Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Book reviews are something that haven’t made it into my blog so far.  So, I am fairly new at this endeavor even though reading is a favorite pastime of mine.  My personal library is in my house and it is growing because of my reignited passion for actual books instead of on my kindle (iPad gives me a headache anymore).  Here is my first book review on the blog.

This year Thom Rainer, CEO and president of LifeWay, published a book entitled “Autopsy of a

Deceased Church.”  In it he writes about his research done by interviews with members of churches that are no longer alive.  The symptoms and causes of decline and decease are all given a chapter that builds on the idea that a church’s death is more like a “slow erosion.”  By the end of the book (which is only 102 pages long) he finally moves from the causes of church death to twelve thought patterns that have to occur to help a dying church.  Actually, the last four are not how to view a dying church in order to revive it but ideas of what to do with the dead church property so that new life can come from others.  Overall it is decent quick read.  My first quick read only took a few hours and I gained some insights.

The Good…
One overall theme stood out to me in the book that I took away as the main cause of church decline and death.  That is a focus on self.  The reoccurring thought is that “they looked inwardly instead of outwardly.”  Whether the presenting cause was in the past, bad-community outlook, selfish budgeting, no outreach, and more (usually more or the issues), the underlying theme is that churches can expect to decline when they focus on themselves.  This comes in many ways but once a church turns inward there may be growth in who is there but nobody new from the outside is going in.

The Not-so Good…
There are two things I would like to have seen addressed and one issue I think rises up with the book.  The first of the two things that needs addressed is that only fourteen churches were studied (albeit not everyone would agree to being interviewed about their dead church).  I have read estimation of 3,000 to 4,000 churches in North America close their doors each year.  I find it hard to believe that fourteen churches could be seen as the pattern for those.  Rainer does however state that he is relying on those fourteen churches and his years of experience as a church consultant.  I do trust his expertise in this area.  But this leads me to the second thing needing to be addressed.

He assures the read that the churches were different sizes, different denominations and did not have a major crises or moral failure to point out for an abrupt church death.  One thing though that jumps out to me is that the fourteen churches all seem to be very traditional in nature.  I do not see much evidence to think that any of these churches would be considered contemporary.  It made me feel that only traditional churches die.  That’s what raises up an issue for the book.  Rainer makes no apologies for the reasons these churches died (I do appreciate the bluntness).  But I do think that it will strike a chord of division with readers from a more traditional background.  They will read and find examples (like I have in my mind) of traditionally oriented churches that are thriving and push back against the symptoms.  I would of liked more detail about the churches researched, and I think it would of helped if there was some research shown of more contemporary oriented churches to balance it out.

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