In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer described nine symptoms that emerged from a study of fourteen churches that closed their doors. These issues didn’t develop overnight. It was a slow erosion that lasted anywhere from a few months to two decades.
One of the roles of the leader is to pinpoint the issues of an organization and help to build systems that will bring health back to it. It’s not an easy process, especially in a highly unhealthy church. Though the Church will endure, the individual congregation will close their doors. There is a life cycle for every church. The leaders in a church must be diligent to stay focused. A church without a gospel-centered focus is no longer a church at all!
Here are the nine issues each of the deceased churches experienced leading up to their demise.
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1. The Past is the Hero
The church has an era – typically more than twenty years ago – that everyone looks back to as the glory days. They are more concerned with getting the feeling of that era back than they are with the current mission or issues.
2. The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
The neighborhoods around the church have changed, but the attendees and leadership in the church have remained the same. Indeed, many persons in that congregation don’t even live in the area.
3. The Budget Moved Inwardly
A larger and larger percent of the budget was allocated to helping the church maintain the image as well as take care of members.
4. The Great Commission Became the Great Omission
The main reason the church began has been forgotten about. There isn’t much indication of going out and making disciples.
5. They Became a Preference Driven Church
The wants of the members became the predominant decision maker for determining styles of ministry.
6. Pastoral Tenure Decreased
Toward the end of a church life cycle, pastors come and go at a rapid pace.
7. The Church Rarely Prayed Together
When prayer becomes institutional it’s an indication the passion begins to cease.
8. The Church Had No Clear Purpose
Even the dedicated hard working church members aren’t sure what they are going for.
9. The Church Obsessed Over Facilities
Becoming obsessed over the building causes fights and division. When your only goal is to keep the building up and going, a church is typically heading for fast decline.
There is hope for the church who sees that they have some of these symptoms and even for the ones that are very sick. The book ends with twelve ways to keep the church alive.
I highly recommend this book. Pick up a copy of Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive! It’s a small, 100 page book with questions at the end of each short chapter so you can discuss it with your leadership team.