Autopsy of a Deceased Church Chapter 8

Chapter 8

Today is our eighth installment from Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church – 12 ways to Keep Yours Alive. I will share his thoughts as presented in his book for our consideration.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Pastoral Tenure Decreases.”

“For the majority of the churches, pastors came and went at a pace of every two to three years, especially in the two decades leading to the death of the churches. The cycle is predictable. The pastor comes to a church leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. Repeat cycle.”

That’s a sad commentary on the church of 2023.

He then talks about the life stages of a church that I will capture the basics of.

  • Year 1: Honeymoon, both pastor and church have blank slate as they enter the relationship hoping and believing the best for each other. For a season neither can do wrong in the other’s eyes. That season does not last very long.
  • Years 2 and 3: Conflicts and Challenges, No pastor is perfect, no church is perfect. Imperfections are found after a few months. Like a newlywed couples differences arise that brings on challenges.
  • Years 4 and 5: Crossroads, Part 1. This period is one of the most critical in the relationship. If conflict is severe the pastor will leave, however if they can work together some of the best years lie ahead.
  • Years 6 to 10: Fruit and Harvest. A church is likely to experience some of its best years differenced have been worked each trusts the other more deeply.
  • Years 11 and beyond; Crossroads part 2. During the first crossroads the pastor decides to stay or leave or the congregations make the decision. During this relatively rare tenure, the pastor will go down one of two paths. One path is to be a reinvigorated leader and ready to tackle new challenges and visions. Or the pastor will be resistant to change and become complacent.

He further says “Most pastors in dying churches have short tenures. Indeed most of the pastors left in stage two conflicts and challenges. When the pastors initiated or even suggested change there was fierce resistance.

And the cycle repeated itself and the church dies.


God, please give our pastor a heart and a vision to reach and minister to people beyond our own walls. Teach me to be the kind of church member who encourages and supports our pastor, so discouragement and disillusionment does not lead to departure.

Questions –

  1. Describe the typical cycle of pastoral tenure in a dying church. Why does this pattern develop? How can it be reversed?
  2. Look at the stages of pastoral tenure and identify which two stages are more common in a dying church. Why is pastoral tenure important to any church?
  3. Paul told Timothy to fulfill his ministry by do(ing) the work of an evangelist. (2 Tim. 4:5). What challenges would a pastor of a dying church have to fulfill this mandate?

Published by Pastor Larry

I came to Asbury in June 2020 right after COVID and enjoy being in this great church. We have several things going on that can be seen on our website @ We invite you to attend our service at 2704 South Highway W in Foley, MO. I am confident you will be blessed.

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