Five Reasons Why Churches Die

After hearing from the demographics party, it is easy to think that churches die because they are doing something wrong, or failing to do something right procedurally. That is, they have lost the technique, or have never gained the skills, “to reach their generation.”

I think this is bunk. Churches die for the reasons the Bible says they die; and by “death,” I don’t mean losing their property, finances, charitable status, but death—the congregation, a people gathered in Christ’s name, is no more.

Reason 1: Abandonment of the love of Christ (Revelation 2:4-5).

Reason 2: The false teachings of Balaam and sexual immorality. Toleration of false teaching (Revelation 2:14-15).

Reason 3: Tolerating a false prophetess, also called a Jezebel (as bad as it gets), who advocates for sexual immorality (Revelation 2:20).

Reason 4: Having a reputation of being alive, but that reputation is only among men and not known to God. Therefore, it is note having the works pleasing to God. (Revelation 3:1-2).

Reason 5: Pride, smugness, self-assuredness, which to God means uselessness (Revelation 3:15-18).

The Christian church, as a group in Ontario, is but a shell of its former self. By saying this I do not mean we must yearn for a nostalgic “good old days,” but admit that we are in decline (this is a place where demographic studies might help). What is unique in our message is lost to a majority of the people in Ontario. The province is growing in population, we are not.

I think it is far too easy to assume that the reason for our decline is that we are doing the wrong things (or failing to do the right things). There is no fix, technique, model, program or church growth guru that will turn this around.

We must somehow come to see that the problem we face is one of belief and life. We must also that Christ has never tolerated false teaching and ungodly living in His church. We are no exception. No technique can grow death, and growth in false belief and ungodliness is the mark of the Mormons, Islam, the prosperity “Gospel,” and such abominations. A methodology may work but not be true and faithful.

Unfaithfulness and ungodliness always results in God’s judgement. To say that we are under the judgement of God reflects reality more than to say that the population is simply not open anymore to the gospel. The Gospel grows in closed lands, and Ontario is hardly closed. If we think we live in an impossible land, we should ask ourselves how it was that the small band of outsider disciples flipped the world over in one generation.

In summary, we are dying because God wants us dead, if we continue in our present state.

What to do? Let’s look at the five reasons again:

Reason 1: Abandonment of the love of Christ (Revelation 2:4-5).

Are we more in love with programs, worldly reputation, methods, and signs of success? Do we claim to care so much for people that we fail to realise we serve Christ first, and people as a part of that? Do we spend time in the Word of God, or is our approach, “I already read that.” Are we mining the depths of God’s wisdom in Scripture and communicating to Him in prayer? Is our first inclination to read the Bible and pray at the onset of a challenge? Are our sermons an explanation of the Bible, or our opinions with the Bible added for authority? What is our final authority, and how often do we consult it?

Solution: Repent and go back to the beginning (Revelation 2:5). We never outgrow the love of Christ.

Reason 2: The false teachings of Balaam and sexual immorality. Toleration of false teaching (Revelation 2:14-15).

The religion of Balaam, is what taught the Israelites to indulge in the pagan practises of their neighbours (Numbers 25:1-4). Do we tolerate those of unholy living to encourage others to do the same? What are our neighbours’ pagan practises? Greed, immorality, sexual immorality, shallowness, pride, lust, hatred—to name a few. Do we stand in these or against them? What do we tolerate? Answering this question will show us the danger we’re in, the danger of Christ’s judgement.

Do we tolerate false teaching? Do we welcome books like “The Shack” or “Jesus Calling” into our homes and fellowship? Do we even understand why these are problems?

Solution: Repent. Repentance in Scripture means to change our minds, and therefore our actions.

Reason 3: Tolerating a false prophetess, also called a Jezebel (as bad as it gets), who advocates for sexual immorality (Revelation 2:20).

The teaching of the false prophetess is that one can be an idolater and sexually immoral and remain a Christian (Revelation 14:8; 17:1-19:10).

It is no secret that churches have not done well holding the line against the sexual revolution of the 1960s, which is now bearing the bitter fruit of every kind of deviancy. Many once strong congregations have caved into this pressure, and, in the name of reaching people, have abandoned the truth of the Gospel and the hope it brings to those caught up in immorality!

