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by Thom Rainer


Discover these radical steps churches took to avoid impending death.

In an blogpost earlier this week, I presented the findings of my “autopsy” on a church that just closed its doors and died. I knew the church well because I had been their consultant 10 years earlier. The only surprise I found was that the church kept its door open five years longer than I had anticipated.

The post generated much interest. Indeed it is still buzzing today. Many church leaders and laypersons saw early warning signs in the post that related to their own churches. Many are concerned. Many want to know if there is any hope.

The title of this post has a bit of irony. If a church is dying, it cannot then, by definition, find life.

I must say from a purely statistical perspective, most churches with the symptoms I noted will die within a matter of a few years. Though I don’t have hard data, I would be comfortable suggesting that the percentage exceeds 99 percent.

But among the American churches on a death march, there is that rare exception, that one in 1,000, that extraordinary situation where a church defies all the man-made odds and moves from near death to health.

Those churches are rare, but they do exist.

In the midst of the gloomy news of terminal churches, I took a look at a few churches that had all the signs of impending death and then turned around to life. All of them of which I have knowledge were located in dramatically shifting demographics.

They weren’t merely churches that were unhealthy; they were dying. Even the most casual observer would have predicted the imminent demise of these congregations. They were truly sick unto death.

So how did these churches do it?

Though each of the stories I examined has its own nuances, I did find some common themes. Please take careful note. My brief blogpost is not a quick-fix solution to dying churches.

On the contrary, it’s the story of six radical steps taken by key members in each of the churches.

1. A leader must rise and be willing to lead the church toward radical transformation regardless of the personal costs to himself.

That leader is typically a new pastor in the church, but it does not have to be.

2. A significant group in the church must admit that they are desperate for help.

The significance of the group could be their sheer size; for example, they could be a majority of active members. Or the significance could be the influence of those in the group rather than the number.

This group must lead the church from denial to a painful awakening to reality.

3. That same group must confess guilt.

They failed to reach the community.

They held on to the idolatry of yesterday.

They were only comfortable with “our kind of people.”

They saw the church to be a place where their needs were met and personal preferences catered.

4. The group must have an utter, desperate and prayerful dependence on God.

They can no longer look at the way they’ve always done it as the path for the future. They must fall on their faces before God and seek His way and only His way.

5. The church must be willing to storm the community with love.

The church can’t assuage their guilt by having a food and clothes pantry where community residents come to them once a week.

Members must go into the community, love the unlovable, reach out to the untouchable, and give sacrificially of time, money and heart. The community must be amazed by these church members.

6. The church must relinquish control.

If the church reaches the community, the community will come to the church.


They may be poorer. They may have different colors of skin. They may speak differently. They may have a radically different culture than members of the church.


If the church is truly to reach the community, it must be joyfully willing to let the community have control of the church. This attitude is radically different than welcoming the outsiders to “our church.” It is an attitude that says it is now “your church.”


Most readers likely understand the low likelihood of such a transformation taking place. It is so rare that, when it happens, it is often given the name “miracle.”

But we serve the God of miracles. Maybe we should expect more. Maybe we should do more.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources ( Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.


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by Carey Nieuwhof


Three questions you can ask as a leader that give other people permission to help you see your blind spots


So how clearly are you seeing things as a leader?


Truthfully, there are important things in leadership that all of us miss. One of the toughest challenges for those of us who lead is that every leader develops blind spots.

A blind spot is simply defined as an area where your view is obstructed.

You just don’t see things that are there. All of us miss things that are clear to any other person, but not to us.

It’s why you turn around first to check beside you when making a lane change.
It’s why you crane your neck at a stadium so you can see the field unobstructed.

It’s why you trimmed that tree near your front window so you can see the view.

You want to see clearly.

It’s not that most leaders want to create problems, it’s that they don’t see the problems they’re creating. We’re blind to them.

I know I am.

Here are some blind spots I’ve identified in myself over the years:

My personal style (which tends to land more on the truth side than the grace side) can unintentionally hurt or alienate people.
Casual comments I make can be mistaken as ‘directives’ by people around me, leading them to act on things I was simply asking questions about. (I’m the senior leader in our church and my words weigh more than I’d like them to sometimes.)
While being selective is important, I can sometimes be too picky about who I choose to move into senior leadership — sometimes backlogging the development of other leaders.
My attention to detail on matters I’m passionate about can be so minute that it becomes discouraging to some.

How did I learn about all these things?

I would love to say I was perceptive enough to figure them out on my own, or that the insight came as a result of enlightened thinking.

But that’s not the case.

I learned about all of these because someone told me. I wasn’t clever enough to see them on my own. That’s why they’re called blind spots.

The longer you lead, the more important it is to develop a reliable, honest, accurate feedback loop. (This post from Jeff Brodie is a must read for those of you trying to help a leader see a blind spot.)

Here’s the tension: The longer you lead and the larger your organization becomes, the less people will be naturally willing to tell you things you might not like to hear.

How do you overcome that?

Here are three questions you can ask as a leader that give other people permission to help you see your blind spots:

1. What am I doing that’s not helping our mission?

I try to ask this question regularly to the people around me.

Even if the answer is, “I can’t see anything right now,” making a habit of asking the question creates a culture of openness and mutual support.

