Five Lessons We Learned from Deceased Churches

It has been a decade since we did our original research on churches that have closed their doors. Our findings were published in my book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, in 2014. Our work obviously hit a nerve since the book became a number-one bestseller.

Church Answers has continued to talk with church members and leaders whose churches closed or those that were on the precipice of death. While the original information in Autopsy of a Deceased Church is still relevant, there is more information we’ve gleaned since then. We will release that information in a major new resource in January 2023.

For now, let us share with you five updated lessons from churches that closed.

1. The churches had no ongoing effort to reach the unchurched in the community to become churched. That last phrase, “to become churched,” is key. Many of the churches had good ministries to their communities, but they were not intentional about inviting them and getting them to become a part of the worship and small group gatherings of the church.

2. The pandemic increased the pace of decline and, ultimately, death of the churches. We’ve noted this reality on several occasions. The pandemic did not change the trends of churches. They exacerbated them.

3. The leaders and members of the churches were in denial. They refused to confront their reality. If they did, it was often too late.

4. The churches did not have new members’ classes to set expectations. Most of the deceased churches did not have a new members’ class at all. The few that had such classes only provided information; they did not use the class to set expectations. All of the deceased churches were hurt significantly by decreased attendance patterns of members. Their failure to set expectations was a key reason members attended less frequently.

5. The churches kept waiting for the silver bullet. The most common silver bullet was a new pastor who would turn things around. The second most common silver bullet was a new youth or children’s minister who would do all the work to reach young people. In other words, the members desired to abdicate their ministry responsibilities and pay someone else to do it.

We will unpack more of the issues related to deceased churches in January when we release our new resource. Stay tuned to our daily email to get this information soon.

In the meantime, let me know what you think about these issues related to churches that closed. I would love to hear from you.


P. S. We are offering my book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, for $5.49 for a limited time: Order now!


Posted on December 5, 2022

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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