on April 18, 2014
"As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death" (p. 7)
Is yours one of them?
Autopsy of a dead church is a sobering gut check of congregational health. In this book Rainer shares his observations from the "autopsies" of fourteen deceased churches. From his investigation, Rainer identifies ten warning signs of a dying church. For me it was a sobering read. That one's true of us. So's that one. That one's not! But that one is, and that one, and that one. . . .
This book isn't a solutions guide. It's a wake-up call. The last three chapters of the book offer a few brief suggestions to churches who are showing signs of sickness, very sick, or dying. However, each chapter also includes a call to prayerful commitment. It's a reminder that changing the church has to begin with changing us.
A couple notes: this is a small, short book. I was surprised when I opened the box to find such a small book. At just over 100 pages and only 7 1/2 inches high, this is sized more like a gift book than a normal trade hardback. That doesn't mean the content should be dismissed. While I would have liked to see these ideas developed more fully, the short length may be of benefit to congregations who want to use this as a book to read and discuss in a large group. Also, this the book you want if you need to know if you have a problem. If you're looking for solutions, you probably need to do some other reading. Ed Stetzers' Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too or Rainer's ownBreakout Churches: Discover How to Make the Leap would be good starting points.
Overall, this is a well-done treatment of a serious topic. And, if Rainer's estimate that 90% of churches are either showing symptoms of sickness, very sick, or dying is correct, it's a book that every pastor--and church member--needs to read.
on June 13, 2014
I guess that this book should be easy for me to review. I am a fan, so to speak, of Mr. Rainer. After having read and reviewed many books, there are only two that I have read for review purposes that I use regularly in pastoral ministry, one of which is his earlier work, I Am a Church Member. I highly recommend that for pastors and leaders who are looking at adding new members to their church. My review of I Am a Church Member can be found here on Amazon or on my blog called Beacon2Light on Google.
Let me start by describing the book. Like some volumes that came out about ten years ago, Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a little book with a potentially big impact. It is an inexpensive hardback consisting of 102 pages. The book is an easy read. It is also very practical.
I guess my quandary is its audience. Those who need it most probably wouldn't pick it up. They are the church killers. Their work is amply shown in the pages of this volume. They are territorial, carnal, "it's my church" kind of people. What is sad is that, in my experience at least, these people who are such a burden to churches and pastors are also such a blessing. This Jekyll and Hyde kind of member really impacts those pastors and churches to a large degree.
As a pastor, I think its greatest impact on me is making sure that I am not like the tenured pastor described within. As a minister who has thus far invested almost 18 years in one body of believers, I have to be diligent to make sure that my tendencies to be a stabilizer don't translate into being a peace at any price kind of minister. One of my greatest takeaways is to ensure that my ministry to those outside of the body of believers is a priority personally and to keep making it a priority in our church.
Another thing that was difficult for me to assess is where our church fits. I wonder how many people does it take and how much power must they wield to make what describes them descriptive of the body as a whole? Personally, I believe only one negative assessment, maybe two, could be worrisome for our overall church's health and vitality.
All of that being said, for a variety of reasons, this is a book worth reading. If you are concerned about your church's health, you may wish to analyze it from the perspective of what killed so many other churches. As a minister of the Gospel, this book may wake you up to ways you may be contributing to the death of your church or how to assist in its turning around. Do you think the good days of your church have long since passed? Then this work may point you to a remedy for what ails your body of believers.
I would give this book three out of five stars. I wouldn't describe it as okay, it is better than okay. A revision considering some feedback like my own would be very welcome in a few years. Overall, a good book on a very important topic.
I received this book from BH Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review.
on May 4, 2014
Review of Thom Rainer's Autopsy of a Deceased Church
The 102-page book by Lifeway Christian Resources President, Thom Rainer, is sobering, instructive, and,even encouraging. Rainer's experience in pastoral leadership, combined with his years of research and service to struggling churches combine to provide insight to the plight of more than half of the churches in America - eventual, slow and gradual death.
