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Chapter 1 - Introduction
Thom S Rainer paints the picture perfectly when he writes:
I knew the patient before she died.
It was ten years ago. She was very sick at the time, but she did not want to admit it.
There was only a glimmer of hope at best. But that hope could become a reality only with radical change. She wasn’t nearly ready for that change. Indeed, she was highly resistant to any change. Even though she was very sick.
Even though she was dying.
I told her the bad news bluntly: You are dying. I hope I said those words with some compassion. I did feel badly sharing the news. But it was the only way I could see to get her attention.
I even told her that, at best, she had five years to live. At the time I said those words, I don’t really think I was that optimistic. I would not have been surprised if she died within the year.
But she was not only in denial; she was in angry denial.
“I’ll show you,” she said. “I’ll prove you are wrong. I am not dying.”
Her words were fierce. Defiant. Angry.
It was time for me to leave. I had done all I could.
I was not angry. I was sad. Very sad.
Now to her credit, she was right up to a point. She did not die in five years. She proved resilient and survived another ten years. But her last decade, though she was technically alive, was filled with pain, sickness, and despair.
I’m not so sure her longer-term survival was a good thing.
She never got better. She slowly and painfully deteriorated.
And then she died.
- Autopsy of a Deceased Church pgs 3-4
Rainer is writing about a church, not just any church, but the inspiration behind writing this book. This church, and one of the members who came from it, seeks out what causes a church to die and how we can avoid this death. Rainer assists by autopsying several churches that have died and reporting their patterns.
We are not a dying church!
We were a dying church.
Our ministries have increased, our faiths have increased, our love of Jesus has increased, and our attendance, our giving, and our staff have all increased, too. But it wouldn’t be hard to fall back into the patterns of a dying church. I believe it’s important for us to look inward and see what we can do to not just survive, but thrive in our service to God.
As Rainer writes, “Why should I take you through the pain of discovering why churches die? Because we need to know…As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death. May God give us the courage to make the changes necessary to give new life to our churches.” (Autopsy, 6-7).
Let’s be on this journey together praying, reading, and observing how we might all best be able to Seek, Share and Serve Christ in a thriving congregation.
Let us pray together:
“God, open my eyes that I might see my church as You see it. Let me see where change needs to take place, even if it is painful to me. And use me, I pray, to be an instrument of that change whatever the cost.” - Autopsy 8
If First Christian Church was given a “physical exam” today, what do you think the doctor’s diagnosis would be: healthy, slightly sick, very sick, or dying? Why?
Why do many church members in dying churches refuse to see the decline in the health of the church?
Explain how churches can die in the context of Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
Chapter 2 - Slow Erosion
Everything in life that is material is temporary. Our houses, our cars, our meals, our pets, our family, even our own selves. In our physical world everything is temporary, everything will decline, and eventually everything will cease to exist. We struggle with the temporary nature of things.
We know that there is something more that isn’t stuck in this physical realm and that exists forever. We should attach ourselves to God because we too can live forever in The Kingdom, but the way we live now should be bringing us and others closer to that Kingdom.
The problem is, our work to God’s Kingdom is done in temporary buildings with temporary people. How do we overcome this conundrum? Where is the decline that could make our ministries, our faiths, our churches die?
Thom S. Rainer writes:
“Often the decline is in the physical facilities, but it is much more than that. The decline is in the vibrant ministries that once existed. The decline is in the prayer lives of the members who remain. The decline is in the connection with the community. The decline is in the hopes and dreams of those who remain.
“Decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it.”
- Autopsy of a Deceased Church pg. 13
We need to be aware of all the places where decline and erosion can take place. It’s easy to give in. We can say that we really want the children to be present and a part of our church community; but, then decline to help out and slowly those who give their time and energy burn out. Before you know it, there is no more children’s ministry. It’s easy, and for the most part pretty comfortable to give in to the decline around us.
But God calls us for more! How can we stop the erosion? By following God’s call. We are called to be God’s church, striving to seek, share, and serve Christ in our community.
Let us pray together:
“God, please let me be a part of the solution and not the problem. Show me what I need to see. Open my eyes to Your reality. And give me the courage to move forward in the directions You desire.” - Autopsy 15
What was FCC like twenty years ago versus today? Talk with others and get an honest assessment. Do you see signs of gradual erosion?
How is the neglect of building the temples described in Haggai 1 like the gradual erosion today?
