Yesterday, I began a summary of Thom Rainer’s new book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church,” in which he shares several common traits that he discovered to be true of several churches that had closed their doors. Three of those reasons were covered in a post on this blog yesterday, and I want to share a few more today. The churches that had died slowly began to decline, they tried to live in the past, and they refused to reach out to the community. Rainer writes,”When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death. Whenever local churches are mentioned in the New Testament, they are always exhorted to be others-centered.” Vibrant and growing churches are concerned for their communities. Instead of closing the doors to others, they open the doors to others and actively seek to share the gospel. Churches are well on their way to dying when they become focused on self-preservation.
A fourth thing that these churches all had in common was that their budget moved inwardly. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Not only is this true of individuals; it is also true of churches. Where the money of the church goes, there also goes its heart. “In many of the deceased churches, the personnel portion of the budget steadily increased over the years. It was not that the churches were paying their staff more; rather the personnel portion of the budget increased proportionally to the declining total each year.” Less and less money was available in the budget, but personnel costs were the last thing to be cut. Instead, they cut other operational expenses. They even cut missions giving down and ministry funding out of the budget. Rainer says, “In dying churches the last expenditures to be reduced are those that keep the members most comfortable.” When a church has an inward focus rather than a missional focus, it will always be reflected in its budget. The church is on a death march when it cares more for its own needs than the lost community and world that surrounds it.
Fifth, Rainer explains how the Great Commission had become the Great Omission in the churches that had closed their doors. “Thriving churches have the Great Commission as the centerpiece of their vision, while dying churches have forgotten the clear command of Christ,” he says. The church has been placed in the world for the purpose of being salt and light, for reaching and baptizing new believers, for making disciples of those who believe and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded us. There is no Plan-B. Every believer must embrace this mission, not just a select few. The Great Commission applies to all of the followers of Jesus. But somewhere along the way, those churches that close their doors have forgotten this. They stopped sharing the gospel with lost people. They stopped baptizing new believers. They stopped making disciples. Rainer writes, “As I looked at the deaths of fourteen churches, I saw a common pattern. Obedience to the Great Commission faded; it usually faded gradually.” Other things became more important and drew their attention away from the one thing that mattered most.
A sixth common finding was these deceased churches had become driven by preference. In other words, personal preference became the driving force behind all decisions. In things such as music, length and order of worship services, and activities, the members focused on their own preferences and made it a point of contention. Scripture says that Jesus “humbled Himself” and took upon Him the form of a servant. He became obedient to the point of death on a cross. “There were not many indications in the autopsied churches that most members had such a self-sacrifice attitude. Instead, the attitude was self-serving, self-giving, and self-entitled. It was about me, myself, and I,” according to Rainer. When the church becomes all about us, we are well on the way to closing the doors. It should never selfishly be about us. The church is all about worshiping HIM and serving THEM. That must be our attitude. When it is, there is no room left for selfishness.