Dr. Rainer took time to study 14 churches that had died, and provides a wealth of insight into the hundreds of thousands of similar congregations in our hometowns. And, at the end, attempts to provide some encouragement and strategies to avoid uneccessary church deaths in the future.
I can not do this review any justice without first acknowledging Dr. Rainer's own input into my short-lived ministry career. In the early 2000's, after I had completed my Master's of Arts in Christian Eduction at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I was asked by the Associational Director of Missions in my hometown to try to lead a small, dying congregation. This church had met with the director, and offered the association the keys to the church a few weeks earlier.
I accepted the request and truly surrendered to the call to pastor this church. At first, things went pretty well. We slowly grew from around 9 in weekly attendance to more than 40. Then, the troubles began - troubles that were so easily identifiable in Autopsy. In desparation, I sent an email to Dr. Rainer's Church Consulting website, and he responded - eventually offering the services of an elderly Church Consultant that matched the age of the core membership of the church. Regretfully, that church refused the assistance.
I say this, because I personally know of Dr. Rainer's compassion for dying churches. He is uniquely qualified to conduct an autopsy of our deceased churches because he understands the need to learn from those deaths in order to avoid unneccesary deaths in the future.
The first eleven chapters of the book break down the primary causes for the deaths of the 14 cadavers studied. Having pastored, served, or been a member of a few such churches, I believe the bulk of these chapters can be boiled down to a few statements. First, the congregation had lost its passion for the Gospel, and second, they had lost their direction into the world.
Both of these truths are exposed in Rainer's post-mortem. His entire report could be a sobering, even depressing read - if the reader didn't first know that the God of the Universe holds the key to resurrection and if the reader did not read the final three chapters.
In typical pastoral fashion, Rainer concludes with 12 responses for the different phases of a dying church. These responses - four for each of the three phases are short, and should warrant longer blog posts on his blog. (At least, that's what I'm hoping for)
The book can be read (even with interruptions) in about two hours, easily. But, that should not be the final reading of the text. My suggestion is to read the book, alone, from cover to cover first. Then, find others of like mind with whom you can read the text again, a chapter at a time, and then meet for an hour or two each week - as a MasterMind group of sorts - to learn the lessons and spend the time expounding on those lessons with others.
While Autopsy of a Deceased Church is heavy subject matter, it is also a book that is needed. A book that, almost 15 years ago I would have snapped up in a second. A book that should be given as a graduation gift to every Seminary and Bible College graduate as they head out into church leadership to prepare them for the statistically inevitable existence as a leader of a dying church.
on May 9, 2014
This short book (I read the entire book while getting my oil changed at the local garage) is well worth a read and a reread. Having been in ministry and involved in trying to resuscitate a church and coach other churches on coming back to life, I found the twelve elements to be very helpful. I wish I had the book several years ago as a resource when working with those dying churches. Reading the book was like reliving some of my experiences...especially the aspects about being more concerned about keeping the "good old days" alive in theory while the church was dying in reality.
One of the only elements of the book that was lacking centered around the twelve responses to the question "Is there hope for the dying church?" I wish that the author had spent more time developing those thoughts. I realize there are some books and blogs out there on the topic, but it would have been nice for some of that extra info to be placed within this book.
This is a great book to read, whether you believe your church is dying, sick, or healthy.
on November 3, 2014
The sight of an abandoned church building should give any Christian a reason to pause. The body of Christ is found in visible form as the local church. All across the world, congregations meet as the people of God and when taken together, they comprise the universal church. Therefore to see a particular congregation decline and die is serious, for in its loss believers lose a piece of themselves. However, mourning is not the only correct response as no church is beyond a similar end. Therefore, it is good to reflect upon the manifold reasons a church might die. If such an exercise can prove profitable, it is possible to find deficiencies that need to be addressed and corrections that need to be made in modern congregations. In essence, by examining the deceased one could learn to save the living from a similar end.
