17 Ways to Identify a Dead Church
Jack Wellman of “Telling Ministries: Talking Truth Through Technology”, emailed me an article that he had written delineating some of the signs of apathy that tell the pastor that it is time for him/her to leave the church and move on.
Frankly, I always thought that I would “move on” by being fired. Every pastor I knew growing up got fired. I guess that emotionally, deep down inside, the image of those pastors’ painful dismissals were never far from the forefront of my brain.
Brother Johnson decided to stop being a Baptist and become a Methodist. I was only-five-years old but I vividly remember his going away party. I wondered at the time how everyone could be having so much fun at such a somber occasion. As I grew older I realized that his departure was amicable. Nevertheless he was asked to move on.
I sat under the teaching and leadership of Brother Baker for the next 13 years. His departure was not so sweet. Several men decided that the church could do better with another pastor. They had both reasons and power. I never thought the reasons were valid. There was no doubt about their power.
They forced him out. His sons and daughter were hurt, angry, and bitter. Most of them will never darken the door of a church again. Who can blame them?! The only lasting result of the insurrection centered around the hurting people of the church, most of whom had no idea what happened, only that something bad happened and all was not as it appeared to be. Brother Baker was kicked out on his ear. There was no party.
By the way, over 70% of all pastors will be fired, forced out, asked to leave, or maneuvered out by a few select church deacons or elders sometime during their church ministries. The only job I know of with less security than pastoring is being a college or professional football coach.
Fortunately, gratefully and thankfully I finished my career without being fired. I started pastoring at twenty-years old and kept pastoring for the next forty-four years until my heart said, “No more,” and the time had arrived for me to transition the church to new young leaders.
One group of eighteen people did try to get me fired. They told me that they would get me on the front page of the Sunday morning paper and so disgrace me that I would never preach again. Six months later I was on the Sunday front page. One of the eighteen said to one of our elders, “We’ve got him now; they’ll be lined up nope not now outside his door on Monday demanding his resignation.” He was wrong. There was no line on Monday and I lived to pastor another thirty years after that. One of my cherished memories is a retired Marine general took me to lunch to tell me he been watching closely to see how I would act under trial. I passed and he told me so. “They certainly meant to do evil; but, God meant it all for good.
When I first read Jack’s list, it dawned on me that most of the things on the list were the same things I was listening and watching for in order to be certain that my ministry was secure.
As I read through a second time, it dawned on me that Jack had outlined well what could be considered the marks of a dying church.
As a result I’d like to share Jack’s thirteen thoughts, along with four of mine, and consider, “Seventeen Ways To Know That Your Church Is Dying (Or, Already Dead).”
When the church body is becoming indifferent about anything and everything
When members stop attending
When members stop giving
When the church family stops evangelizing
When they stop serving
When church ministries begin to dissipate
When staff, elders, deacons, and volunteers stop doing their jobs
When the church building and/or property is no longer cared for and no one cares enough to do anything about it
When the fellowship hall is used only for family parties and post-funeral meals
When the church is shrinking
When your family is being attacked
When morality and sinful activities predominate
When church members refuse to be disciplined according to the biblical model
When the church is scrambling to pay the mortgage and the budget is devastated
When the number of first-time visitors drops to near zero and below
When the church fails to draw in a younger generation to rebuild and/or revive the church
When you hear someone say, “it’s time to find a new pastor.”
For members, it may be time to leave.
For pastors, it may be time to go.
But, by the way, you don’t have to leave the church just because it’s dying. The preceding list may give you some ideas on what to work on in stabilizing and healing your church.
By the way, no church lives forever. Churches are born, grow, stabilize, decline and die. What breaks my heart is that very few are willing to love a church and the church family through decline and finally to death.
Most dying churches began with great hope and vision. Through the church lifecycle, children leave, communities decline and the people who began the church, and stayed with it for years, now grieve in agony as their church dies and nothing they can do seems to help it. Oh, for men and women who will put aside their great desires to build a big church and give their lives away in comforting and strengthening the older members as their churches go away.
Thanks, Jack, for sharing your thoughts. I do believe that many in the Christian community will profit greatly from your ideas. I know they’re helpful to me.