A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)



We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Radical: Honesty Part 2

Well, if you read the previous post, then let’s get moving and see what this Radical Honesty really looks like:

First Of All, Radical Honesty Requires An Element Of Discernment

The Ability To Tell The Truth Begins With The Ability To Hear The Truth.  (Did you hear me?)  You might also say it this way:  The Ability To Speak The Word Of God Begins With The Ability To Hear The Word Of God. This requires discernment.  You have to be able to distinguish between the sound of God’s voice and all the other voices that fill our ears.  Samuel wasn’t able to do this at first.

When God spoke to Samuel, he thought it was Eli. Verse 7:  Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.  In other words, Samuel didn’t recognize the voice of God.  But he was willing to listen.

The fourth time God spoke his name, Samuel finally was able to say to God, “Speak, your servant is listening.”  He had to learn to Hear And Recognize the voice of God.  Learning To Recognize The Voice Of God Is A Process, and God is patient with us while we learn. He called Samuel’s name four times before Samuel realized who was speaking to him.

God wants us to speak the truth to a world that is desperate to hear it.  But before you can speak the truth, you have to make sure you have heard the truth and make certain that you know the truth.  Before you tell someone what they should do, make sure you know what you’re talking about.  Make certain that it is God’s voice you have heard—that it is God’s truth you are speaking.  The only way you can do that is to have an attitude that says, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Radical Honesty Involves An Element Of Hesitation.

God gave a message to Samuel, and the Bible says that he was afraid to tell Eli the vision.  I don’t think he was afraid of what Eli would do, because he knew Eli had a habit of doing nothing.  I think Samuel was afraid to tell Eli because he knew the message would hurt.  Samuel loved Eli like a father, and he was reluctant to tell Eli that he would have to face the consequences of his actions.

We must be willing to speak the truth even when it hurts, but there must be an element of hesitation on our part to speak words that will be painful to hear.  If you get too much pleasure in telling someone the hard truth, your words will lose impact.  We all know people who delight in saying these 4 words:  I Told You So!  Some people get a little too much pleasure out of being right, if you ask me.

There are times when we have to confront people with things that are unpleasant.  When that happens we must make sure that we know what we’re talking about—that we have heard the word of God on the matter—and we must make sure that we speak the truth gently.  If It Hurts For Them To Hear It, It Should Hurt For Us To Say It.

Radical Honesty Involves An Element Of Participation.

God didn’t tell Samuel specifically to repeat this message to Eli.  In fact, the message wasn’t for Eli, it was for Samuel.  He became a prophet of God and, eventually, the judge of Israel.  Eli approached Samuel and asked to tell him about the vision.  He said, “Do not hide it from me.  Tell me everything!”  So Samuel told Eli the whole truth, because he asked to hear the truth.  There was an element of participation on Eli’s part; he was willing to hear what Samuel had to say.

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth.  Have you ever tried to tell someone something they didn’t really want to hear?  They would hold their hands over their ears and say:  “Talk to the hands because the ears aren’t listening!”  Sometimes it’s done as a joke, but that’s the way some people really are.  They don’t want to hear the truth.  You can talk yourself blue in the face, and they’ll never listen.

However, when you find that they are willing to listen, do not hold anything back.  Even if it hurts you to say it, even if it hurts them to hear it, tell them the whole truth.  If they’re listening, and if you have made sure that you’re speaking God’s truth, and if you approach them with a certain amount of nervousness, then someday they will be able to thank you for your honesty.

God calls us to live a life of radical honesty.  In order to speak the truth we have to be able to hear the truth.  And then, we have to speak the truth carefully—If It Hurts Them To Hear It, It Should Hurt You To Say It.  And, if your words are to be effective, they have to be willing to hear the whole truth and you have to be willing to speak the whole truth.  This is radical honesty.  You won’t find it in many places.

Some people who pride themselves in being “brutally honest” are more into the brutality than the honesty.  Radical honesty is balanced—it is the art of speaking the truth tenderly and persuasively.

Here is the true nature of Radical Honesty:  It Is Truth That Is Clothed And Filled With Compassion!  And True Compassion Makes Us Hurt Deeply Within!  Jesus looked at the crowds and His heart ached because they were sheep without a shepherd.  Jesus’ heart ached as he cried over Jerusalem!  Compassion that doesn’t make our hearts ache is worthless and a counterfeit to Godly Compassion.  It’s an ache and a hurt that moves us to change our hearts and action that makes the difference in another person and our world.  Radical Honesty changes our hearts, attitudes, opinions and actions BEFORE it changes the world.

Do you know what the results of such honesty are?  What you say will have more impact than you ever imagined possible.  The Bible says of Samuel:  (v. 19) As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable.  If you’re willing to be radically honest, you begin the process the same way Samuel did as a young man.  You say: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

And, of course, remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!