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

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20 Comments

  1. Darryl

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

    Reply
    • David

      Ohhh no that’s tragic. Why not we go back to the start -To The Person (Jesus Chris), His Priciples (Bible), His Pattern (WinConsolidateDiscipleSend)

      Reply
    • ODIWUOR BENARD

      Am touched

      Reply
  2. 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.

    Reply
  3. Larry Gibson

    Too much change sometimes will cause people to leave!

    Reply
  4. Chuck Yarbrough

    Could you please talk more about what Discipleship and Fellowship are? I agree with you on what they are not, but I think it would be helpful to describe what they are.

    Reply
  5. S. Davis

    Most importantly:

    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

    Many church goers feel they are better than the homeless, drug addicts, convicts, the poor etc.

    I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32

    Many Christian’s are blessed with more than they need.

    Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

    Yes, the church has strayed just like all sinners.

    “And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” Matthew 21:13.

    The end times are here!

    Reply
  6. Butch Crouch

    #9 should be first always pray before trouble and ash the Holy Spirit to guide the church.

    Reply
  7. Jerry McGowin

    We need to realize that the Church is now more like the first Century than any time since World War I. World wide persecutions are up. The Middle East is all but empty of Christian Churches. ISIS effectively sent the Church underground in Iraq, and Syria. Some of the oldest Churches in the world have been destroy. Religious speech is being curtailed in Canada and Europe. Hostility directed at Christianity is increasing in US. What is the answer? To proclaim Jesus.

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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?

    Reply
    • Laura

      Our little country church is seeking a pastor and my husband and I are on the pulpit committee. For the most part, we are good on your list but we are seeking the man that GOD wants and trying to put our own specs aside. Would appreciate any prayer that you would pray on our behalf. We really want the Holy Spirit to direct this.

      Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply
  11. 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

    Reply
  12. 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 ??

    Reply
  13. 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.

    Reply
  14. Sherry Buxton

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

    Reply
  15. Tracey Heskey

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

    Reply
  16. Patty Miller-Greene

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

    Reply
  17. Helen Beam

    We are spending our lives outside God’s will. He left us here on earth to “Go!” We are sent Christians! Sent into the world to bring the lost to God! Jesus said it twice, in Matthew and in Acts. Be my witnesses! We aren’t going! That’s the problem. How many souls have been baptized in your church and added to your membership in the past year? What do you talk about when you are with your lost friends? Do you even know if they’ve ever invited Jesus to be their Savior or not? How many have you led to Christ in your lifetime? Yes, we are SENT! So why not GO! The Holy Spirit will give you the power to say what God wants you to say. Practice with your friends. Take a class in “soul-winning!” Dr. Charles Stanley says, “Obey God, and leave the consequences to Him.” You aren’t responsible for how the person responds; you’re responsible for obeying God and witnessing of what God has done for you! Then your church will grow! Yay! Christ will bless you, and your church will grow!

    Reply

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