Autopsy of a DEAD CHURCH

Autopsy of a DEAD CHURCH

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Summary Paper

Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Thom Rainer





Healthy Churches:  10%

Symptoms of Sickness: 40%

Very Sick:   40%

Dying:     10%



Early Symptoms of Sickness:


  • Ministries and programs are shifting towards those inside the church rather than those outside the church.



  • Some people may be added each year, but no sense of true disciple making taking place.



  • No clear plan for making disciples and disciple makers.



  • Lots of programs and ministry clutter but many contribute little or nothing to making of disciples.



  • Lots of busyness and activities but much of it has no sense of a real purpose.



Prayer: 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.



Ten Factors Leading to Death


  1. Slow Erosion. Some in facilities, some in ministries that once had impact, but mostly in the prayer life of those in the church.



Prayer: God, please let me be part of the solution and not the problem.  Show me what I need to see.  Open my eyes to Your reality.  And give me courage to move forward in the directions You desire.


  1. The Past is the Hero. There are several points in decline where the church can turn around, but the key influencers refuse to listen.  They are blind to the reality of the declining church.  Areas we cling to: worship styles, facilities, pastors of the past, our own needs rather than the needs of those without Christ, the way we have always done things so we are comfortable.



Prayer: God, give me the conviction and the 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.







  1. Refusing to Look Like the Community. Losing the children and grandchildren of those in the church, when the church does reach out, they ask the community to come to them rather than the church going to the community, the church becomes a fortress, keeping people and possessions on the inside safe while keeping people on the other side out.  Church stops reaching and caring for the community.



Prayer: God, give my church and me a heart for our community.  Let me see people through Your eyes.  And give me the courage and the wisdom to let go of this church, so that others who best reflect this community can lead us and teach us.


  1. The Budget Moves Inwardly. Pastor and staff are expected to mostly care for those already in the church.  In dying churches, the last expenditures to be cut are those that keep the church people comfortable.  First cuts are to ministries and programs with an outward focus.  The basic pattern is funding to keep the machinery of the church moving and members happy rather than funding for the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.



Prayer: Lord, help me 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 giving hearts to use these funds according to Your purpose.


  1. The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission. The methods we use for reaching out become the focus rather than the Great Commission itself.  The church decides not to act on the Great Commission commandment to make disciples by their actions.  The church stops going, stops making disciples, stops baptizing, stops teaching people to obey.  Chilling quote from book:



“Members had a convenient omission in their recollections.  They wanted the same results as yesteryear, but they weren’t willing to expend the efforts…members of the dying church weren’t wiling to go into the community to reach and minister to people…they just wanted it to happen.  Without prayer.  Without sacrifice.  Without hard work.  Members of the dying churches really didn’t want growth unless that growth met their preferences and allowed them to remain comfortable.”


Prayer: 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.


  1. Preference-Driven Church. Attitude is self-serving, self-giving, self-entitled.  A church by definition is a body of believers who function for the greater good of the congregation.  When church members increasingly demand their own preferences, the church is steadily not becoming the church.  The church dies because its members refuse to be the church.



Prayer: 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.


  1. Pastoral Tenure Decreases. 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.  The cycle repeats.



Prayer: Please give our pastor a heart and a vision to reach and minister to people beyond our 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.



  1. The Church Rarely Prays Together. Prayer becomes routine and ritual.  “Prayer meetings” are not really times of prayer.  Prayer and the health of the church go hand in hand.  Failure to pray is tantamount to a failure to breathe.  Prayer is the lifeblood of the church.  Chilling quote from book:



“We stopped praying with the passion we once had.  That’s it.  That was the beginning of the decline that led to our death.”


Prayer: 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.


  1. Church Has No Clear Purpose. Routines, traditions and rituals replaced the original purpose of being a gospel-driven, disciple-making people.  Quotes from past members of dead churches:




  • Reply July 5, 2019

    Varnel Watson

    starting NOW – all 12 stages are clear Philip Williams Michael Ellis Carter Jr. BUT how can an autopsy be so mechanical?

    • Philip Williams
      Reply July 5, 2019

      Philip Williams

      autopsies are clinical, mechanical

    • Reply July 5, 2019

      Varnel Watson

      Philip Williams of pure organic matters though What do we do with the dead churches though? Michael Ellis Carter Jr.

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