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In working with dozens of churches over the last 20 years, I’ve discovered some deadly sins of an unhealthy church. And I should clarify that and say these are deadly sins of church people.

I’m a walking testimony that the people who make up Christ’s church still sin. It is the result of who we are that we need a Savior.

I chose the word “deadly” intentionally. Of course, it’s a strong word, and I have no research behind my claim that if you have any of these your specific church will eventually die. I have been told a church on average will take 30 years to die if it remains in continual decline. But I can’t confirm that statistic either.

I do know many churches that are in decline. There are church buildings that once housed vibrant, growing churches, which  have been turned into a unique restaurant, office building or condominium. I’ve seen that. I have enjoyed some the food.

Again, I have worked with many churches and pastors in revitalization – as a pastor and a consultant. Those churches needed revitalization for a reason. They were in decline.

In each of these churches, I saw some – sometimes all – of these deadly sins. So, that’s my “research”.

Simply knowing these will not heal a church or help it grow again. My hope, however, is that the awareness helps you lead through them. In an upcoming post I’ll share the counter to this one. What are attributes that will bring health to a church and help it grow?

As pastor, when I encounter these in a church they become the subject of much of my teaching and leadership, since each of them have biblical implications. I am not afraid to challenge these head-on if needed; either directly with individuals or even with the congregation as a whole. They are too important not to address.

In fact, I’m not sure you will see much progress towards revitalization until there is some repentance or, at least, discontinuance of these deadly sins. 

Five deadly sins of an unhealthy church:

Apathy. As soon as a church stops caring for the mission of the church more than any other activity it has lost it’s way. The mission must come first.

To be clear, the mission is not  programs, systems or buildings. These are means to accomplish the mission. We should care for them and have the best we can offer. But they are secondary to the mission.

When the church cares more about the personal comfort of members and protecting the way things have always been done than it does about the broken and lostness of the community around them it has fallen into the deadly sin of apathy.

Pride. This may be the most often repeated sin I have seen in churches. It mostly occurs when a church has had success and then simply became comfortable. 

When pride takes over anything that is challenged in the church will cause people to become defensive. People will protect what they perceive to have built. “My grandmother donated that furniture. You can’t get rid of it.” (Actual statement I’ve heard and many similar.)

If I have to remind you from Scriptures how offensive pride is to God then we will need another post. There is too much biblical evidence for this short post.

Disunity. This unity is simply when the church is not unified it certainly could be around its mission, but most likely it’s disunited around lesser issues of importance. (I once witnessed a heated argument over the purchase of toilet paper. Do you buy it when you need it or do you buy it in bulk? Now that’s an important issue.)

By the way, this sin includes the dreaded passive aggression, and I’ve seen that one way too many times. It includes talking about people rather than talking to people. It’s choosing sides over nonessential issues, rather than coming together for the furtherance of the Gospel.

Judgemental attitudes. Jesus was constantly battling this one with the religious leaders of the day. When a church is more concerned about the sins outside the walls of the church than the ones inside it has fallen into legalism. I can imagine God will have a very hard time honoring that church.  It dishonors the Gospel for which Jesus came to share.

Disobedience. Without faith it is impossible to please God. When a church fails to walk by faith it is sinning against the original design God had for His people and His church.

On this one I suspect that many time the church has simply quit listening to the voice of God. When all the systems for doing church are in place and nothing new is being attempted you can do church without His intervention. It’s easy to stop asking for His help.

Is this too harsh of a post? I hope not. I trust calling sin – sin – is still acceptable to the Church these days. So, the question becomes whether you agree church people can fall into one of these. And, the greater question is whether your church has any of these.

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Ron Edmondson

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  • Greg Morrell says:

    Allow me to expand on the subject of pride to include the glorification of busyness. Neuroses and anxieties driving a lust for over-functioning keeps us from asking God, “what am I responsible for?, and taking the time to listen to Him and follow His directions. The culture in which we live dictates the behaviors within the vast majority of our congregations.