The church was dying and didn’t know it. Attendance was down, the building was mostly empty, and the glory days had long since passed.
As a last resort, a church member asked LifeWay Christian Resources’ president, Thom S. Rainer, for advice. Rainer spent a few weeks studying the church, then recommended a number of changes.
But church leaders rejected them.
As he walked out the door, Rainer knew it was simply a matter of time before the church died. Later, he and a friend performed a kind of autopsy on the church — reviewing its last few years for what went wrong.
Lessons from that church autopsy — along with about a dozen others — are included in Rainer’s latest book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” from LifeWay’s B&H Publishing imprint.
The book is meant for struggling and vibrant churches alike, Rainer said. “Even healthy churches need to learn from autopsies,” he said, “because they can tell us paths of prevention.”
Rainer found 10 factors — from slow erosion of the congregation and too many short-term pastors to a lack of prayer and neglected facilities — that cause churches to decline and die.
A number of the now-dead churches spent too much time thinking about the past, Rainer said, in a chapter titled “The Past is the Hero.” Remembering the past with fondness is fine for a church, he said, “but if it hinders us from looking forward, that is a problem.”
Most of the deceased churches Rainer studied had once been thriving and then went through a period of decline. In some cases, demographics played a role. About a third of the dead churches had been in urban areas where the ethnic mix of the community changed but the church did not. Instead of reaching their new neighbors, many withdrew and became commuter congregations, with no neighborhood ties.
“The common theme among those congregations was an unwillingness to connect with the transitioning community,” Rainer said. “Instead, the churches became a white island in a sea of diverse people.”
Some of the now-dead churches were in small towns where the population was shrinking. But more than a few were in thriving communities, yet they still failed to reach their neighbors. All became increasingly insular as they declined.
Surprisingly, most of the churches still had money in the bank when they closed. “You don’t have to be broke to be dying,” Rainer noted.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press