Seven Sins of Dying Churches

Recently, I have been reading Essential Church? Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts by authors, Thom S. Rainer and Sam Rainer III. It’s a good read for pastors and other congregational leaders who are concerned about the rise in generational decline within local churches across America. The book compiles information gathered from studies that reveal a staggering fact: Over two-thirds of young churchgoing adults in America drop out of church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two.

Here are the ten most common reasons the dechurched said they left the church between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two:

1. Simply wanted a break from church.
2. Church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical.
3. Moved to college and stopped attending church.
4. Work responsibilities prevented me from attending.
5. Moved too far away from the church to continue attending.
6. Became too busy though still wanted to attend.
7. Didn’t feel connected to the people in my church.
8. Disagreed with the church’s stance of political or social issues.
9. Chose to spend more time with friends outside the church.
10. Was only going to church to please others.

The study concluded that churchgoing students drop out of church because it is “not essential to their lives.”

Essential Church? identifies seven sins of dying churches that serve as the driving factors behind losing the generational battle – the battle for every generation to see the significance of the church.

Sin 1: Doctrine Dilution
“Teaching anything less than the absolute truths in Scripture will make the younger generation feel betrayed when they learn that a large gap exists between what the Bible really says and what they were taught in church” (16).

Sin 2: Loss of Evangelistic Passion
“Dying churches have little evangelistic passion. It is the responsibility of the pastor and other key leaders to exhibit this evangelistic passion” (17).

Sin 3: Failure to be Relevant
“Churches that do not find ways to become relevant in their respective communities will eventually falter. Churches that keep their internal culture unchanged for fifty years while the world around them goes through continual periods of metamorphosis typically die with the old culture” (17).

Sin 4: Few Outwardly Focused Ministries
“As crucial as Bible studies and fellowship are, dying churches gorge themselves on closed study groups and churchwide fellowship events while neglecting outreach in the community. Dying churches heavily skew their ministries internally” (18).

Sin 5: Conflict over Personal Preferences
“People within the church can squabble over the most insignificant things (pews, seats, sofas, style of newsletters and bulletins, etc.). When the church focuses on trivial matters, the greater gospel message is left on the sidelines” (18).

Sin 6: The Priority of Comfort
“Dying churches are comfortable with their ministries. They do nothing outside the bounds of their comfort levels” (19). These churches are often plagued with the attitude, “That’s the way we’ve always done it!”

Sin 7: Biblical Illiteracy
“We are to be diligent to present ourselves to God, workers not needing to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). If a church member does not understand the basics of Scripture, then they are hampered in their witness” (19).

May we prayerfully join hands and hearts for our churches that we steer clear of committing these sins that lead to failure in reaching, retaining, and if necessary, reclaiming those who become church dropouts.



Filed under Book Review, Brett

7 responses to “Seven Sins of Dying Churches

  1. Richard, I appreciate your thoughtful response. For the sake of space please allow me to respond to points where I disagree. If you would like to pursue further discussion feel free to send an email to

    1.) This first criticism is the foundation on which all others are built. Like building a house, the foundation is chiefly important. A poor foundation yields a structurally compromised house. John’s Prologue teaches that Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us (John 1:14). Jesus is the Word and He viewed the Bible as the written voice of God. That’s good enough for me. In the Gospels alone we have nearly 100 Old Testament quotations from the lips of Jesus. Had he not viewed the Bible as the authoritative word of God, perhaps he would have used the works of Josephus instead. Jesus used the Bible correctly against the Pharisees incorrect use of the Bible. He did not say, “Well, that doesn’t apply anymore.” He said, “Have you not read?…”

    2.) You cannot separate reconciliation from faith/belief in the Son. Again, we need a pure understanding that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God that teaches us how we (as sinners) can be reconciled to a holy God. There are many references, but consider these: John 3 (Nicodemus) – believe is found 7 times in verses 1-21. John 11 (Lazarus) – believe is found 7 times in verses 1-46. Jesus makes it clear that life in Him (reconciliation with God) can only occur through faith. Paul continues: Rom. 3:21-26 (“…the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Eph. 2:8-9 (“…by grace you have been saved through faith…”). Peter continues: 1 Pet. 1:17-21 (…”so that your faith and hope are in God.”).

    3.) Churches pursue incorporation not for business reasons but for legal reasons. Regrettably we live in a day of locked church doors, covert bank deposits, etc. It’s not a matter of financial gain. Some churches pursue incorporation because it provides some legal protection against members being sued, while others because the campus is a Christian school during the week. We are to financially support the ministry, one another, and the poor. These are non-negotiable.

    4.) When greater emphasis is given to the number of members and financial contributors, your criticism is appropriate. Numbers are used to monitor ministry effectiveness. For example, it’s helpful to know how many unchurched people there are in the community where you serve or how many people your church baptized and discipled last year. The Bible teaches that corporate worship should be a priority in the life of a believer. Perhaps, you are either claiming authority over every church (I’ll refrain) – or you are using the Bible’s authority (which is inconsistent).

