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.

8 thoughts on “A Post By Thom Rainer

  1. There traits are the primary traits for many mainstream churches today. It’s a shame, but more or less also devoid of young people or any other people within the surrounding community.

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    1. Unfortunately, so many are so entrenched in their ways that they would rather see the church die than reach the ones that Jesus died for…thanks for reading!


  2. I read Thom Rainer’s writing frequently. He is among the top in SBC research, but the principles cross denominational lines. Those within the church do not often understand what we as pastors see daily. I’m glad that Rainer is a voice to help give understanding to all about what the church faces today.

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    1. There are many reasons we must go through change.

      1. First, the church has always been in a state of change. Without compromising The Message of The Kingdom of God the church adapts to its culture. Make sure you understand ADAPT not adopt. Traditions of the third century church are not the traditions of today. Heck, even traditions of the 10th century were different from the 3rd century.

      2. When local churches are in decline, it is a sure sign they are not in touch with the people around them. We must speak the message of the Kingdom of God in a language and with icons that those not in church can see and understand the kingdom.

      3. While there are many more reasons why change should happen, here is the main reason, again based on Rainer’s thoughts. Preserving The Local Church Has Become More Important Than Reaching Our Communities With The Good News of Jesus–the Good News of The Kingdom Of God. Israel had their idols, and unfortunately, dying and decaying local churches also have their idols–in the form of pews, brass crosses, and only certain music–a music style, by the way, which uses a language that most outside of the local church do not understand.

      Hope this helps understand why change must happen or the local church dies.

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  3. Thanks for sharing. Words of wisdom. Adapt or die, indeed. That is my motto for just about everything. Of course, there are a handful of things actually worth dying for. Worship music is not one of them. 🙂

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