Thursday, December 31, 2009

Churches: How To Die Well?

There are two things certain in life, they say: death and taxes. Well, churches aren't taxed (yet) and so we might as well talk about church death.

There is an interesting post over at the Resurgence blog this morning, Seasons of Church Life. It speaks of the stages a church goes through, including gestation, birth, infancy, adolescence, maturity, parenting, grandparenting, death, and resurrection.

In the section entitled "death," Driscoll writes that a church has two choices:

One, the church can deny its impending death, which may be many years out, sell off its assets such as land to prolong its death, redefine its mission to defend its death, and simply hold on as it slowly and painfully dies, often rewriting the best years of its history so as to feel significant and successful. Or two, the church can embrace its impending death as an opportunity to resurrect.

Driscoll then goes on to explain "resurrection" as basically replanting the church: giving the building and assetts to another (younger, healthier) church, etc.

What I find interesting here is the "certainty of death." Having been part of several denominations or "movements," and having studied church history, I've learned that healthy churches and movements tend to die eventually. In the best case (!) this means aging out; in the worst cases it means slowly but surely ushering the Holy Spirit out the door by denying the Scriptures, the gospel, and genuine discipleship.

This should concern any church leader, whether pastor, elder, or denominational leader.

Let's face it, fear it, and pray about it: On a denominational level, there are few denominations that are able to sustain faithfulness to Jesus over a long, long haul. All you have to do is look around and see the husks of formerly vibrant churches and denominations to know this.

I think that in confronting this reality Driscoll opens up a great topic of conversation.

Here are my questions.

1) What are the signs of life and sickness in my own denomination?
2) When a church begins to lose its vitality, are there options other than those Driscoll provides? (Turning over the keys or death. Or we might say, "replant, revitalize, or die.")
3) I understand how a church would need to replant or revitalize with fresh vision and leadership. But how does a denomination do this?
4) To what degree is this an American evangelical phenomenon?


Jeff said...

I'm a little troubled by Driscoll saying that a church that is not seeing conversion growth or attracting young leadership needs to humble itself and die. Sounds like Driscoll is appointing himself as the death panel, and my small, aging congregation better look out!

What happened to the word, sacraments and discipline being the marks of a healthy church?

Ken said...


No, he says they have to humble themselves and resurrect! A church with aging members only has three options, right? Grow through evangelism, grow through transfer growth (only a short term solution), or shrink a little bit more each time the Lord calls someone home to glory.

Also: YOU are the young leader. Praise God for this. Embrace it!


Buddy said...

Good post. From where I sit, the scenarios painted are all too real. I do believe that churches, denominations and institutions have life cycles. It is possible for a dying church to have a future if they are able to dream a new dream. That is a difficult thing to do and it will not last as long the original dream. I do know of some very healthy and thriving situations where a church was closed, left empty and then a new group used the facility as a restart. However, I have found that each situation is unique and it is rare for an older group to "turn over the keys." Too bad, because that is a Kingdom decision.