Identifying Sick Churches & Moving Towards Healing

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian resources has recently written a series of helpful posts on how to identify whether or not a local church is sick (here)and then what it will take to see her become healthy once again (here).

Thom estimates that about 40% of churches in America are in the very sick stage, which is one stage away from dying.

The following are the indicators to tell if a church is very sick:
  • Significant numerical decline over the past ten to twenty years. Most of the time we measure worship attendance for this metric.
  • Prolonged times of apathy. Occasional times of intense conflict. The church seems more apathetic than anything else, but conflict can arise with surprising intensity.
  • The church is not known in the community. Ask a clerk at a store in the community. You may be surprised how few even know the church exists.
  • New members are rare. The exodus clearly exceeds the inflow.
  • Revolving door of pastors. Frustration and conflict limit the years of pastoral tenure.
  • The “good old days” are typically twenty or more years in the past. There has been a long season since anyone felt really good about the church.
In the follow up post, Thom lists four steps forward for very sick churches. They include:

  1. The church must admit and confess its dire need. Most churches move toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Sometimes a single leader will be used of God to move the church in this positive direction.
  2. The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary. The change will not be easy. Many will resist it.
  3. The church must be willing to change radically. Frankly, this point is usually the point of greatest resistance. The church has to change decades of cumulative problem behaviors in a very short time.
  4. That change must lead to action and an outward focus. When a church begins to act positively with this radical change, it has essentially become a new church. It is not the church of old that refused to change and move forward.
The task of seeing a sick church become healthy once again is a large one, but Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)