Urgent church: Nine changes we must make or die

December 16, 2019

It broke my heart. Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word. But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing. Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
  7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member or the church member who has a different perspective from our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could ask only one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
  9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.

Time is running out. Please, for the sake of the gospel, forsake yourself and make the changes in God’s power.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared here. Thom Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

by Thom Rainer
/  Founder & CEO  /  Church Answers

Two churches in one building

Five years ago, in a yearly planning meeting with the staff of Flint-Gloves Baptist Church, two simple and straightforward questions were posed that would radically change our church: 1. Are we being good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us? 2. Has God given us resources...

Room at the table

James, the brother of Jesus Christ, defines the fruit of true religion: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).Jan. 19 is Sanctity of Human Life...

Q&A: Jimmy Scroggins on leadership, vision, evangelism, church culture and more

Jimmy Scroggins is lead pastor of Family Church in South Florida. He is dedicated to building families in South Florida through a network of neighborhood churches that help people in their community discover and pursue God’s design. Scroggins will be the keynote speaker at this...

The Great Commission begins at home

It’s a fundamental truth that every person who walks through your church’s door on any given day was raised in a home by a family. The shape of their family and type of home will, no doubt, be unique to the individual. But, this fundamental truth still applies. The reason I share...

Embracing change is perilous and priceless

Embracing change is perilous and priceless “At a time when many Baptist churches are closing their doors, the testimony that has been repeated over and over is, ‘Our neighborhood has changed, but we didn’t.’” This was the observation of Mark Hearn, senior pastor of First Baptist...

Resolve to serve in NC Baptist life

The start of a new year brings with it many goals and aspirations that we would like to achieve in the year ahead. Perhaps you’ve set a goal to lose weight, save money or get organized in 2020. We often think about making resolutions that could help us physically, and that is...

The kingdom pattern as a rhythm of life

As disciples and churches, it is a great privilege to be on mission with God in building His kingdom to the ends of the earth. Every day we should want to be a part of kingdom advances in some way. According to the Great Commission, a large part of living for the kingdom is to...

Pastor, are you fighting in the dark?

Not that long ago, depression was rarely discussed in public. It was too embarrassing to talk about, much less admit. However, 15 years ago, our deployed soldiers started coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder, followed by severe depression, followed by a suicide rate of...


  1. John Hancock

    Be the church to the world, theat is, be the kind of Christian that Jesus taught us to be.

    Quit arguing over minor details, such as a minister who is female.

    • Gary mcbsy

      I agree with Tom’s artical but the problem arises over what may or may not be “minor”. Your last comment is just one example. Biblical directives cannot be ignored for the sake of cultural expediency. That is a slippery slope to gradual compromise.

    • Jane

      That isn’t a minor detail. We can’t change to fit the culture. Read #2 again. The change he is asserting is not to change so that the world likes us but to change back to (to reform) Scripture. Too many churches are falling into the pit of change to fit the world’s model and not the Bible’s model.

  2. Darryl

    We must understand the Biblical role of apologetics in defending the historic Christian in faith (2 Cor. 10:5/ 1 Peter 3:15).


      Am touched

  3. KC

    Even though these issues matter, most of these are issues that our churches should have been wrestling, engaging, and dealing with over 20 years ago. Programs, time spent in meetings, christian lingo, and focusing on small details are definitely not the leading problems for our churches in today’s society. Some, obviously, are indeed necessary today (evangelism as “going” and prayer) and will continue to be.

    There was a time when this list would have been extremely relevant and would have been a good swift kick to the churches that needed to learn how to engage their community better. Churches should have made these changes 30 years ago, in the 90s, where there was a rapid decline in church attendance, or better, 50 years ago, in the 70s, when church decline really began. There is a good chance that churches that have not already made these changes have probably not been very affective, dare I say even relevant, in their community over the past 20 years or more. The bulk of this list will not be why churches close their doors now.

    We will either come, as the church, to engage our society on today’s issues with the gospel of Jesus or we will continue to remain irrelevant and in a steady decline. Those issues are much more uncomfortable than the ones on this list. Issues such as suicide, loneliness, white privilege, race, gender, bullying, sexual abuse (esp. within the church), the inability to engage and/or connect with groups that make us uncomfortable – homosexuals, transgender, homeless people, people who have served time in jail. There is too much going on in today’s society to think that a long staff meeting is why our doors are closing. Doors are closing because we are not willing to deal with todays issues. Not only do we need to be in these conversations, but we need to be there as leaders with a Gospel response.

  4. John

    Many are happy with the hospice church mentality. They do not care if the church dies, as long as it dies after they do. Until then, they want a “care provider” to keep them comfortable. If this does not happen, they will find a new one who will provided what they pay for.

  5. Lou Harlow

    Who is your “ONE”? The person YOU “ME” are being led by the Holy Spirit to nurture into a relationship with Jesus, my Lord and Savior? He, the CHRIST, gave a New Commandment, to Love each other so that we will be known by our Love. Are we?

  6. Daniel Reed

    I feel your concern and it is valid. I myself have lived through many “stages” of the church, as an organization. I have seen explosive growth, only to be countered by division. Why is that? Well, Jesus told us there will be tares among the wheat. Not necessarily terrible monster looking people, but sweet, hard-working, dedicated, “lost” people in decision making positions within the organization. Too many churches are run like an organization rather than an organism. They focus on “what not to do”, rather than what to begin doing. Very few people turn away from love. Genuine love. I am not talking about a once or twice a year outreach program where we hand out boxes of household goods and a few groceries to people that are hurting every day.
    Church growth occurs when we begin to reach out and love people. When we begin to use our resources outside of the 4 walls of a brick structure and make a visible impact. That same growth dies when we turn back inward hoarding the resources God has given us. Bigger barns. Wake up! Focus on what the church needs to START doing, and never stop.

  7. Phu Pham

    Jesus didn’t say “COME”, but “GO”…! Matthew 28:18-20

    When we go…, we will see that God works with us…!
    Mark 16:15-20

  8. Dell Romaine

    Maybe some of the closings have to do with the “gospel “ that is being taught in the churches … if the percentages of sin , such as divorce , child abuse , spousal abuse , unwed pregnancies , abortions are the same in the church as in the
    “ world “ (outside of the church ) maybe the “ “gospel “ that is being taught has no “ power “ !!!
    Instead of producing “Disciples “ , the
    churches are
    producing little “demons” ????
    Just maybe many people who are in the churches or ones who would like to
    attend or even some who are looking for some answers and changes in their
    lives , look at the churches and see that it is not any difference between the churches and the
    evil world as far as sin , then …. Why even go to church ???
    John 8:31 …….
    Just some thoughts !!
    Have any thoughts Steve ??

  9. Betty Jo Rodgers

    I especially liked points 8 and 9. The church is not the building, it is the people. We must be the church.

  10. Sherry Buxton

    All well stated. It takes our action not us visiting about what we r going to do. L A T E R

  11. Tracey Heskey

    I agree that we must get back to the business of seeking God first.

  12. Patty Miller-Greene

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Finally someone talking sense!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get the latest news and event information by signing up for the N.C. Baptist newsletter.

Select Language ^

Share This

Share this with your friends!