Don’t Miss The Warning Signs

Don’t Miss The Warning Signs (Of An Unhealthy Church)

It’s likely that you or someone you know has been to the doctor for a physical, only to be surprised when the doctor delivered bad news. Many people miss the warning signs concerning their health. The same thing applies to the church. A church and its members are often surprised when they find out that the future is uncertain or that the church is unhealthy. The reason for this is because they don’t know the warning signs to look for.

I recently spent time with a group of pastors in the East TN region and the issue of diagnosing the church health was the topic of conversation. In this post I’d like to share with you, the members of New Union, some warning signs or characteristics of an unhealthy church.

  1. The members value their preferences over the needs of the unreached in their community and the world.

This usually takes place when a church is resistant to new ideas, new ministries, or new opportunities to reach the lost and un-churched in the community. Resistance to change often takes shape when a church holds on to programs and/or events that have ceased to be useful in making a difference in the lives of others.

God’s Word and His mission for each Christian and the church is unchanging. But, there are seasons in every church when, as it grows, it has to use a new wineskin to contain what the Lord is doing. Old wineskins are dry and cannot hold fresh wine, they eventually burst and are destroyed. The resistance of a church to the new ways God leads in the same directions will result in the loss of God’s glory as the church eventually declines.

  1. The church depends on personalities and programs for growth and stability rather than the leadership of the Holy Spirit and being faithful to God’s Word.

Spiritual growth and transformation is not the result of personality or programming. God is the one who causes the growth in the heart of a person. The church should be led by men and women who exhibit godly characteristics as prescribed in the Bible, rather than on how important they are in the community or popular they are in the church.

Churches that grow for the long-term base the future on Scripture and create simple processes that allow for different personalities to lead and be effective.

  1. The leaders of the church focus more on caring for the facility than for the members and the community.

A church is in a dangerous place when the main topic of its leaders is the care of the building, pews, and parking lot instead of the members and the community.

  1. The current leaders are unable to pass on leadership to the next generation or make room for younger leaders to have a voice.

As a church grows, the leadership must identify new and younger leaders and make room for them to be involved and have influence. The truth is that every leader’s influence has a beginning and an end. Therefore each leader is responsible for passing on the torch for the sake of the Gospel.

  1. The leaders and many members care more about how a decision is made and who is involved in making it than how the decision impacts God’s kingdom.

Churches make many decisions, and hopefully, each decision results in the strengthening of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom. But, when a church cares more about how a decision is made than if the decisions are furthering the kingdom it is moving in the wrong direction.

Every church should have a clear, biblically-based, and flexible process for making decisions that further God’s kingdom.

  1. The leadership and the members ignore what is really happening (both good and bad) and focus on keeping the church busy and maintaining a less fruitful governance structure.

This is dangerous for a dying church and a growing church. If the Lord is growing a church and the leaders refuse to acknowledge and join the Lord in the ways He is leading, the church is already beginning the process of decline. If a church is dying and the leaders and members ignore the reality, then the glory of God is lost in that place, and eventually, the church ceases to impact its members and the community.

  1. The church ceases to be involved in the community or has never participated in the community for the sake of the Gospel.

Each member of the church is a part of the community, but the church should intentionally focus on impacting its neighborhoods and its community. 

Content for this post influenced by:

  1. Reclaiming Glory: Diagnosing A Dying Church,” a book by John Mark Clifton.
  2. Biblical Church Revitalization a book by Brian Croft
  3. Can These Bones Live? A book by Bill Henard
  4. 9Marks Of A Healthy Church a book by Mark Dever
  5. Autopsy of a Deceased Church a book by Thom Rainer
  6. Who Moved My Pulpit? a book by Thom Rainer
  7. Rainer on Leadership Podcast and blog (
  8. a website focused on church health
  9. the internet site of the North American Mission Board encouraging and equipping churches to spread the gospel.


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