What do you think God meant in Haggai 1:9 by the phrase, “while each of you is busy with his own house”?
Chapter 3 - The Past is the Hero
Read Hebrews 11:
Read these few quotes from Thom Rainer:
“The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as hero.” (Autopsy, 18)
“They were fighting for the past. The good old days. The way it used to be. The way we want it today.” (18)
“Yes, we respect the past. At times we revere the past. But we can’t live in the past.” (21)
“So what did the deceased churches cling to? What did they refuse to let go of facing certain death? Worship styles were certainly on the list. As were fixed orders of worship services. And times of worship services. Some stubbornly held on to buildings and rooms, particularly if that room or building was a memorial, named for one of the members of the past. Some would not accept any new pastor except that one pastor who served thirty years ago. But more than any one item, these dying churches focused on their own needs instead of others. They looked inwardly instead of outwardly. Their highest priorities were the way they’ve always done it, and that which made them the most comfortable.” (22, emphasis added)
There’s not much more to be said. The past got us to this point, but do we want to go backward or forge ahead growing in our faith as a community in service to God? Do we wish to be guided by what we think the past was like or by our faiths knowing that with God the future will be greater than anything the past ever brought!
Let us pray together:
“God, give me the conviction and courage to be like the heroes of Hebrews 11. Teach me not to hold onto those things in my church that are my personal preferences and styles. Show me not only how to let go, but where to let go, so that I may heed Your commands more closely.” - Autopsy 23
Are there any areas at FCC where you are resisting change simply because of your own preferences?
What is the common theme among the heroes of Hebrews 11?
Look at Hebrews 11:13-16 what are your thoughts in light of churches that die holding onto the past?
Chapter 4 - The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
Philippians 2:1-4 reads, “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
Be humble. Not the kind of humble that pro athletes say when they win a prestigious award or the championship or when they sign a new multimillion dollar contract. We are called to true humility. The sign of true humility is that we regard others as better than ourselves, more knowledgeable than ourselves, more spiritual than ourselves, more loving than ourselves.
Another way to think of this humility is to think about how we wall off those that are different than us because we think their ways are “wrong.” Instead, we should learn from them because they’re better at something than we are and there’s always something we can learn from each other. It’s only though becoming a community with one another that we can be of one mind.
Churches die when they stop being a part of their community. They die when they become an island unto themselves. Faiths die when we stop being a part of a larger faith community. Faiths die when we become islands all by ourselves trying to go through life alone. We must stop building walls and fortressing ourselves off.
Thom Rainer writes, “If you talk to members in a dying church, most will deny that their church is a fortress…we found that is exactly what is taking place. People in the community did not feel welcome in the church. Those in the church were more concerned about protecting the way they did church than reaching residents of the community.” (27)
In other words, the church lacked humility. The church thought it knew everything it needed to know and didn’t need the community.
“Dying churches are concerned with self-preservation. They are concerned with a certain way of doing church. They are all about self. Their doors are closed to the community. And even more sadly. most of the members in the dying church would not admit they are closed to those God has called them to reach and minister.” (29)
Are we too afraid, too comfortable, too conceited to miss out on God calling us to be humble and seek, share, and serve Christ in our community? If so, then we are sick and we could die.
Let us pray together:
“God, give my church and me a heart for our community. Let me see the people through Your eyes. And give me the courage and wisdom to let go of this church, so that others who best reflect this community can lead us and teach us.” - Autopsy 29
Does FCC try to reach and minister to its community, even to the point of giving up authority to better reach the people?
When does a church act like a fortress?
How does Paul's exhortation to the Philippian church relate to churches today impacting their communities?
Chapter 5 - The Budget Moved Inwardly
Where do we spend our money and for what purposes do we spend it?
As an individual or family, have you ever sat down and gone through your budget? It’s a amazing to see how quickly little expenditures can add up, things that don’t even matter. A cup of coffee a day at a local coffee house would cost you over $1,560 for one year! That’s roughly the equivalent of giving $30 per week in the offering plate. Which is easier for us to do, budget the money for our own pleasure or to budget the money to be given toward God’s Kingdom?