It also signals to the team that the leader doesn’t think he or she is infallible.

2. What do I need to do to make sure you feel comfortable telling me what you see?

This second question is so necessary because often leaders won’t want to answer the first question truthfully. They’re too afraid.

It takes a lot of nerve for someone to give ‘honest’ feedback to a leader. When a leader is defensive, dismissive or even indifferent, the leader makes it so easy for the staff member to never speak up again.

By asking this second question, you show them you want feedback and you realize you might not always be easy to approach. And if you are easy to approach, you’ll find out soon enough. Either way, this question builds trust.

3. How can I help make it better?

Your job as a leader isn’t just to know something is wrong, it’s to leverage your influence or power to help make it right.

When your team member knows you really care about a good solution and are willing to do what you can to make it better, it goes a long way.

Questions like this can create an open, honest culture.

They will make you a better leader, and help your organization push past leadership lids.

What questions have helped you overcome blind spots? What are some tension points you continue to face?


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by John Piper

Provided by More from Desiring God

1. God is the greatest Reality in the universe. And pastors swim in that sea with ever-replenished joy. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God. (Isaiah 45:5) Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33–36)

2. Jesus is the greatest Savior, Master and Friend that ever was or will be. And pastors contemplate and commend him every day. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.(John 15:13) At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10–11) No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15) Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel. (2 Timothy 2:8)

3. The Holy Spirit is the greatest Helper in the world. And pastors are driven to have his fullness constantly. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever … It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 14:16; 16:7) Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:5) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)

4. The Bible is the greatest book there is. And pastors delight to mediate on it day and night. The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. (Psalm 12:6) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1–2)

5. The gospel is the greatest news ever sent. And pastors revel in believing it and telling it every day. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3–4) I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.(Romans 1:14–15)

6. Corporate worship is the great overflow of life together in treasuring Christ. And pastors soar with the sacred privilege of fanning that flame. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Ephesians 3:8)

7. Faith is the great union with Christ and the embrace of all God is in him. And pastors aim at this with every word, since faith comes by hearing. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Philippians 1:25)

8. Hope in future grace is the great furnace of gospel obedience. And pastors fuel it daily with the promises of God. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34) Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)

9. Joy is the great impulse in pain and pleasure that makes its source in God look great. And pastors renounce all abuse and live for the holy joy of their flock. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4) Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8) Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

10. Love is the greatest act. And pastors make it the great aim of all their acts. So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.(1 Corinthians 13:13) The aim of our charge is love. (1 Timothy 1:5)

11. Holiness is great likeness to the thrice holy God. And pastors daily kill their own sins for the sake of the holiness of others. As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:15–16) For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

12. Suffering is a great seminary. And pastors must attend it for the sake of their people. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word … It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. (Psalm 119:67, 71) If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. (2 Corinthians 1:6)

13. Explaining great truth is a path to great understanding. And pastors are charged to explain the greatest things relentlessly. It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–12)

14. Heralding the greatest realities is a great privilege. And pastors are the heralds of the living God. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word. (2 Timothy 4:1–2) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

15. Humanly impossible aims throw us on a great Helper. And all the spiritual aims of a pastor are impossible. Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But he said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Luke 18:26–27) And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24–26)

16. Heaven is a great destiny. And pastors aim in everything to help people get there. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matthew 5:12) But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20–21) I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10)

17. Hell is a great danger. And pastors aim in everything to help people escape it. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28) I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:22)

18. Prayer is a path to the great presence and power of God. And pastors pray without ceasing. Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Ephesians 6:17–18) Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.(Psalm 50:15)

19. The new birth is a great miracle. And pastors are the ever-amazed midwives of God. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8) I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6–7) You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; … And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23–25)

20. Communion is the greatest supper. And pastors hold the sacred emblems in their very hands. I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. (Luke 22:15) The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

21. Baptism is the greatest emblem of death and life. And pastors enact this drama on behalf of Christ. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3–4) Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)

22. Funerals offer a great vista of eternity. And pastors stand there full of hope with wide-eyed people. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6–8) Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)

23. Weddings are God’s great, life-long joining together of man and woman. And pastors put this drama on display for all to understand. They are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:6) Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:22–25)

24. Hospital visits are a sacred imparting of great hope. And pastors mediate this holy transaction with their voice and hands. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14–15) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13) It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. (Acts 28:8)

25. The devil is a great enemy. And pastors make holy war every day. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. (1 Peter 5:8–9) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.(James 4:7)

26. Wise, biblical counsel is greater than much fine gold. And pastors make many rich. A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11) How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (Proverbs 16:16) Him we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

27. World missions is the greatest enterprise in the world. And pastors preach and pray and agitate till all are goers or senders. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14) The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. (Matthew 9:37–38)

28. Loving money is the great root of countless evils. And pastors sever it in their homes and seek its cheerful death in all their flock. Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (1 Timothy 6:9–10) Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. (1 Timothy 6:6–8) Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7)

29. Leadership in holy paths is the great need of all the sheep. And pastors wear this mantel humbly under the Great Shepherd. Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17) Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.(Hebrews 13:20–21)

30. Lowly servanthood is high greatness. And pastors rejoice to say: He must increase, and I must decrease. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant. (Mark 10:43) He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry. For 6 years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren. (By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: More from John Piper or visit John at