"As a general rule, I would say that human beings never behave more badly toward one another than when they believe they are protecting God.” ― Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith link
Recently, I read Seven Common Reasons Churches Have a Dramatic Decline in Attendance which was written by Thom Rainer on his blog and then linked to by The Gospel Coalition.
Who is Thom Rainer?
According to his website:
Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period.
He has also authored a number of books. His focus appears to be church membership, church issues, and church membership/attendance. I read his posts regularly so let me give him props for one thing. Although he appears to be in the camp in which "the pastor can do no wrong," he does allow for comments which disagree with his perspective and he often replies to comments under his posts.
That being said, his perspective appears skewed towards "The pastor is always good always good (especially if he is a Calvinist.) and "Naughty church cabals always make life difficult for good, Calvinist pastors, especially if they are from SBTS." This perspective was quite evident in Seven Common Reasons Churches Have a Dramatic Decline in Attendance.
Thom Rainer's 7 Reasons for serious attendance decline in a specific church.
(My numbering system is different than Rainer's system).
A few of these reasons are common sense and need little explanation.
- A church scandal
- The departure of a major employer in town. Think about a military base which closes.
- A new church moves into town with all the bells and whistles like children's programs that the older church doesn't have.
These next four reasons should be of particualr interest to TWW readers.
4. A sudden departure of a pastor or staff person.
Look at the example he gives.
I am familiar with a church where the average attendance dropped from 1,250 to 850 in just a few weeks when a malevolent power group in the church forced the pastor out. The congregation never heard a reasonable reason for the departure because there was none.
Why doesn't he mention the pastor who suddenly get a *call* from God to go to a new church which is offering him much more money, seminary appointments and increased national exposure on the conference and book writing circuits? Why the drama? Malevolent? Seriously?
5. The church changes its position on a major biblical/moral issue.
He claims tmembership declines occurs when there are major doctrinal changes, especially if they involve moral issues. We discuss this more indepth in the rest of the post. Look at how he words this. "The church changes its position." Unfortunately, it is not usually the church that is changing its position. It is usually the new pastor and a few key people who are forcing a change on doctrinal and/or moral issues. Often times, the church membership have no idea about the games that are being played behind their backs. They are not included because "they just don't get it." That is why we write this blog. We think that the Spirit is in the lives of the members and, in fact, by overriding them, the pastors are harming the chuch.
6. A power group continues to wreak havoc in a church.
Rainer claims this is a common occurrence which cause pastors to leave the church and then, eventually, lots of people to leave the church.
The same power group opposes any change again and again.
This particular claim should be backed up with real life experiences. Of course, there are churches with power groups. Some of them can be bad. However, if they are really bad, decent members and pastors will leave and the church will die. The free market exists for the church as well. Why fight it? Shake the dust off your feet and move on. Go somewhere where you are wanted.
However, some power groups made up of church members are actually good.
Long time members who have the best interests of the church at heart should take ownership of the church and protect it when a rogue pastor or a small group of people appear suddenly and attempt to change the entire doctrinal emphasis of the church.
We know of 4 churches in our area, with good power groups, which did just that. The good power groups were there to protect the church and the agreed upon doctrinal stance of their church. There were 4 new pastors who did not disclose the fact that they intended to change the entire direction of the church from Arminianism to Calvinism. They were not straight with the church search committees. (Can we say deceptive?) One pastor succeeded and you know the story-Andy Davis and First Baptist Church, Durham. Two of the churches we cannot discuss at this time. The fourth was First Baptist Church Rocky Mount.
If you read those stories, you will find that the pastors claimed that the church members who opposed them were wicked, unregenerate, gossips, unBiblical, and on and on. I guess Rainer's term "malevolent" would sum up their descriptions. However, is it a fair assessment? TWW believes that the so called *power groups* in those churches were attempting to do the right thing.
I would contend that Rainer is (deliberately?) overlooking the biggest power group of all-the pastor and his friends. I believe that this is the real problem that is not discussed in Rainer's post. Why are we assuming that the guy behind the pulpit holds the *good* power and the people who love and serve the church but disagree with the pastor hold the *bad power?* Until Rainer addresses this, his assessments are *skinny* and incomplete, to say the least.
7. A highly contentious business meeting.
Apparently, conflict is roiling under the surface, a business meeting comes up, it blows up and people walk out. If this happens, I would say it was bound to happen at anytime. In my opinion, everybody, including the pastor, just let things go too far for too long. This is an example of profound leadership mismanagement. Maybe that is a church that deserves to die.
What is missing from Rainer's post
I bet you know what I am going to say. Declines in membership can occur when the pastor has an agenda that is not supported by many in the church, knows it and proceeds with it anyway. He then expects everyone to submit instantaneously to his superior knowledge because he spent 3 years in seminary, was a youth pastor for 2 years and is now, at the ripe age of 28, the purveyor of all that is godly.
Frankly, I am becoming weary of the same old meme. "Godly pastors are being run down by members who are the tools of Satan." Pastors sin as much as the members of their churches. Sadly, church leadership structures and teaching makes it obligatory for members to *submit to the pastor" even if he is a jackass.
This commenter on the post discussed the change in doctrine to Calvinism and the subsequent church membership covenant problem.
Here is another person who brings up a church discipline problem that tore a church apart. Why should we assume that the church discipline was justified? Can we say "Karen Hinkley? Maybe it was abusive and abusive church discipline can cause peopleto flee a church.
I think that some church power groups can have a positive effect on churches. I think the *researchers* out there need to look into groups that work and why they do.
I think some pastors are fearful of members who do form alliances since those alliances can be powerful. Why are pastors afraid of sharing their power? Is that perspective Biblical?
I believe that many churches are currently experiencing turmoil due to the insistence of doctrinal and membership changes by young Calvinist pastors. Are these young pastors unable to compromise their *playbook* and still minister effectively? If not, why not? I bet that an Arminian pastor could effectively pastor a Calvinist. I have been in churches where this is true. Can't the reverse happen?
Here is a question that I have for Thom Rainer and those who read him.