Sick churches become dying churches.
Dying churches become closed churches.
Those statements are factual unless some type of change or intervention takes place. But intervention or change is unlikely unless the church recognizes that it is sick.
In simple terms, we must first be aware that many of our churches are sick.
In order to help create greater awareness, I have described illustratively seven personality types of sick churches. For certain, no one church is a perfect illustration of any one type. But I am confident you will recognize churches that have taken on one of these seven as a dominant personality type.
1. The Denier. Several years ago I did a consultation at a church in the Midwest. The church’s worship attendance had declined by over 60 percent the past ten years, but most of the members I interviewed told me the church was fine. That church will be “fine” all the way to its closing.
2. The Deflector. In these churches you hear constant complaints about what others outside the church are doing wrong. It’s the denomination’s fault. It’s the culture’s fault. It’s the young people’s fault. And, too many times, it’s always the pastor’s fault. Thus the church’s pattern is a series of short-term pastorates.
3. The Cool Kid. These churches are rarely viewed as sick. They are typically growing numerically, and often are seen as the cool church in town. But their growth is largely tied to a single ministry, like bus ministries of the past, or to a charismatic leader. When the charismatic leader or the hot ministry goes away, the church declines dramatically. This illness is particularly dangerous because of its superficial appearance of robust health.
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Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.