Jan. 5, 2021

Welcome Back to our study of Thom Rainer’s book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive! Today we cover chapter 5, and it is a subject that is one that is a concern on most of the churches in the country right now. Today I read that the researchers at the Barna group believe that “1 in 5 churches will cease to exist in 18 months.” It is a scary time to be a church if your eyes are not focused on the right thing or the right Person. Please remember Jesus Himself tells us that He “is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through” Him. This book seeks to sound a warning bell and get our attention to refocus and follow Christ. It is challenging. Climbing a mountain is not easy, and we are trying to climb the mountain of a bell curve and head in the right direction. To do that, difficult decisions must be made. Please know that I am always here to listen. Now for Rainer’s words:

“The Rich Young Ruler and Deceased Churches

You’ve read the text many times. You’ve heard it preached and taught.

A wealthy man approaches Jesus and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus starts with some of the Ten Commandments. Then, in Mark 10:21-22, this exchange takes place: “Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ But he is stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.”

Did you get that?

The man could not let go. He was not merely sad at the prospect of letting go. The text said that he grieved at the thought of giving up his possessions.

We hold on to things because we want our way of life. Our comfort. Our possessions.

That’s what happens to churches that die. They spend for their way of doing church. Their comfort. Their possessions.

Follow the money. You will learn much about a church.

By the way, not all deceased churches died broke. In fact, a few of them had quite the treasure chest when they died. Some had inherited funds. Others accumulated funds.

You don’t have to be broke to be dying. It’s not a matter of how much you have. It’s what you do with your money, or what your attitude is about the money. Some churches hold on to funds because the money itself becomes the focus. They no longer ask how the church can make a difference for the Kingdom with the money. They accumulate because they fear not having enough money.

Like the rich young ruler, they grieve at the thought of doing something with the money for someone beyond themselves. They fear they will not have enough money if they do.

So they die with “enough” money.

The Autopsy Was Clear and Revealing

In all the churches we autopsied, a financial pattern developed over time. The pattern was one where funds were used more to keep the machinery of the church moving, and to keep the members happy, than funding the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

The money, though, was symptomatic of a heart problem. The church cared more for its own needs than the community and the world.

And no church can sustain such an inward focus indefinitely.

It will eventually die of heart failure.

Prayerful Commitment 5

Lord, help me to grasp that all the money I think I have is really Yours. Help me to grasp that all the money our church has is not the church’s, but Yours. Give us healthy giving hearts to use these funds according to Your purpose.

Questions for Further Thought

1. How would the budget and use of funds of a healthy church differ from that of a dying church?

2. How does the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10 inform us about how a church might view money it has?

3. What are some ways churches can move their use of funds from predominantly an inward focus to an outward focus? “

None of this is new to us. We’ve heard the words before. I offer these excerpts as a way of teaching and challenging us (please note that I am saying “us”). God is not done with Community Church (CPC). I truly believe that God has plans. BUT, there are some tough decisions that need to be made for us to move forward. Changes are coming. It is part of my job…to get this church ready for the next chapter…for her next pastor…for Brendan Kavanaugh.

Always seeking God’s will,

Pastor Kimberly

DEC. 22, 2020

Blessings on this 22nd day of December!

Today we continue looking at Thom Rainer’s book, The Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. The title of chapter 4 is “The Church Refused to Look Like the Community.” In just a few short pages, Rainer describes what happened to the fourteen churches that died. It is a familiar story. I have been an eyewitness to a couple of churches that didn’t “refuse”…they just didn’t know how to reach out to the community around them, and now they are no more. Again, Rainer uses strong language to make a point…a really good point! That deserves to be heard and considered.

In Rainer’s words:

Others First = Life. Me First = Death.

When a church ceases to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death. Whenever local churches are mentioned in the New Testament, they are always exhorted to be other-centered.

Paul told the church at Philippi to look after the interests of others even as it considered its own interests: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others “ (Philippians 2:1-4).

Did you get that? Vibrant and living churches look after the interests of others. They are concerned for their communities. They open the door for others.

But dying churches are concerned with self-preservation. They are concerned with a certain way of doing church. They are all about self. Their doors are closed to the community. And even more sadly, most of the members in the dying church would not admit they are closed to those God has called them to reach and minister.

Our autopsy revealed, that at some point in its history, the church stopped reaching and caring for the community.

How could we tell? The church did not look like or reflect the community in which it was located. Or if it did, it stopped ministering to those around them.

God called the church to look outwardly.

Our autopsy revealed that the church had become self-centered and self-gratifying.

Prayerful Commitment 4

God, give my church and me a heart for our community. Let me see the people through Your eyes. And give me the courage and the wisdom to let go of this church, so that others who best reflect this community can lead us and teach us.

Questions for Further Thought

1. Does your church try to reach and minister to its community, even to the point of giving up authority to better reach the people? Explain your “yes” or “no.”

2. When does a church act like a fortress?

3. How does Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian church relate to churches today impacting their communities?

As you read Rainer’s words, if they strike a chord in you, please feel free to email me at pastor@communitypresbyteian.com . Let’s start a dialogue. The worst words ever thought or spoken are … “I wish I had…”

All things in God’s time,

Kimberly L. Merrill

Transitional Minister

Community Presbyterian Church

Vacaville, CA

Isaiah 55:8-9