The church needs to focus hard on how it budgets. How can the church be the best stewards of the gifts that have been given? Does that mean storing it all up? I don’t think so as Jesus tells the rich man to rid himself of his earthly wealth. If we’re saving it all then we’re not doing anything. Thom Rainer writes:
“You don’t have to be broke to be dying. It’s not a matter of how much you have. It’s what you do with your money, or what your attitude is about the money. Some churches hold on to funds because the money itself becomes the focus. They no longer ask how the church can make a difference for the Kingdom with the money. They accumulate because they fear not having enough. Like the rich young ruler, they grieve at the thought of doing something with the money for somebody beyond themselves,” (35, emphasis added).
The church needs to focus hard on how it budgets. How can the church be the best stewards of the gifts that have been given? Does it mean spending it all on ourselves? I don’t think so, because as Thom Rainer points out that when the church is only spending money on itself, then it’s only serving itself and it expects its leaders to only serve itself, too:
“Because the church members viewed the staff as their personal caretakers. Those who were paid by the church were supposed to spend the most, if not all, of their time visiting the members, counseling the members, attending functions with the members, and so on…in the dying churches, the staff is expected to almost exclusively be on call for church members,” (33).
How can the church serve others if its staff and programming and ministries are all inward looking? If the budget shows this kind of attitude, then the church will die.
How do you feel about money? What should our budget look like? Starting on October 11th, our Stewardship Campaign will begin and we’ll be studying Treasures of the Transformed Life by John Ed Mathison on Sundays to figure out how we might be the best stewards of all the gifts God has given us.
Let us pray together:
“Lord, help me to grasp that all the money I think I have is really Yours. Help me to grasp that all the money our church has is not the church's, but Yours. Give us healthy hearts to use these funds according to Your purpose.” - Autopsy, 36
How would the budget and use of funds of a healthy church differ from that of a dying church?
How does the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 inform us about how the church might view the money it has?
What are some ways churches can move their use of funds from predominantly an inward focus to an outward focus?
Chapter 6 - The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission
When you hear, “First Christian Church of Massillon,” what comes to mind?
When you hear “Habitat for Humanity,” what comes to mind?
Most likely, the first made you think of a place, possibly people in that place, and possibly something about God or Jesus. Some might’ve thought about Fish Dinners, but then those people probably got stressed out and stopped reading (come on, they’re actually quite fun and well liked by the community!). But, I’m sure no one really thought about sharing the gospel. I don’t think too many people think about Evangelism and FCC together. We probably should, considering our biggest ministry is The Storehouse of Blessings that embodies Jesus’ words to serve the margins.
Now, with Habitat for Humanity I’m sure you immediately thought of service for someone in need. You might’ve even thought about a time when you served and helped create affordable housing for a family in need. You probably thought about the Great Commission, maybe not those two words, but the essence of what going and making disciples means, to serve.
Thom Rainer writes about churches that forget the great commission and the work required to be a serving church when he says:
“Members of the dying church weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people. They weren’t willing to invite their unchurched friends and relatives. They weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach. They just wanted it to happen. Without prayer. Without sacrifice. Without hard work,” (44).
Do we put in the hardwork necessary to be a serving church? Do we share the good news? Are we evangelical?
When you hear, “First Christian Church of Massillon,” what comes to mind?
Let us pray together:
“Lord, remind me that I am to be a Great Commission Christian in a Great Commission church. Remind me that, in Your strength, I am to do whatever it takes to reach out into my community with the transforming power of the gospel.” - Autopsy, 45
Why do most dying churches have members who are nostalgic about the “good old days”? What are the biblical implications of that mind-set?
Look at and describe the different parts of Matthew 28:19-20. Is your church more obedient or disobedient to those biblical commands?
What is the relationship between Jesus’ promise to always be with us in Matthew 28:20, and a mind-set that focuses on one’s own comfort?
Chapter 7 - The Preference-Driven Church
Church is supposed to be about service. Not as in, “What time is service? How long is service? Do you all do communion at our service?” But as in, we are to serve God and others as a community—as a part of Christ’s body. Somehow, that service is lost in the push of our own agendas and trying to get “church” to be about me, myself, and I.
The thing is, we’ve been given a great model of how to do service and perhaps we should look to Jesus to see how we might be better if we served. In Philippians 2:5-11 we can read of Christ:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Notice, that every tongue should confess, should proclaim, that Jesus is Lord, not you, not me, not any one of us, but that Jesus Christ is Lord. So what should we do? How do we get out of our own way?
We are to be servants. We are to be obedient. We are to put others first. We are to whatever it takes to seek the best for others and our church.
