How do you know when your church is in decline? Are there warning signs? Can the death of a church be avoided? These are some of the helpful and thought provoking questions that Thom S. Rainer seeks to address in Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. This book emerges from Rainer’s own personal experiences working with declining churches as a church consultant and former pastor as well as a study he did of 14 churches that had died and the causes of these churches closing their doors.
If Rainer’s argument were to be summarized with a single point, it would be that when churches lose sight of others and the mission that God has called them to, they will die. This loss of focus could come in many different forms: a focus on ourselves, a focus on our preferences, a focus on the past, or a focus on the status quo. Rainer sights these as well as other barriers as causes for churches to forget the command of the Great Commission, to forget their mission to impact the community, and to forget their purpose. This loss of perspective of a church leads the church to cease to be what the Bible defines a church to be thus leading the church down a path of decline and eventual death.
Though this is a depressing topic, Rainer seeks to frame it in a perspective of humility and hopefulness. Each chapter ends with a prayer, which positions the reader seeking God to work in the church, and some questions for discussion. Rainer also ends the book with some practical ideas for churches that are on the path of death with hopes that God will work in and through the church leadership to bring the church back to life.
Autopsy of a Deceased Church is a very helpful book for church leadership to ask themselves honest questions about where their church stands. It is also a great reminder that a church without mission ceases to be a biblical and life-giving church.