Skip to main content

Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Rainer, Thom S., Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 ways to Keep Yours Alive. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.
Biographical Sketch of the Author
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources. Dr. Rainer graduated from the University of Alabama in 1977. He also earned a Master of Divinity and a Ph.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the father of three adult sons and grandfather to 10. After graduating from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he served at that seminary for twelve years as the dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He then founded a consulting firm that provided insights to over 500 churches during the 20-year history of the Rainer Group. In addition to Autopsy of a Dead Church, Dr. Rainer has written more than a dozen books.1
Summary of the Contents
The first two chapters set the tone of the book. Jesus told Peter that the gates of Hades will not overpower Christ’s church, local churches do die while the universal church always lives. Dr. Rainer says that a church’s growth may be rapid, but its decline is usually very slow, therefore it may be imperceptible to those in the church.
In the next nine chapters he describes the symptoms that dead churches have prior to their death. The most common of these is that these dead churches lived for a long time with the past days being the hero. The second is that the church refused to look like the community. This is not referring to looking like the world in sin, but in the makeup of the persons in the community: race, age, sex, socially and economically. Everything began to move inwardly in these churches. This comes to the forefront in the budget of these churches, spending that goes outward is eliminated. This is also seen in the great commission mindedness of the church’s members. They wall themselves off from the community that the church is in, the spending money outside the church is eliminated, and all evangelism ceases.
These churches become about me, myself and I. Individuals fight over personal preferences and would rather see the church cease than give in to the preferences of another. So, first wall yourself off from the community, then wall yourself off from those who are in the church. With this the tenure of the Pastors begins to decrease. The congregation is unwilling or unable to change; therefore, the pastor either leaves or is fired after a couple of years. 
The people in the church rarely if ever prayed together which also reveals the fact that they had no clear purpose for even existing as a church. Oh, they would pray before a meal, but would not pray for the mission of the church, the community or even for those in the church. Lastly, they became obsessed with the facilities. They memorialize the past; certain facilities that where associated with the past are held in high esteem while others go to rot.
The second section of the book deals with what to do if your church is showing symptoms of sickness, is very sick or is dying. Dr. Rainer says that 10% of churches are healthy, 40% have symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick and 10% are terminal.
The church showing symptoms of sickness has the best chance of not dying with the right treatment. Pray that the Lord opens the eyes of the leadership and the members to reach into the community. Notice how the church members spend their time. Notice how the church spends its money. Make plans to evangelize the community taking others along with you.
The next advice is for the very sick church. The church must admit that it is in dire need. The church must pray for wisdom. The church must be willing to change. The change must be great commission and great commandment focused. If these do not happen a very sick church will become a terminal church.
The last advice is for the terminally ill church. Sell the property and give the funds to another church or give the building to a startup church that consist of people who actually live in the community. You could also merge with another growing church giving their leadership full authority over your persons and property. In other words, die graciously.
Critical Evaluation
While I very much enjoyed this book and think that there are many insights written into it that we should pay attention too, there are a few things that concern me. Dr. Rainer is a wonderful brother in Christ, but his consulting mindset seems to be a little like an American businessman. A church is not a business no matter how businessmen try to make it out to be one. Businesses are in business to make money and grow. The Lord may cause a local church to grow for a time, but this is not the purpose of the local church. All local churches are temporal. The church of Jesus Christ is universal and eternal. The purpose of the local church is to grow the universal church.
If we want to study the church, we must always begin with Jesus words to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20. Who is Jesus? Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. (vs. 16) Jesus told Peter that this was revealed to him by the Father, not by flesh and blood. On this confession Jesus told Peter that he would build his church and nothing, not even the gates of death would overtake it; (vss. 17-20) in other words, the church built on the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God would never die. I will not go in to the Catholic understand of this passage; however, even from their perspective it is understood that the church would never die.
Before his ascension Jesus promised the disciples the baptism of the Holy Spirit. From this we turn to Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian church. Those who believed were baptized and added to the church. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42, NASB95) This is the picture of all healthy local churches; devoting themselves to scriptural teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 
In conclusion, the point that I would like to make is that the church that was established on the day of Pentecost continues to live to this day, but the local church in Acts 2:42 that was devoting themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer is no more; they are, however, memorialized for us in the book of Acts as an example.
Local churches from the first established church in Acts 2 to the local churches today were never intended to be eternal, it is the universal church that is eternal. The purpose of the local church is to make disciples, baptize them and teach them to observe all that Jesus commanded the first disciples; then they are to go out and do the same which means at some point that local congregation will be no more, but many new congregations will take its place.

1 About Thom S Rainer, cdli:wiki,

Popular posts from this blog

William George Davis, RN

Today I write with a broken heart an open-letter to my nursing colleague, friend and I hope, brother in Christ William Davis, RN. Will has been accused of murder and was arrested on April 11, 2018. I write this as an open-letter because this has become an open-matter. Will Davis and Family Copied from Facebook Dear Will, I miss your smiles and your jovial laughter on our nursing unit. I first meet you about 5 years ago in the spring of 2013. My wife met you before I did; I remember her telling me, “I met a guy in orientation who is going to work on your unit, he is so excited to work on your unit and is real fun.” From that time on you were usually laughing and all smiles. Often times you brought a bag of candy to work, because of this, and your jovial laughter I nicknamed you the Candyman and would even sing in your presences, “Who can make the sun rise and cover it with cheer…the Candyman can, the Candyman can because he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.”

The Three Aspects of Faith

Faith is made up of three things: knowledge, belief, and trust…Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be and that He will do what He has promised to do. (Spurgeon, C.H.) “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?. . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-14, 17) When sharing the gospel publicly, and more specifically through open-air preaching you will likely be stopped from preaching by someone who claims to be a Christian.  Oftentimes when preaching in open-air, you will be preaching to a moving crowd.  Someone may walk by and hear you talking about sin and judgment.  Another may walk by and hear you talking about Christ redemptive work on the cross.  I use to think that there was the possibility that those who claimed to be Christian, who stopp

Come Follow Me

Mark 10 It was Jesus’ custom to teach when a crowd gathered. He taught that it is not God’s will that a wife and husband should separate, for he considers them one flesh. Later, his disciples questioned him about this and Jesus told them that to divorce and marry another is committing adultery. Jesus used the metaphor of how a child excepts as being the way we should except the kingdom of God. Jesus corrected a rich young man’s understanding of good and showed him that to repent and follow Jesus Christ is the only good that a man can do. It is impossible for people to enter the kingdom of God but with God all things are possible. Jesus promised eternal life to all who leave whatever is holding them back from following him. On the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus told his disciples about his coming arrest, trial, humiliation, suffering, death and resurrection three days later. James and John sought honor for themselves at Jesus right and left sides in his kingdom, but he told them, it is for