    5.) Agreed. But, you are using the Bible to make your case. Therefore, you need to revise point one (and two).

    6.) The Pharisees could not “hear” Jesus not because they claimed to have the truth. Rather, because they held to something they thought was true, but was not. They should have submitted to the Truth – Jesus Christ. The issue is not whether we claim to know truth or not, but whether we actually have the truth or not. Certainly, those who follow Jesus have the truth. And so again, where else could we possibly know the truth about Christ other than from His Word? Since Scripture, the Word of God, testifies of Christ and His Gospel, it is mere arrogance to claim that man’s understanding of reality trumps that of God’s.

    7.) In the case of churches that reject Scripture as their authority and elevate Tradition to its place, you are spot on. But, for churches that hold to the authority of Scripture as God’s word, this criticism falls woefully flat. If a church should not use Scripture as its authority (Word of God), then how could any church have what you refer to as, “truth itself?” We cannot manufacture truth, especially truth about God. It must be revealed to us. We arrive at one option: your criticisms need a non-compromised foundation.Brett Marlowe

  2. I would replace the list completely. These are the things retarding the church.

    1.) Bibliolatry: reverencing the Bible to the point where we view the Bible literally as the very authority of God himself. We do well to remember that the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus day had their Bible which makes up more than half of our Bible, and they used it to disqualify Jesus the Messiah.

    2.) A False Gospel: A message that seeks to win an argument about what to believe rather than encourage people to be reconciled to God.

    3.) Incorporation: A financial philosophy that turns the church into a business venture and away from being the household of faith.

    4.) Numbers Oriented The corporate mentality that has overtaken the church puts the emphasis on number of members and givers and the financial position of the church. The correct emphasis should be on faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in difficult times.

    5.) Materialism. Where the treasure is there is the heart also. If we value temporal things, we fail to benefit from the true treasure of God’s gifts.

    6.) Closed Mindedness. If we say we have the truth, we are like the Pharisees that Jesus faced. They could not hear the spirit in Jesus’ words because they closed there minds to the truth that went against their beliefs.

    7.) Traditionalism The church loves the traditions of men more than they love the truth. That is to say they love their idea of the truth not truth itself.

  3. thank you, i'll let you know when i'm done so you can read it and share it in spanish 🙂

  4. la pausa inutil: thank you for visiting the blog and for sharing your kind words. Blessings!

  5. ey, i loved this article, may translate it to spanish and post it in my blog?

  6. A. Amos Love, I do not understand the full meaning of your comment, especially the statements about pastoral leadership in the Bible. Certainly passages like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9 are not hypothetical musings from the Apostle Paul. In fact, Titus 1:5 seems to directly contradict your claim. He instructed Titus to appoint pastors in every town. One other passage that seems relevant here is Ephesians 4:11-14. Pastors are a gift from Christ to the Church.Now, I do not believe anyone will argue that Pastors are perfect or perfectly uphold these qualifications in all situations. But the men who served as Pastors in the New Testament churches were certainly not perfect either. So, again, I am unclear as to the point of your statements.It could be that the church or tradition you are familiar with has particularly failed to hold Pastors accountable as under-shepherds under Christ. If that is the case, friend, I grieve for you. And I would simply encourage you to seek a faith family that is led by a man or a group of men who recognize their own sinfulness and weakness – but who confess that Christ's strength is made perfect in their weakness. It is only in that spirit that the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace can be exalted.Jason Sturkie

  7. This first one is enough for me, for most.Sin 1: Doctrine Dilution"Teaching anything less than the absolute truths in Scripture will make the younger generation feel betrayed when they learn that a large gap exists between what the Bible really says and what they were taught in church" (16).Every – church of man – 501 (c) 3, Religious Corporation had a "Pastor/Leader."In the Bible, NO one had the "Title" and "Position" of "Pastor/Leader."In the Bible, NOT one person was called "Pastor/Leader."In the Bible, NOT one congregation was "Led" by a "Pastor/Leader."And every "Pastor/Leader" I've met had the "Title" Reverend?In the Bible, NOT one person had the "Title" Reverend.And what about qualifications for elders/overseers?Must be blameless… Ouch!!!That's a tough list and their children must qualify also. Yes?I never met an elder/overseer who lived up to those qualifications.They were always big on – Obey and submit to your leaders – elders.But NOT very big on – Submitting “One to Another”They just wanted me to – Pray, Pay and Obey.Elders/overseers seem to conveniently forget about…1 -NOT lording it over “Disciples of Christ” God's heritage.2 -Being in lowliness of mind.3 -“Esteeming others better” than themselves.4 – Submitting “One to Another”5 – Preferring others before themselves.6 – Being clothed with humility.7 – NOT execising authority over “Disciples of Christ.”How could they take that "Position" knowing they don't qualify?And they wonder why people are leaving.

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