Paul puts it powerfully and cogently: “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.” So what did Jesus do?
- He “did not consider equality with God something to be used for His own advantage.”
- “He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave.”
- “He humbled Himself.”
- He became “obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.” (Autopsy, 50)
Do we have any of these attitudes as a church or are we too consumed with ourselves to see how great the need is to serve God and others?
Let us pray together:
“Lord, open my eyes to the needs of others. Show me how to live more like Your Son, who always put others’ interests first. And especially show me that attitude as I serve in my church.” - Autopsy, 52
What are some unfortunately common areas where church members insist or demand their own preferences? Why do you think that happens?
Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and relate the passage to how we are to have the right attitudes and actions in our church.
Read Philippians 2:5-11 and compare the attitude of Christ with the attitude of a selfish and entitled church member.
Chapter 8 - Pastoral Tenure Decreases
“The church was declining. The church would call a new pastor with the hope that the pastor would lead the church back to health. The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. In some cases, the pastor was fired…Repeat cycle.” (Autopsy, 56)
Here are the stages of a pastorate (summarized from pages 58-60):
Honeymoon (~1 year) - Everyone gets along and both sides are happy to be there.
Conflicts and Challenges (~2 Years) - Both sides start to see the imperfections of the other and notice their differences.
Crossroads (~2 Years) - The most common time when a pastor leaves or is fired from a church. If conflict isn’t resolved, it becomes increasingly difficult for the sides to work together.
Fruit and Harvest (~4 Years) - If the conflict is resolved, then this is the most fruitful time of a pastor’s time with a church. Both sides trust each other more fully because of the conflicts and crossroads traveled.
Crossroads (rare and undefined) - Most pastorates don’t last 10 plus years, but if they do either both sides will become rejuvenated and pretty much start the cycle over or the sides will stop challenging each other and the church will begin a decline in many ways.
I find these stages interesting. Rainer says they’re not concrete, but they are pretty accurate. The biggest take away is that if we take Christ away from our center and get stuck in the bickering between each other over personal preferences then we won’t make it to the Fruit and Harvest years. I personally look forward to seeing even more progress together in working toward God’s Kingdom and think we can start to really see the Fruits of our work sooner rather than later as long as we can learn from our past mistakes, recognize our weaknesses, and keep Christ as our center.
Let us pray together:
“God, please give our pastor a heart and a vision to reach and minister to people beyond our own walls. Teach me to be the kind of church member who encourages and supports our pastor, so discouragement and disillusionment does not lead to departure.” - Autopsy, 61
Describe the typical cycle of pastoral tenure in a dying church. Why does this pattern develop? How can it be reversed?
Look at the life stages of pastoral tenure and identify which of the two stages are more common in a dying church. Why is pastoral tenure even important in any church?
Paul told Timothy to fulfill his ministry by "do[ing] the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). What challenges would a pastor of a dying church have to fulfill this mandate?
Chapter 9 - The Church Rarely Prayed Together
Acts 2:42 describes the habits of the early church and reads, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were devoted to prayer. As Rainer writes, “A failure to pray was tantamount to a failure to breathe…Prayer was the lifeblood of the early church,” (67).
Prayer is powerful! Prayer is important. Prayer provides us with the relationship necessary to build a good relationship with God. The Disciples asked Jesus how to pray and he responded by basically saying, “God is holy. Pray to do God’s will. Ask for God to sustain you. Forgive each other and be forgiven. Ask for guidance.”
Recognize God as holy and perfect! What a great place to start. From there you can see how God provides everything, including forgiveness and guidance; so that we might all be working toward God’s Kingdom. Shouldn’t the church do this, too? Shouldn’t we be praying together that God is holy and we should follow God’s path before us?
Hopefully, we can continue to grow and pray together. Or else, we might find ourselves like one of the members of a deceased church in this chapter, saying, “And we stopped praying with the passion we once had. That’s it. That was the beginning of our decline that led to our death. We stopped taking prayer seriously. And the church started dying,” (68)
Let us pray together:
“Lord, teach me to pray. Teach me to pray consistently. Teach me to be a leader in prayer in my church. And teach me to keep passionate and believing prayer as the lifeblood of this church.” - Autopsy, 68
Most Churches have times of prayer. What is the difference between those churches that have meaningful prayer and those churches that do not?
Why would a church’s failure to engage in meaningful prayer lead to its demise?