With such a thesis in mind, Thom Rainer (President of Lifeway Christian Resources) has crafted a work that identifies twelve traits which hold the possibility of killing a congregation. While serious in subject matter, the book is not meant to be a macabre warning that creates panic in struggling churches. The chapters are penned in a warm, pastoral tone that offers encouragement and wisdom to readers. In all, fourteen deceased congregations were examined to derive the twelve signs of sickness discussed in the book. A short amount of space is given to each symptom while the final portion of the book examines a remedy for recovery. Small in physical size and short in content (the book is only 101 pages) the work can easily be read in one sitting.
The authorial intent in this publication is both noble and heartfelt. Thom Rainer has a passion to see the local church grow and make disciples in all the earth. He has devoted much time and study to the field of church health, however the principles proposed in this book, although fairly sound, are nothing exceptional. They could have been developed further into an in depth study worthy of publication or simply reduced to a pamphlet size handout for easy download. Unfortunately the result rests in a hazy middle ground that could leave many readers disappointed for different reasons. In addition, a substantial flaw in the book comes from the small number of samples examined. Fourteen churches is not enough to definitely declare what causes a church to die. Regional diversity, cultural milieus, ethnic makeup, and a host of other influential factors could change the results substantially and call out for a larger sampling size. Lastly, the book rests more on pragmatic observation than Biblical theology. Rather than contrast the Biblical foundations laid out in scripture with the deceased churches, the author uses his observational studies to draw conclusions. Only after a list is composed does the author seek to go back into the Bible for support. In the end, churches will decline and die for a number of reasons. Sometimes an explanation is easy and other times it is unattainable. While providing good solid principles, the book should not be the foundational resource to which one turns for a church rescue.
Here is a book dealing with a very present problem. As the author points out in the introduction, "As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death" (7).
Rainer's goal is to help churches recognize their "erosion" toward decline and eventual death. His goal is to "take you through the result of fourteen church autopsies" (6). The author is not speaking out of theory but out of personal experience of churches slow decline toward death. One example is of a church declining from an attendance of 750 to 85 with death coming ten years later shows how important this book is to church leaders (5).
Basically, the author gives a number of reasons for decline and death in chapters three to eleven (Part 1 of the book).
The first is living in the past with no desire to change (Chapter 3). The second is change in the community which made the church an island fortress (Chapter 4) Here he states, "Those in the church were more concerned about protecting the way they did church than reaching residents of the community" (27). The third is the declining church's tendency to spend money on itself rather than outreach (Chapter 5). The fourth is the loss of vision for evangelism (Chapter 6). The fifth is a church more concerned about their own preferences rather than thinking about others (Chapter 7). The sixth is a constant change as pastors come, try to change the church, are rejected, and then leave (Chapter 8). The seventh is a lack of prayer (Chapter 9). The eighth is a church without a clear vision as to its reason for its being (Chapter 10). The ninth reason is clearly called by the author "The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities" (Chapter 11).
In Part 2 of the book, Rainer gives symptoms of decline with twelve responses to these. Every church leader will want to think through, pray through and act upon any of these signs of sickness seen in a church.
I recommend this book highly not only to sick and dying churches but to churches who want to avoid sickness and stay in good health leading to growth and multiplication.
on May 1, 2014
I received this book about 18 hours ago and I just finished it. This book, along with "I Am A Church Member," is an exceptional book to be given to people in church leadership. It may scare new members away. This book is the product of many requests of Dr. Rainer to expand his blog article of the same title. There are three types of churches addressed by Rainer: Those showing signs of sickness, Those that are sick, and Those that are dying. Most of his information was gleaned from a study of 14 churches that closed their doors. He offers 10 signs of a church in trouble and he offers four suggestions for each of the three types of churches (Types are churches showing signs of sickness, churches that are sick, and those dying).
The autopsy reveals ten characteristics of approximately 375,000 churches. I extrapolate this number from the fact that 40% of the churches he estimates, numbers 150,000. Thus, 150000 divided by .4 is 375,000. Rainer claims 10% are healthy, so 337,500 churches are sick, real sick, or dying. I'm not sure of the research paramaters since there are more churches than this in America. There are even more conservative churches than this more than likely
The ten characteristics of 375 K American churches are slow erosion, the past is considered the hero, the church does not look like the community, the budget moves inward, the Great Commission is ignored, the church is driven by preferences, pastoral tenure is decreasing, the church rarely prays together, the church has no clear purpose, and the church is obsessed over the facilities.
