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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Autopsy of a Deceased Church" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2014, (102 pages).

Spurred by the popularity of his blog post of the same title, the author and President of Lifeway Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee has put together a whole book on church autopsy.

Gruesome? Not really. For the churches Rainer are talking about are already dead in the first place. Like a Church version of CSI, examining the evidence of the deceased church will bring hope and life to existing ones, especially those that are exhibiting all the marks of a dying church. In doing so, Rainer has helpfully identified 11 marks of a dying church and 12 ways to go about reversing the seemingly inevitable with 12 ways that say: "Not so fast."

The stories in the book are real, although masked in order to protect the real persons. The author based his research on 14 deceased churches. Deceased churches can possess one or more of the following 11 factors:
  1. Lost her vision
  2. Gradual erosion that members fail to see
  3. Over-clinging to the past
  4. Me-First mentality
  5. Inward-Looking Budgets
  6. Great Omission
  7. Personal Preferences Driven
  8. Frequent Pastoral Turnovers
  9. Poor Prayer Attendance
  10. No Clear Purpose
  11. Obsession with Facilities

This list is promptly followed up by 12 ways in which existing churches can respond. From his research, Rainer identified that healthy churches in the country comprises 10%, those with symptoms of sickness: 40%; those who are very sick:40%; and those who are dying: 10%.

Focusing on the last three categories of churches, Rainer gives four tips each. For those with symptoms of sickness, Rainer urges the leadership to look beyond their own needs toward the needs of others, especially the community and neighbourhood.
  1. Look for opportunities to reach out to the neighbourhood
  2. Honestly audit the time members are involved with outreach
  3. Audit how church spends her money
  4. Make specific plans to evangelize and reach out
For those who are very sick, Rainer first gives some observations and tell-tale signs before offering four tips for them. Very sick churches need to:
  1. Admit their dire need
  2. Pray for wisdom and willingness to change
  3. Be willing to change radically
  4. Adopt change that leads to action and an outward focus.
For the dying church, the future will be bleak. That is why Rainer suggests:
  1. Consider selling the assets and give funds to another budding church
  2. Give away the building
  3. If in a "transitional neighbourhood," turn over leadership and property to residents in the neighbourhood
  4. Merge.
The book is not about Church bashing or a cynical look on churches done badly. It is about redemption with hindsight and foresight. Expanding on the version of the blog article, the book also includes interactions with readers. Having served in churches of different health situations, I find the last segment about dying churches very heartbreaking. The way to go about it is to recognize that being "sick" or "very sick" have more hope than "dying." Move gradually from one phase to another. Chances are, your church will be among the 80% that are sick. Very few would be in the healthy range. I hope fewer will be among the dying. That said, changing direction is not an impossible task. It requires humility. It needs teamwork and for everyone to come on board.

I feel a little sad about churches that die. I feel sadder when churches that are dying refuse to acknowledge that fact. Maybe, this book can help spur active discussion to nip the problem before it gets worse. Like every other organizations, every Church will face the same challenge to reinvent themselves. They need fresh leadership and new ideas. They need the humility to ask for help where needed. They need the courage to do what is necessary. I am glad Rainer has helped put into words some of the very difficult issues in doing Church. Read this book with open eyes and humble hearts. Who knows, God will be using you to spur a positive change that will not only keep your church alive, God may even cause your Church to flourish.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of B and H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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