I recently read an article about the death of a church. It was sad. Tragic. Heartbreaking. What is sadder to me is that some people act like the death of a church is normal. “Churches, like human beings, are born and they live and they die.” It is the life cycle of a church. Or so they say. Some even point to the churches of the New Testament and ask, “Where is the Church at Ephesus?” or “Where is the church at Antioch?” And since those churches no longer exist, it must be normal for churches to die.
I want to be really clear at this point. I have given my life and ministry to helping churches that are in decline. Helping them to find hope. Helping them to experience revitalization. The message I bring is one of encouragement. Jesus brings life to dead and dying people. He also brings life to dying churches. Discouraged churches need an encouraging message. But when a church takes the attitude that death is inevitable because of some life cycle of a church, I have to speak up. Listen. Churches die for one reason. Are you ready? Well first, let me tell you why they don’t die.
Churches Do Not Die…
Because of a population shift. Sam Rainer says, “Your church’s address is no accident.” The Lord Jesus himself has placed your church in your neighborhood for a reason. And he has placed the people in your neighborhood for a reason. Just because the people in your neighborhood are different today than they were during the church’s heyday is no excuse for letting the church die. So unless there are no people left in your neighborhood or all (that is 100%) of the people in your neighborhood are active members of another church, population shift is no reason for a church to die.
Because of societal changes. I get it. I grew up in Alabama in the 1960s and 1970s. Everybody I knew went to church. And most of our churches were full. At least they had the appearance of being alive and well. As a teenager, church was at the center of my social life. It was the same for most adults. That’s why we went to church at least three times a week. More than 50 years later society has changed. Many of my neighbors don’t go to church. They don’t seem to be interested. They have other things to do. Our churches are not as full as they were. Some struggle to keep up one service a week. Let alone three. Cultural Christianity is dead. But churches do not die because of it.
Because of internal conflict. Church conflict grieves me. As I wrote in The Unintended Consequences of Church Conflict, conflict tarnishes the reputation of Jesus and hurts the witness of the local church. Conflict drives people to leave. Conflict hurts a church. And it should not be a part of church life. But churches do not die because of conflict.
Why Do Churches Die?
Churches die for one reason. Disobedience. Sin. Churches die because they don’t live by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. They don’t love their neighbors unless their neighbors look like them, act like them, think like them and live like them (Luke 10:25-37). They don’t love one another (1 Corinthians 13). Consequently, they don’t submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). Nor do they submit to leadership (Hebrews 13:17). Churches die for one reason. Disobedience. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Please do not hear or read this as mean-spirited on my part. I am not angry with churches. I love the church. She is bride of Christ. God loves the church. The Bible tells us that God does not want anyone to die in his sins. He desires that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). I believe he also wants the same for his church. He wants his churches to live.
Remember – Repent – Return
In a recent Facebook Live video, Mark Clifton spoke about the need for corporate repentance in our churches. Mark is the senior director of Replanting/Revitalization at the North American Mission Board. I urge you to watch this video!
In the Revelation, Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus. His message to them was clear. In spite of all of the good things they were doing, they had forgotten their first love. They had forgotten why they did what they did. And unless they remembered, repented and returned he was going to remove their lampstand. Unless they repented, they would no longer exist as a church.
The work of church replanting and revitalization is the work of calling churches to remember that they are the bride of Christ. To remember what that means. And to repent of their disobedience. To repent of their sin. And return to Christ. Churches die for one reason. They do not repent. They continue in their disobedience. And the Lord removes their lampstand.
If you want help in leading your church to experience revitalization, let me hear from you. And if you would like to help develop healthy churches, click here to make a financial contribution to our ministry. Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment below and share this article with your Friends and Followers on social media.