Rainer does a great job of describing the inward focus of the sick church. You can look at pastoral job descriptions and see the problem often times. I saw a job description that actually placed visitation between prayer and Bible study. At least the church did not leave out prayer. However, as long as the pastor visits the people (as his deacons should be doing even more than him), he can give a 15 minute homily from Guideposts with a cute joke. Rainer also pointed out this "country club" mentality in his previous book, "I Am A Church Member."
One of Rainer's silent areas was very telling. I noticed he did not talk about Orthodoxy or heresy. He probably only interviewed conservative churches. In my own ministry, I have had little problems with liberal theology. I have dealt with much theological apathy and ignorance but not too much liberalism or post-modernism. Conservative churches fail every day and it has nothing to do with liberal theology. The fact is, many churches have a very liberal model (ordaining women, leadership growing politically liberal, at least Neo-Orthodox views of the Bible), however, they do missions, make changes, and reach out and still grow!
It is a shame when churches that are a-theological or liberal can make converts to a false Jesus and those who believe in the Only Savior Jesus Christ and Him Alone die! It's outrageous.
Would I change a few things about the book? Maybe. My book would be a little different and sell a lot less (for good reason! Dr. Rainer is a much more equipped researcher and writer than I am).
1) Rainer does mention that the dying church should consider giving their assets to another 501-C3. I would have added that doctrinal fidelity is important. I would not want to see a Bible teaching, conservative church sell to an apostate liberal denomination or cult. I'm sure Rainer agrees. He just did not point that out.
2) I would like to have seen his methodology spelled out in a little better detail.
3) The option of replanting a church could have been mentioned. However, "merging" with an existing church and turning leadership over to them is a good idea. Also, the idea of giving the church to another group could be seen as replanting.
4) Church discipline and replacing bad leaders with good leaders are also probably very good options in some cases even though this can often not be done. Lack of church discipline and appointment of theologically ignorant leaders generally causes the decline.
All in all, this book is a 4.5, so let's go for 5! Thanks Dr. Rainer!
on June 16, 2014
I thought this book was fine if you hold the belief that church is where people are to be drawn to for presentation of the gospel. It is my belief that churches were designed for feeding the saints and equipping them for service-on an individual basis and not necessarily on a corporate one. Sometimes it seems that newer is always better and that old is bad. I do believe that the church should have a missionary mind and be supportive of those mission activities that the individuals within perform. I saw plenty of concern about churches that seemed unwilling to "change with the times" but no concern about changing just to go with the flow and spending funds to put in coffee bars and playgrounds to make the church the "in" place to be.
on May 13, 2014
Thom Rainer's "Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive" is a short but penetrating look at the symptoms indicating a sick church community.
The book is based on interviews Rainer conducted with representatives from 12 closed churches. Through these interviews he identified various patterns and symptoms of dying churches: lack of evangelization, a failure to budget for mission, no communal, prayer, etc.
Rainer's purpose is not just to depress us, though. As he states in the outset, his hope is that this "autopsy" will help others to identify symptoms of an unhealthy church before it becomes a crisis. To that end he includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter to help church leaders discern the "vital signs" of their communities.
The book ends with suggestions for churches in various stages of decline. Rainer does not mince words. He advocates for drastic changes in drastic circumstances, something many communities will resist. But Rainer is not concerned with comfort; he is concerned with churches communicating the Gospel effectively.
A quick note to Catholic readers: while Rainer is Baptist and some of the examples in the book have a decidedly Protestant bent, the symptoms and suggestions identified by him are just as applicable to Catholic parishes. Any diocesan or parish leader interested in healthy parish communities would do well to read and reflect on Rainer's work.
on August 31, 2014
. Nothing earth shattering. Expensive for how short it is.
He does paint a good picture of a dying church. He does not address the other kind of dying church... the church that goes apostate. There are many "dead" churches with hundreds or thousands of members that are dead.