Thom Rainer: “Some congregations are in more than one category. And some are in all four.”
Death is not a topic we enjoy. Death of churches is not a topic I enjoy.
I love the local church. I love it despite its flaws, sins and hypocrisies. Jesus loves me despite my flaws, sins and hypocrisies. But too many churches are dying. And the rate of dying churches is accelerating.
I am concerned. Certainly from a biblical perspective, I understand the bride of Christ will be victorious. I understand the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matthew 16:18).
But that does not mean individual congregations won’t die. They are. They will.
Unless God intervenes.
There are four types of churches that will soon die. It is sad to watch the churches in these categories. Some congregations are in more than one category. And some are in all four.
1. The Ex-Bible Church
These churches have abandoned the truths of Scripture. A few are explicit in their denials. But many just give lip service to the Bible. The congregation does not study Scripture. The pastor does not deal with biblical texts and the whole counsel of God. The Bible is just another book that rarely gets read, studied or proclaimed. The Word of God has no power in these churches.
2. The “Country Club” Church
Members in these churches see their membership as coming with perks and privileges. They want their styles of music, their worship service times, their types of architecture and their preferred lengths of sermons. They pay their dues, so they should get their benefits—or so the thinking of the members goes. Don’t ask them to evangelize, to put others first or to make sacrifices. After all, it is their church.
3. The “Bad Words” Church
If you want to see a “good” fight, go to these churches. Their business meetings are more contentious than a presidential election. You can count on many of these church members to speak to or email the pastor regularly. And those words of communication are not nice words. These are the churches where bullies go unchecked, where personnel committees and boards work in darkness, and where gossip and backstabbing are common. These churches expend most of their energy on bad words. Therefore, they don’t have the time or energy to share the good news.
4. The Ex-Community Church
Go into these churches and look at the members. Go into the community and look at the residents. They don’t look alike. They don’t dress alike. They don’t go to the same places. The community has changed, but the church has not. “Those people” are on the outside. “Our kind of people” are on the inside. The idea of building bridges to the community is resisted if not repulsive.
How many churches in America today clearly fall into one or more of these categories? I have not done objective research, but I would not be surprised if the number is more than 50 percent.
Too many churches are dying. So how do I remain an obnoxious optimist about churches in our nation?
The answer is simple. I am seeing how God is delivering a number of churches from these death throes. I will share more about that positive reality in the future.
Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter (@ThomRainer) and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer. This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on Aug. 22, 2016.