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Book: Why Churches Die

I recently read Why Churches Die by Mac Brunson & Ergun Caner.
It’s a very easy to read book for the layperson – in fact, I read it thru in one day. The authors are pastors and write from their own experience about types of problems in the spiritual and social dynamics that kill or hinder churches spiritually. Each chapter presents a common problem with real life examples, and then attempt to connect it to a biblical example. Sometimes the discussions of biblical examples could be more succinct and to the point, and at times, they are forced, e.g., the example of Demas deserting the apostle Paul – forced, since very little is known about Demas, so applying it to specific church problems is forced.

Otherwise, they do a good job descriptively of pointing out some common problems, and that’s the strength of the book. Some of the common problems described include legalism, bitterness and unforgiveness, the spiritually dry and coasting syndrome, spiritual atrophy, gossiping, spiritual short-sightedness, lack of spiritual development, obsessive-compulsive spiritual service, stubbornness, and hard-heartedness. As ministers of several Baptist churches, they’ve had quite a bit of experience, and so they have some practical qualifications to write about these issues. Their discussion and analysis is quite balanced, accurate, and biblical, albeit not terribly analytically in-depth or theologically profound.

However, discussion of solutions is probably too brief and simplistic, as these are deep rooted problems. Detailed, real life examples of churches that got turned around would be better than simple suggested solutions. So for church leaders, the discussion of potential solutions is too superficial. But this is probably better for the average church going layperson, in diagnosing churches they are visiting and thinking of joining, or wrestling with a decision to leave a problematic church. So the problems seem resolvable, and is the leadership able to handle the problems, and are they committed enough to doing so? Or might the problems be intractable, or unlikely to be resolved properly? And thus, should I stay, or should I blow? (in the words of the famous song). This book could help church goers in making crucial decisions over joining or leaving a church, and that’s probably the main usefulness of the book for the average layperson.

Of course, it’s not possible to discuss even all the major problems of spiritual dynamics that churches can find themselves in. One major problem is that of leaders who misuse power and/or who are proud, insensitive, or difficult. But then, their perspective is that of two well respected, competent, mature pastors, who themselves probably don’t have such problems themselves. In my experience, the things that have kept me from joining a church / fellowship, or encouraged me to leave, are things like: spiritual exclusiveness and denominational pride (feeling that one’s tradition / denomination is superior to others, anti-Catholicism, anti-charismatic dogma, and such forms of judgmentalism), excessive focus on secondary or minor or speculative doctrines and teachings; more emphasis on loyalty to the organization or leaders rather than to Christ; lack of interpersonal honesty; superficial relationships among members or small group members; and of course, legalistic leaders and other leadership problems.

Not all is to be taken as discouraging. I’ve certainly been blessed by a number of great churches and fellowships in my lifetime, groups that God has really used. When you encounter a dysfunctional one, seriously consider getting out. If you are not in a position to change things, then don’t sacrifice your own spiritual life if things aren’t going to change. But on the other hand, bad experiences with a dysfunctional body can be a good lesson, a good lens thru which to examine yourself. You may not be dysfunctional as a bad group you’ve left, but nonetheless it’s worthwhile to ask yourself, “Do I every have any such tendencies?” Sure you do. We’re all sinners. As some time you and I have probably had bad tendencies like those that are so prominent in groups that we didn’t like and left. So it’s good to always probe yourself. “Am I ever insensitive like that?” I have to ask myself. Or proud. Or stubborn. Or legalistic. Or dishonest with others. Like me, if you’re honest with yourself, you won’t like the answer you hear. Such is a good lens to provide ourselves opportunities for self-reflection and repentance.

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