As some of you are aware, every week on the FMCIC website and Facebook page we post a link to what we hope is a helpful article. We do it to celebrate Church Health Thursdays – a day that I totally made up but that works. If you haven’t checked them out please do and if you haven’t liked our Facebook page please do.
The reason I bring up Church Health Thursdays is that if you have been following along you have noticed that I have been taken with Thom Rainer’s book Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Rainer has spent many years as a pastor, consultant and researcher. The book was based on some work he had done with churches that ended up closing and anecdotal evidence he had noticed through his many roles. He decided to write about churches that died in the hopes of helping other churches live. He points out symptoms to watch for and challenges pastors, church leaders and church members to work towards a cure. So my thought is over the next couple of blog posts, I will help us all unpack what Dr. Rainer learned – he really is a doctor just not the medical kind.
The first observation Rainer makes is that most churches fail to see their decline in health. In most cases, decline in church health is gradual and as a result people just get used to the “way things are” without realizing how bad things may be getting. In the book, Rainer uses the example of revisiting his hometown and seeing boarded up businesses, tired buildings and unrepaired signs. He asked a childhood friend what had happened to the town and to his surprise his friend had no idea what Rainer was talking about. He hadn’t realized how unhealthy things had gotten.
It’s easy to coast. It’s easy to get used to things. In fact, it’s easy to get used to something that used to bother us but that we could never get around to fixing. But that’s not healthy.
So what can we do to make sure that this slow erosion towards non-health isn’t taking over our churches? Let me restate something I said at General Conference. I would love to see each and every one of our churches conducting a regular “checkup”. I would love to see all of us get into a pattern of slowing down – being serious, intentional and prayerful about the process, asking good questions and gathering pertinent data, implementing responses and then starting the whole pattern all over again – after a period of giving what we have implemented a change to take root. Being intentional about this would be an antidote for erosion. .
It would be great to see our churches develop this type of rhythm as part of their church life. Now, asking honest questions and responding to issues isn’t always easy. There will be change. There will be difficult conversations but we will have a better chance of staying healthy. It’s like your physical checkup. Regular visits to the doctor aren’t always fun and easy but going and then responding to what the doctor tells you are important to maintaining health.
And if you aren’t sure where to start with this church check-up work then take a look at LifePlan or Natural Church Devleopment. And keep your eye on the Church Health section of the FMCIC website. In the near future there will be more information about a couple of other resources that are in the works. Of course, you can always get hold of me too. That’s why I’m here.
Stay tuned for more of the autopsy.
Director of Church Health, FMCIC