8 Warning Signs of the Most Common Factor in Declining Churches – Rainer on Leadership #068

Podcast Episode #068

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The most common factor found in declining churches is an inward focus. When a church is only focused on itself, it will begin to fight amongst itself. However, when it is outwardly focused the bickering usually ceases. Some highlights from this week’s show:

  • The true sign that a church is outwardly focused is that it is consistently doing things in the community.
  • Fighting at church business meetings hasn’t necessarily decreased. But the frequency of business meetings has.
  • Any time you lead, you’re going to be criticized. It comes with the territory.
  • I had a church member tell me “You are leading too many people to Christ. Our church is changing too much.”
  • What year is it in your church?
  • We should revere the past, but we should not worship the past.
  • Culture is not the enemy. It is an opportunity.

The eight specific warning signs we discuss are:

  1. There are very few attempts to minister to those in the community.
  2. Church business meetings become arguments over preferences and desires.
  3. Numbers of members in the congregation are openly critical of the pastor, other church staff, and lay leaders in the church.
  4. Any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance.
  5. The past becomes the hero.
  6. Culture is seen as the enemy instead of an opportunity for believers to become salt and light.
  7. Pastors and other leaders in the church become discouraged and withdraw from effective leadership.
  8. If the churches are a part of a denomination or similar affiliation, meetings of those denominations mirror the churches in lost focus and divisiveness.

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This week’s podcast is brought to you by Pastors Today. This weekly newsletter provides pastors with resources and information from around the web written specifically for pastors. For more information and to subscribe, visit lifeway.com/pastorstoday.


If you have a question you would like answered on the show, fill out the form on the podcast page here at ThomRainer.com. If we use your question, you’ll receive a free copy of Autopsy of a Deceased Church.



  1. says

    Thanks Thom for you willingness to share you wisdom. As a Pastor who is trying to walk a church through revitalization it means a lot. – We still have a long way to go but it seems we are headed in the right direction. I just wish it would hurry up :)

  2. Reginald Gabel says

    Example number 8… being Southern Baptist I don’t see our Assoc, State or SBC meeting mirroring what I see happening in our church and several around us. Followed a pastor who was here for 33 years. At the high point they were running 150 in worship. Actually very good for the area, FBC runs 250. Just before he left they were down to 35. After 20 months I see some light, we are up to 60 but some are really fighting new people coming in. As you said, the past is the Hero… “don’t move a flower, a picture, or a toy, for they will come back one day and we want them to see we have not changed”….

  3. Marcellus de Oliveira says

    Thank you so much for this article. I am a pastor of 4 churches district of the same denomination. Two of the churches (door to door) are exactly 4.5 (four POINT five) miles from each other in a 10 people city. Tradition and the concern of ‘caring for the purity of the church’ has been one of many excuse not to merge the two churches together. Sadly, the average age of the two churches are about 62 years of age.

    My strategy, and God forgive me if I am wrong, is to focus my attention and efforts on the only church in the district that is willing to be involved in its community and in proclaiming the Gospel.

    God’s call for you to write these articles has become a blessings to uncountable numbers of pastors. Thank you for your ministry and may God bless you and your family!

  4. Russ says

    I had a board member tell me I talk about salvation too much and that we were suppose to be a church for believers. Let other churches get people saved and we will get them filled with the Spirit. As they say on ESPN: “C’mon man!”

    • Sammy says

      I cannot believe what I am reading. I am truly in fear for the people in this country who think they are “saved”. I just purchased Thom Rainer’s book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”. I am convinced Jesus lead me to read his book, and give me this book as confirmation of what I have found.

      I gave my soul over to Jesus in 1984. I am an orphan (from birth) and a now a widow. (No, not from sin of mine, maybe my parents sin against me) After my husband went to be with the Lord, I relocated from the Northeast to the Southeast. Only one church up North helped me out, due to losing everything, house cars, etc. My husband continued to get turned down for life insurance for me. The Salvation Army was the only place who opened their doors for me as a single woman and did not tell me, “Now, you have to leave.” I needed time to get back on my feet. It takes time to find employment without a vehicle. No one would give me that time that I needed. It was all about them only.

      So, now I am in the southeast, and I am finding it to be worse. Without a car, it is very difficult to get to church. I found a church that I thought I wanted to continue to go to. I emailed them at least four times asking for a ride. All four times, no answer. How many attend this church? 8,000 people. The ONLY people that are in the communities knocking on doors are the Jehovah Witnesses.
      I cried to the Lord, “Where are the Christians, Lord”? They are so isolated, and then when you go to these churches everyone is insulated.

      Thom Rainer’s blog and his book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church”, is my confirmation. I am very careful to whom I send money to.

      Also, I am finding many believers that are exiled from the local church.

      I want to share something else with you all. A few weeks back, while I was waiting for buses, the Lord came to me. These were HIS exact words, “I am coming against this Nation”.

      IF you believe that Jesus is alive, and you want to say you are a follower of HIM. Please repent.

      We all need to repent of our selfish, wicked ways, and obey HIM if HE is your Lord and Savior. Christians in the United States need to REPENT and obey Jesus Christ.

      Thank you so very much Mr. Rainer!

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