What is the role and place of prayer in the early Jerusalem church in the context of Acts 2:41-47?
Chapter 10 - The Church Had No Clear Purpose
There will be no video for this week. My computer’s video card died this week and so it is having its logic board replaced. That means no videos until it returns…But our study must go on so we can best understand how to avoid backsliding into a dying church mentality.
What is the purpose of the church?
Rainer writes, “When I interviewed former members of deceased churches, they referred to their last years in sad and similar ways:
‘We were going through the motions.’
‘Everything we did seemed to be like we were in a rut or bad routine.’
‘We became more attached to our ways of doing church than we did asking the Lord what He wanted us to do.’
‘We were playing a game called church. We had no idea what we were really supposed to be doing.’
‘We stopped asking what we should be doing for fear that it would require too much effort or change,’” (73).
Have we ever sounded like these people? Do we know our purpose? What is the purpose of First Christian Church of Massillon?
According to our constitution and bylaws: “The purpose of this congregation is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through all areas of its life and work, witnessing in all situations to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, thereby seeking in all persons a response in faith and commitment to Him.” And our vision statement is “Seeking, Sharing, & Serving Christ”
Did you know this? Do we live this?
To avoid being a dying church we must make every effort to always place Christ and the Gospel at our center. Rainer uses the church in Philippi as a good example and writes, “The church understood her purpose. The members at Philippi knew what they were supposed to do. They were to live the gospel. They were to proclaim the gospel. They were to partner with Paul in the gospel. Their purpose was totally and completely gospel-centered,” (75).
We need to make sure that our purpose, everything we do, is totally and completely gospel-centered, as a church and as individuals.
Let us pray together:
“God, reignite the hearts of our church members, including me, to have a passion for the gospel with others. Teach our church to share the gospel with others. Teach us to live as men and women who are true bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ. Remind us of our purpose. Convict us of our purpose. Empower us to live our purpose.” - Autopsy, 76
Using the illustration of the United States Olympic hocckey team of 1980 (pages 71-72), explain the need in dying churches to rediscover their purpose.
How can routine and tradition get in the way of a church fulfilling her purpose?
What did Paul mean in Philippians 1:3-5 when he thanked the church for her partnership in the gospel?
Chapter 11 - The Church Obsessed Over Facilities
This coming Sunday is our Consecration Sunday, also known as Commitment Sunday. It’s the day when we prayerfully fill out our commitment cards for our financial offerings and for our service gifts, too. On this Sunday, we will be making a statement on how we think we can be the best stewards of God’s blessings to us. One of these blessings is our facility.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV
Many churches and organizations can become obsessed over their buildings to the point that they forget their purpose. In this chapter, Rainer speaks with a person whose church argued over a specific room and is quoted as saying, “The arguments were pretty ugly…And I don’t think I knew it at the time, but looking back, our focus on this room marked the beginning of our steep decline…It seems so silly, so sad now. We were fighting over a stupid room while the church died,” (78-9)
It’s not just individual rooms that we can obsess over. It’s how memorials should be spent. It’s over changing the pew cushions or getting rid of the pews altogether. It’s on which room can be used when and by whom. It can be paint, carpet, lights, roofing, and so much more. Do you notice anything missing in all of the facility things churches argue over?
The facility is a blessing and a gift from God. “Being a good steward of those material things God has given our churches is good. Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of His mission is idolatry,” (80).
Let us pray together:
“Lord, teach me the proper stewardship of all the material items You give me personally and in my church. Help me never let that stewardship evolve into obsession and idolatry, especially where I lose my perspective on what really matters.” - Autopsy, 82
Explain the difference between a church being a good steward over physical things versus the church becoming obsessed and idolatrous about them. What are some examples of each?
Why do so many churches have conflicts over “things”?
Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 and explain how they apply to a church either thriving or dying. What are examples of how churches can be obedient to Jesus’ words?
Chapter 12 - My Church Has Symptoms of Sickness: Four Responses
We’ve made it through the autopsy of the dead churches and now we’re going to get some hope for those churches that are on the path to dying or have symptoms that can lead to their demise.
In this chapter we see that the majority of churches in america are unhealthy. According to Rainer, roughly 10% of churches are healthy, 40% have symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying. That seems depressing, but not all is lost.
