AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH

Thom Rainer has some potent and pointed thoughts about the church at the beginning of the 21st century. They are part of a new book being released that I would encourage people to add to their library. – Steve    Follow this link to the original post and pre-ordering information. MORE

AUTOPSY OF A DECEASED CHURCH – 11 THINGS I LEARNED

by Thom Rainer

I was their church consultant in 2003. The church’s peak attendance was 750 in 1975. By the time I got there the attendance had fallen to an average of 83. The large sanctuary seemed to swallow the relatively small crowd on Sunday morning.

The reality was that most of the members did not want me there. They were not about to pay a consultant to tell them what was wrong with their church. Only when a benevolent member offered to foot my entire bill did the congregation grudgingly agree to retain me.

I worked with the church for three weeks. The problems were obvious; the solutions were difficult.

On my last day, the benefactor walked me to my rental car. “What do you think, Thom?” he asked. He could see the uncertainty in my expression, so he clarified. “How long can our church survive?” I paused for a moment, and then offered the bad news. “I believe the church will close its doors in five years.”

I was wrong. The church closed just a few weeks ago. Like many dying churches, it held on to life tenaciously. This church lasted ten years after my terminal diagnosis.

My friend from the church called to tell me the news. I took no pleasure in discovering that not only was my diagnosis correct, I had mostly gotten right all the signs of the impending death of the church. Together my friend and I reviewed the past ten years. I think we were able to piece together a fairly accurate autopsy. Here are eleven things I learned.

The church refused to look like the community. The community began a transition toward a lower socioeconomic class thirty years ago, but the church members had no desire to reach the new residents. The congregation thus became an island of middle-class members in a sea of lower-class residents.

The church had no community-focused ministries. This part of the autopsy may seem to be stating the obvious, but I wanted to be certain. My friend affirmed my suspicions. There was no attempt to reach the community.

Members became more focused on memorials. Do not hear my statement as a criticism of memorials. Indeed, I recently funded a memorial in memory of my late grandson. The memorials at the church were chairs, tables, rooms, and other places where a neat plaque could be placed. The point is that the memorials became an obsession at the church. More and more emphasis was placed on the past.

The percentage of the budget for members’ needs kept increasing. At the church’s death, the percentage was over 98 percent.

There were no evangelistic emphases. When a church loses its passion to reach the lost, the congregation begins to die.

The members had more and more arguments about what they wanted. As the church continued to decline toward death, the inward focus of the members turned caustic. Arguments were more frequent; business meetings became more acrimonious.

With few exceptions, pastoral tenure grew shorter and shorter. The church had seven pastors in its final ten years. The last three pastors were bi-vocational. All of the seven pastors left discouraged.The church rarely prayed together. In its last eight years, the only time of corporate prayer was a three-minute period in the Sunday worship service. Prayers were always limited to members, their friends and families, and their physical needs.

The church had no clarity as to why it existed. There was no vision, no mission, and no purpose.

The members idolized another era. All of the active members were over the age of 67 the last six years of the church. And they all remembered fondly, to the point of idolatry, was the era of the 1970s. They saw their future to be returning to the past.
The facilities continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t really a financial issue. Instead, the members failed to see the continuous deterioration of the church building. Simple stated, they no longer had “outsider eyes.”

Though this story is bleak and discouraging, we must learn from such examples. As many as 100,000 churches in America could be dying. Their time is short, perhaps less than ten years.

What do you think of the autopsy on this church? What can we do to reverse these trends?

SKYE JETHANI ON THE MASS EXIT FROM THE CHURCH

CONSUMERS OR DISCIPLES

One of the great challenges to authentic disciple-making today is the consumer mentality of our culture.  It is a mentality that has shaped much church strategy and leadership thinking. It often reduces evangelism to simply church marketing.  Alan Hirsch has some important things to say about this troubling dynamic.

IT’S NOT ABOUT CHURCH GROWTH

One of my passions is equipping congregations and their people to engage in the ministry of evangelism.  It is, after all, the Great Commission. My motivation can be found in Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5.

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

We know that people absolutely need to be reconciled to God, to make their peace with Him.  People need to become new creations so that they can thrive as God intended, so that they can stop living as citizens of a dying planet and become citizens of the eternal kingdom of God.

Evangelism is the ministry to change peoples’ eternal destiny and to open the door to God’s abundant life now. It is what God intended from the foundation of the world.  It is what he has invited us to be a part of as ministers of reconciliation.

Too many traditional churches, with their narrowed inward focus give all their attention to the already persuaded instead of those who are seeking a life-transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing is done to engage in evangelism except to pay lip service to its “importance.”

These churches rarely engage in actual evangelism and have no strategy (or real intention) to do so.

Other churches, who have an organization focus on their survival as a specific group engage in evangelism primarily to gain members to sustain what the present members have already decided is valuable. Instead of being ministers of reconciliation, they are marketers for the best little club in town.

They are not concerned with multiplying the kingdom of God. They are concerned that their particular expression of the Church continue.

If you were a person genuinely seeking an authentic, life-changing relationship with God– wouldn’t you feel more than a little bit used?

And wouldn’t you be right?

“I STAND BY THE DOOR”

“I stand by the door.
I neither go to far in, nor stay to far out.
The door is the most important door in the world –
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There is no use my going way inside and staying there,
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where the door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.

The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door – the door to God.
The most important thing that any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands
And put it on the latch – the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.

Men die outside the door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter.
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live on the other side of it – live because they have not found it.

Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him.
So I stand by the door.

Go in great saints; go all the way in –
Go way down into the cavernous cellars,
And way up into the spacious attics.
It is a vast, roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements,
Of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood.
Some must inhabit those inner rooms
And know the depths and heights of God,
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is.
Sometimes I take a deeper look in.
Sometimes venture in a little farther,
But my place seems closer to the opening.
So I stand by the door.

There is another reason why I stand there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia
And want to get out. ‘Let me out!’ they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled.
For the old life, they have seen too much:
One taste of God and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving – preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door
But would like to run away. So for them too,
I stand by the door.

I admire the people who go way in.
But I wish they would not forget how it was
Before they got in. Then they would be able to help
The people who have not yet even found the door.
Or the people who want to run away again from God.
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long
And forget the people outside the door.
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place,
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there,
But not so far from men as not to hear them,
And remember they are there too.

Where? Outside the door –
Thousands of them. Millions of them.
But – more important for me –
One of them, two of them, ten of them.
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch.
So I shall stand by the door and wait
For those who seek it.

‘I had rather be a door-keeper
So I stand by the door.”

– Sam Shoemaker