Stephen Gray at Church Central posted his review of essential church? by Thom and Sam Rainer by taking the book’s “7 deadly sins” and adding 3 more. 

I’m not going to copy the whole article – you need to read it and the Rainers’ book yourself.  But the topic headings are worth mentioning:

1. Doctrinal Drift – watering down the Gospel
2. Evangelism Atrophy – a loss of passion to win the lost
3. Failure To Be Relevant – not contextualizing the content of our message
4. Inwardly Focused – most of the money and effort is on doing stuff in the church, for the church
5. Personal Conflict – power struggles
6. A Priority Of Comfort – this refers to doing the same things over and over, instead of new ventures
7. Biblical Illiteracy – preachers who ignore vast sections of the Bible and parishoners who don’t know the difference.
8. Hording – Gray is talking about dormant savings accounts, but I’d add the lack of openness to use the church building for anything that doesn’t drive the bottom line (see #4)
9. Failure to Follow – not respecting congregational leaders
10. Idolatry – worshipping anything but God, including the building, the schedule, the agenda, or the stuff of our lifestyle.

“Half of SBC churches could die before 2030,” says former Southern Baptist Convention President Page Patterson.

Pretty dramatic. The largest protestant denomination just a few years ago, is the Baptist behemoth is in danger of fading into history? In a in a conference call with South Carolina pastors, Patterson says the Convention could drop from 44,000 to 20,000 in 22 years. Patterson blames himself and other pastors for the demise. “People rarely rise above the level of their pastor’s spiritual life, and it is critical that pastors maintain a vibrant walk with Christ.”

This is not a new revelation. Doing research in the 1970s, Dr Gary Farley discovered the natural life span of a church to be around 50 years, noting that if a church did not change it’s focus and remake itself for a new generation by the time it reached its 35th anniversary, it would quickly dwindle after that point and all the members would have died or moved on in little more than a decade afterward.

The Southern Baptists were strong in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. But societal changes in the mid- to late-70s were too much for many, and they stopped where they were, metaphorically. 1980, plus 50 years, gets us to 2030.

When Dean Kelly wrote Why Conservative Churches are Growing, he reported that “small churches often are because their leaders are unwilling to change.” The fire of missional passion has died down, and they like church just the way it is.

Of course, there will still be the other 20,000. Some of them are strong, will continue to be strong. Readers of this site, and my forthcoming book, will know how to keep themselves in that half that survives, even grows stronger. With God’s help, you and I can prove Dr Patterson’s fears groundless, stemming the tide of failing churches. Who’s in?

Reference: Associated Baptist Press, Published May 6, 2008

I keep coming back to Dean Kelly’s Why Conservative Churches are Growing.  He said that for a church or denomination to flourish, it has to enforce the brand identity, and to keep telling the members about those core beliefs.

Which is why I was struck when I was linked to an article (from 2000) that pointed out this important point. It related to the Southern Baptist plans to focus evangelism efforts on Chicago that summer. The mainline churches (the ones Kelly was trying to help in his book) complained about the Baptist’s plans.

Members of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago said they asked Southern Baptists to refrain from visiting Chicago because they feared proselytizing might “disrupt the pattern of peaceful interfaith relations in our community.”

Baptists believe that salvation is only possible through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Chicago Council was not so adamant in the exclusivity of the salvation method. They were more concerned about disrupting the structures of mainline churches than creating the kind of fundamental change in people’s spiritual outlook espoused by the Chicago Baptist churches, the local Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene congregations (all of whom were on board with the program).

Kelly said the problem in many small churches is that the leaders like being in charge of an unchallenging congregation. They don’t want to do the work needed to stay vibrant, to reach the lost with the Gospel. They are small, dying churches – he says – because they want to be.

Unless you want your congregation to be a small, dying congregation, you need to be out spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.