Why Churches Die

November 30, 2015

Like people, churches age and grow old! Every one of us has visited churches that have seen better days; days when the worship was vibrant, the teaching was inspired, souls were saved, and faith was bold.

But over time the worship became predictable, the teaching formal, converts rare, and lethargy took over. On the surface things looked the same. But there was no longer a sense of God’s power & presence! The former “glory had departed.” (1 Samuel 4:21)

Why does this happen? The gravitational pull of human nature that corrupts a movement, into a ministry, into a machine, and finally a lifeless monument.

Every true work of God begins as a movement; the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that flows like a tsunami, picking up everything in its path and carrying it forward. No lone individual can be credited with what happens. God is moving powerfully, spontaneously, simultaneously and wonderfully. On the surface it may look like confusion. Yet, there is orderliness. Souls are saved, lives are changed, miracles happen, love overflows, and joy erupts into worship. God is moving sovereignly in and through a group of people who are wholly surrendered to His will.

Eventually there arises the need to organize what God is doing. We identify leaders, choose a name, draw up charters and by-laws, buildings are purchased, and staff is hired. Almost overnight, the movement has matured into a ministry.

This is not bad, as long as ministry continues to minister. Yet invariably over time there is a subtle shift. The ministry no longer exists only to minister, but also to perpetuate itself. The measure of success moves from faith, hope and love, to more tangible items like bucks, buildings and bodies! A good Sunday is no longer one in which the Holy Spirit moves in power and lives were changed, but one in which the giving was strong and the attendance was up.

That’s when ministry metastasizes into a machine. Operational efficiency becomes more important than spiritual effectiveness. The value of the individual begins to diminish as the “whole” becomes more important than the “parts.” Protecting the institution, its reputation and assets, is more vital than the welfare of people. “Sins” are covered up for the greater good; humility is replaced by pride; power becomes more important than prayer; “truth” becomes selective and flexible; and loyalty to God becomes synonymous with loyalty to the organization.

Machines eventually stop working, and eventually become monuments to the past. In reality, “the glory has departed.” (1 Samuel 4:21) Loyal souls may continue to plug along, but without a continuous infusion of resources, it will crumble overnight.

Is this inevitable? No. But avoiding it requires the kind of personal honesty that prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and… see if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24) If we listen and repent, our faith will never grow old and He will continue to move.

Pastor Ken Ortize