA has been shrinking in membership for a while now. 

I think it is good to know why churches shrink and then close so that we do not fall into the same mentality. 

I am not sounding any alarms or predicting gloom and doom! I just want every church member (where ever you go to church) to know the warning signs and then do the very opposite of what Thom Rainer lists below!

  • Why Churches Die: 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.
  • Why Churches Die: 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.
  • Why Churches Die: 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.
  • Why Churches Die: 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.
  • Why Churches Die: 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.
  • Why Churches Die: 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.

God bless the Church and God bless you,
Pr. Ben


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