Solution: Develop a holy intolerance of this false teaching. Prepare to take an unpopular stand, and prepare yourself to be betrayed by those you thought were Christian brothers and sisters.

Reason 4: Having a reputation of being alive, but that reputation is only among men and not known to God. Therefore, it is not having the works pleasing to God. (Revelation 3:1-2).

Are our works things that matter to God, or what brings prestige to ourselves? Do we look good to others because we have made that our aim, rather than pleasing God? Do we have an uneasy sense that we are alive on the surface, but dead inside (and if we do, that is a gift of God)?

Solution: Wake up, strengthen what you do have that’s good, remember, keep it, and repent (Revelation 3:2, 3).

Reason 5: Lukewarm: Pride, smugness, self-assuredness, which to God means uselessness (Revelation 3:15-18).

Are our churches neither healing, like the hot medicinal pools of Hierapolis (near Laodicea), or refreshing like the cold springs of Colossae (also near Laodicea), but putridly lukewarm like the water piped in to Laodicea? Are we useless to God, because we have defined usefulness according to the world’s standards and not according to Christ’s? A Laodicean Christian would recoil at the comparison!

Is our confidence in the Gospel, or in our wealth and self-confidence? Are we poor before God, or wealthy, even if only in our own eyes? Do we have a holy dependence upon Christ or do we only need Him for salvation and try to take over our lives after that?

Solution: Come back to Christ for what we need as a church; buy from Him (Isaiah 55:1ff). We renew our relationship with Him by opening the door to our churches to Christ.

Common to all of the above solutions is that we must remember the faith we once had, repent for giving it up, and returning to our First Love. Failing this, why would we linger? We may remain, but our lampstands will be removed.

On Gaining a Market Share of People Hungry for the Word of God


The question of Biblical literacy came up in a recent Facebook conversation, and it is a concern for many of us here. I wonder if we are not a victim of our own success, in a way. In the earlier years of the RM, and in the first half of the last century, many Americans were well-read in the Scriptures. Theological liberalism began to attack the Bible, but many Christians doubled-down on the Bible during that time, and Bible teaching demonstrated to be very important, by its frequency: Sunday School, Biblical preaching, Sunday night, Wednesday night, etc.

The RM took the Bible seriously. That is why I am no longer a Lutheran. I was raised in the liberal LCA synod, was confirmed, but was introduced to the Bible by other high school students from First Christian Church in Council Bluffs. These students told me what the Bible said about being saved, and how. That’s something I never heard in the Lutheran church.

I became a Christian there, and without knowing it, a member of the RM (Restoration Movement). I might add that it was High School students, and their college friends, who recruited me to attend Manhattan Christian College.

What impressed me, at age 15, was that the Bible was so important, and this church took it seriously. I wonder if that is so much the case today. We have taken the Bible seriously for so long, that we assume we are still doing it, without remembering that each new generation must be taught to have that same concern.

Don Carson, in speaking of the Gospel, says that though a generation or two take the Gospel very seriously, later generations begin to ASSUME the Gospel. So the Gospel is less proclaimed, but assumed, as other things are done: arts, music, counselling, social work, other ministries, etc., etc.

So I wonder if we, sometime in the 70s or 80s, began to do “other things,” and tacitly set aside the Bible. In the 1800s, philosophy is said to have taken “a hermeneutical turn” which has changed the course of philosophy from that time to the present.

In evangelical churches, not only the RM, I think we have taken a “relationship turn,” in our approach to all things, including Deity and Man. This is marked by a move away from propositional Revelation to feeling, from Word to deed, from foundations to structure. Relationships became the main thing–and it was around that time that we heard that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” Interestingly, my liberal Lutheran church national youth group was called “Lutheran Youth Encounter.”

Some call it Neo-orthodoxy, a move to separate “fact” from “truth,” but I’ll stop digressing.

In the rush to keep people coming back to church, there has been a subtle change to treat disciples of Christ as the customers of Christ, so that people who profess Christ as Lord must be constantly wooed back to Him. We want them to like us. My take on the entertainment-as-worship phenomena is that is not so much that non-Christians won’t come if they’re not entertained, but it takes a circus to keep people, who are supposedly Christians, coming back. A man or woman who understands the seriousness of their lost-ness will be put off by levity, not drawn to it. How can a person who truly understands their guilt before God, be beholden to silliness in preaching? Is it the Word of God and His Spirit that draws a man to Christ or the band?