Let’s take a look at the 40% with symptoms of sickness. Most of these churches are like the churches we’re familiar with. In these churches, if you were to ask a longer-term member about the best days of the church, not many would bring up the present. The best days would be seen as days in the past.
These churches are more inward looking than outward looking. They’re busy, because there’s a lot of programming and meetings and committees but there’s no clear direction, no discipleship, no real ministry in the community, and their budgets reflect that they think they themselves are the most important part of the church.
But not all is lost. Even churches with symptoms of some serious sickness can change course and move into being healthy churches. Rainer gives us four responses to these symptoms to help churches get on the right track but does advise, “These are no magical, easy-fix solutions,” (85). Church members have to put in the work to make healthy churches, but they can start with these responses (88-89):
1. Pray that God will open the eyes of the leadership and members for opportunities to reach into the community where the church is located
2. Take an honest audit of how church members spend their time being involved
3. Take an audit of how the church spends its money
4. Make specific plans to minister and to evangelize your community
Let us pray together:
“Lord, let me see my church with honesty and open eyes. Help me to grasp where we have gotten out of balance with inward and outward ministries. And give our church a vision to make a difference in our community. Even more, God, use me to be a catalyst and instrument for the changes that must take place in our church.” - Autopsy, 90
What are some signs of sickness in a church? Does FCC have any signs of sickness?
What other responses to symptoms of sickness could be added to these four?
Read Acts 1:8. What is the context of Acts 1:8? How can it be applicable and relevant to churches today with early signs of sickness?
Chapter 13 - My Church Is Very Sick: Four Responses
“Rarely does a church move from the category of ‘symptoms of sickness’ to ‘very sick’ overnight. It’s more of a continuum. That’s why it’s hard to detect and respond if you’re close to the church. From one day to the next, nothing seems to change. But there is an underlying deterioration taking place. Without intervention, the situation only gets worse,” (92).
It is hard for us to see our own faults. I’ve yet to meet someone who can really take constructive criticism without wincing. It hurts to see that we’re not perfect even though we know we’re not perfect. but part of growing is painful and we need to people to hold us accountable to God’s mission or else we might become sick and die.
Rainer gives even the sick churches some hope in recovering but warns that it takes work, it takes effort, it takes commitment to change the culture of a sick church to a healthy church. He gives 4 responses for sick churches (95):
1. The church must admit and confess its dire need.
2. The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary.
3. The church must be willing to change radically.
4. That change must lead to action and an outward focus.
It might seem impossible to move from very sick back to healthy, but with God, and a people willing to change and follow, there is hope.
Let us pray together:
“I believe all things are possible through You, God. Show me what I need to do to lead my church from hopeless to hope. And give me the courage and strength to make those changes, even those changes that will be painful.” - Autopsy, 96
Does FCC have any of the symptoms of a very sick church?
Read Haggai 1. How does the story of the rebuilding of the temple relate to reversing the course of a very sick church?
Where does a very sick church begin if its members and leaders truly desire reversal? What sacrifices must be made? What comforts must be given up?
Chapter 14 - My Church Is Dying: Four Responses
Here we are, at the very end. The truth is that every manmade institution will die if given enough time. Every church will die and close. That might seem depressing, but it’s just what happens in our earthly, temporary existence.
Right now, roughly 10 percent of all churches in the United States are dying. That’s a lot of churches and at some point that could be us if we were to get sick and ignore the symptoms and get used to serving self instead of God.
If we were to find ourselves in that situation, I would hope that we could see the need to still serve God even with our dieting breath.
Rainer offers these ways to serve God even when your church is dying (100-101):
1. Sell the property and give the funds to another church, perhaps a new church that has begun or will soon begin.
2. Give the building to another church.
3. If your church is in a transitional neighborhood, turn over leadership and property to those who actually reside in the neighborhood.
4. Merge with another church, but let the other church have the ownership and leadership of your church.
Rainer calls this “Death with Dignity” and writes, “all of these options are painful, because all of the options are truly sacrificial. What you are doing is allowing your church to die so that another may live. In doing so, you are following the example of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice with His death. And that is the very best example to follow,” (101).
Let us pray together:
“Lord, if it is Your will for our church to die, please let me know. And give me the courage and the strength to let go. For Your glory.” - Autopsy, 101
How does Matthew 16:18 relate to dying churches?
What are four ways a dying church can offer life to another church?
Above all, what have you learned from this brief book? What has God taught you as you read these chapters?