Thom Rainer. Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 102 pp. $12.99.
Church and Ministry
Thousands of churches are dying or die every year. Is yours one of them? Would you know the signs?
The church dying process is nearly imperceptible. It involves slow erosion. When attune to the signs, you will recognize when your church is heading towards death.
This is precisely why you should read Autopsy of a Deceased Church. In this solemn little book, Thom Rainer, President and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, takes 14 dead church congregations and performs an autopsy on them. The result of his findings is this brief and direct resource. Autopsy of a Deceased Church discloses 10 contributing factors to churches in decline and 12 responses a church may make.
Admittedly, this is a gloomy subject. But death is inescapable and inevitable for many churches; this subject must be broached. But I would be remiss to not share what Rainer affirms about the Church; though a local congregation may die, “Certainly the universal church will never die. Jesus made that abundantly clear” (99). He then references Matthew 16:18, “On this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” This offers a glimpse of hope. But glimpses are only realized if churches invest energy towards prayer and honest audits resulting in obedience.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Rainer shares that only 10% of churches are healthy, 40% indicate symptoms of sickness, another 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying (86). Those are grave projections, especially considering that 40% constitutes 150,000 churches. These are grave enough projections to assert that 100% of churches will benefit from Autopsy of a Deceased Church.
This book awakens us to pursue a regular church health checkup. Leaders will consider critical subjects like: church nostalgia, community absence, inwardly focused budgets, pastoral tenure and many other contributing factors towards church death. As you read, consider your church’s conviction of obedience to the gospel mandate. I felt the weight of this bold statement: “So perhaps ‘Great Commission amnesia’ is really too kind…Perhaps it would be more truthful to say these dying churches had ‘Great Commission disobedience’” (43). May we never contribute to this tragedy!
Before you become too forlorn, rest assure, this examination of church corpses not only helps see causes of death, but it helps discover how to preserve life. You can count on this book encouraging a missional (28), Christ-minded (50), prayer-oriented (66), gospel-centered (75), and eternally focused mindset (84).
Finally, As Rainer explains, “[There] are no magical, easy fix solutions” (85). But prayer and evaluation are essential first steps churches must make to proceed from dying to thriving. Thus, each chapter closes with two noteworthy features: the Prayerful Commitment and Questions for Further Thought sections. These sections are tailored to the contents of the chapter. You’ll want to take advantage of these features.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church will prompt preventative reconditioning before autopsy is necessary.