It takes a special kind of immaturity to be captive to entertainment, and that especially so when the consequences of falling short are eternal.

Staying with this consumer motif for a moment, we can see then that churches simply aren’t selling what people are buying. If there are faithful, Bible-preaching empty churches on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights, it could mean that there is an oversupply of Bible. That overstock is not  fault of the church. There is, indeed, a famine for the Word of God, but no felt hunger among the starving (Amos 8:11). People need the Bible, but aren’t aware of that need. Replacing what is needed, the Word of God, with other business will save no one.

If we are trying to gather a shrinking market share of people who want Bible, and entertainment works, then that will be what is done; I think that this has been the trend for over 30 years now. If “Christianity lite” edges out the gravitas of the Faith, Sunday after Sunday, there will be few left who really do hunger for the Bible.

When I say “doing other things,” I’d like to offer some examples, and ask some questions:

  1. How often does preaching get set aside for other things on Sunday mornings? Special services, reports from missionaries (which do need the time, but need a longer time), skits from the youth group, all are used to replace preaching.
  1. I have seen advertised, from all sorts of churches, “An Evening of Praise” or “An Evening of Worship.” Are you aware of the success of anything like, “An evening of preaching” or “A night of teaching,” with back-to-back Scriptural exposition? Why would this not gather as large a group of people as would something involving music and drama?
  1. Has our preaching shifted from Scripture to needs based subjects? I firmly believe in the need to address needs, but from what I can tell, much preaching is no longer exegeting the Bible and applying it to life as the text brings them up, but first looking at problems faced by many and then finding texts to address those problems. This, though, tends to fragment our understand of Scripture, and makes the Bible more of a go-to book of advice.
  1. If you preach, in sermon planning do you start with Scripture, or your audience? Why?
  1. I assume that if you are reading this that you are a preacher or an elder. How many times have you read the Bible through in your life? Have you done so?
  1. Are students graduating from our colleges and seminaries Biblically literate? Have they read the Bible through? In what things are they literate?
  1. How soon after becoming a Christian did you read the Bible?
  1. If you were to start publically reading the Bible each Sunday (1 Timothy 4:13), and assuming you followed a plan or lectionary so you don’t just cycle through favourite texts, would your church push-back, and say that’s too much Scripture, or that it takes too much time?
  1. Can you imagine a worship service with no preaching, but just worship, offering, music and the Lord’s Supper? Can you imagine a worship service with only the Lord’s supper, offering, and preaching, but with no music? Which of these two are harder to accept?

I can think of others, but the few I listed above give some hint as to the kind of trouble we have in our churches now.

I do believe that the average preacher,  elder, deacon, and church member knows much less of the Bible, is reading it less, and comprehends much less of the Biblical worldview than even 30 or 40 years ago.

Speaking now to the older preachers: Do you remember in the 70s, the Baker Book House catalogue that came out two or three times annually? Almost all the books sold in that catalogue were reference works about the Bible or theology. Even the early Christian Book Distributors catalogues leaned heavily upon doctrine, theology, Biblical studies, commentaries and Biblical languages. Now consider the top-selling books today: Christian fiction, relationship repair, and Bible study guides that state the painfully obvious that could be gleaned by a simple reading of the Bible (Lucado and Warren come to mind). Among Christian bestsellers are few books that actually enable one to understand Scripture better. We are awash in books, but know the Bible less.

If the pool of people who really respond to the preaching of the Bible is small, and shrinking, it is our duty to cultivate and grow that pool.

I think that elders and preachers need to encourage the reading of Scripture, in their entirety, more. This means that Christians ought to expect to read the Bible through, repeatedly, for the rest of their lives. Preachers and teachers must be reading more than what is necessary for the next lesson or sermon.

I also think that preachers and elders ought to model, and encourage, the “plucking out the eye” and “cutting off the hand” of much of popular culture. It simply is not that important to be up on every song, movie, play, novel, trend or sporting event. We only have so many hours in our lives, and we need to get past the entitlement mentality when it comes to our entertainment.

So, are we doing other things, or doing what matters?