Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. Thom S. Rainer. 2014. B&H. 112 pages. [Source: Review copy]

In Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer discusses the factors that often lead to a church dying. The "autopsy" of sorts is on fourteen churches. His conclusions--his generalizations--are based on fourteen specific churches. For the purposes of this book, he's assuming that the dying churches are not dying for theological or doctrinal issues. He doesn't go there in this book for better or worse.

The first eleven chapters focus on dying churches, on the factors that led to their death, to the closing of their doors. Reading the chapter titles do a good job of giving you a preview. To name just a few:

  • The Past is the Hero
  • The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
  • The Budget Moved Inwardly
  • The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission
  • The Preference-Driven Church
  • The Church Rarely Prayed Together

The final three chapters focus on "12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive." Most churches would fall into one of three categories--in the author's opinion: sick (showing some (early) symptoms of sickness), very sick (have gradually and progressively moved from symptoms of sickness to SEVERE deterioration over several years/decades), and dying. (Technically, this is how he views things: 10% of churches are healthy, 10% of churches are dying, 40% are showing symptoms of sickness, and 40% are very sick. So 90% of churches would "need" to read this book for advice, I suppose!) There is a chapter for sick churches, a chapter for very sick churches, and a chapter for dying churches. Each chapter concludes with 4 pieces of advice.

His advice for very sick churches:

  • The church must admit and confess its dire need.
  • The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary.
  • The church must be willing to change radically.
  • That change must lead to action and an outward focus.

Autopsy of A Deceased Church is a short, practical book. The chapters are reader-friendly. The topic is serious, of course, but the writing style is relaxed and straight forward. Each chapter ends with a prayer and questions for further thought. I think the book is so reader-friendly that even non-readers (those who don't willingly pick up books) interested in the topic will find it of value.

Does it cover everything? Is it exhaustive on the subject? No. Of course not. For one thing, it excludes unhealthy churches with doctrinal issues. A practical book on how to help a divided church where half the members are conservative and half the members are liberal--doctrinally speaking--would be welcome! The book also fails to dwell on gossip, slander, and fighting. A practical book on how to help a church with toxic members would also be welcome. (Though if such a book existed, I fear, it would be read by people who point fingers. SO-AND-SO needs to read this book. I'll read this book with SO-AND-SO in mind. It describes SO-AND-SO so very well!!! It's like the author has sat by him/her during service. I fear even if it was subtitled: Yes, this book is for YOU, it would be misread.) So don't expect the book to cover every single situation and problem.

The book has plenty of substance. But. I will say that most of it is commonsense. It's not exactly "new" information or "new" advice. It's good advice nevertheless.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Annette said...

20 copies of the book were circulated to members at my church. I'm unsure of the number of people who read the book but I'm guessing greater than 30. Our church is very sick, dying. It's focus is inward/selfish. Members have turned on each other by gossiping, slander, suspicion, hostility, arguing, abuse. Disrespect is shown to the church staff including the pastor. It's a very sad state. In our zip code there are at least 3 churches in serious trouble.
I'm grieved because I know this grieves God. I'm reminded of something Anne Graham Lotz said several years ago at a teaching rally. Anne said, "people are living and dying and going to Hell because they do not know Jesus Christ as their savior." I'm reminded of what she said often when I think about our neighborhood. Our church is arguing about petty ridiculous stuff, spewing venomous hatred to each other, when there are people in our neighborhood that need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We have a new pastor. Changes have begun. Soon he and I and a few others will begin going out in to the neighborhood to share the Gospel. But I am concerned. When these people that we've shared the Gospel with come to visit our church, they will not see the love of Christ displayed in us. Heavy sigh.