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8 Symptoms of a Sick Church

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


When we feel sick and have certain adverse symptoms, we go to the doctor so we can be helped to feel better. The doctor will check us out in order to determine what is wrong. The procedure might include taking an x-ray of the area that hurts. It might include giving us a blood test and other examinations to determine the cause of our sickness and to know which medication to prescribe.

Sometimes the aches and pain are eliminated and we feel much better in a short period of time. On other occasions, the results don't show up until much later.

We know to go to the doctor when we are sick in our body, but happens when a church is sick? After all, it is a body also. It is a body of believers.


Just as the average person recognizes symptoms when he is sick, church leaders should also pay attention to symptoms and warnings when the church is sick.

There are some obvious symptoms that a church and is in need of a physician. Unless attention is given to a sick church, everyone in the church will be susceptible to anything that is contagious.

Unfortunately, church leaders don't notice when a church is sick and do not call on a physician so the church can become healthy and vibrant again.


1. Empty Pews

The number of people who attend church might be an indication of a healthy church, but it is not the only clue. When church attendance dwindles down to only a few people, it is a sign that something is wrong.

Leaders should take notice and try to find out why people are leaving the church in droves, especially if the pews were full at one time and are suddenly empty.

If people are leaving their own church to attend worship service and Bible study at other churches on a regular basis, there must be a good reason. Their own church might be sick and church members go to a healthy church instead of staying in the sick one.

2. Complacency

Another obvious sign that a church is sick is when the members become complacent and anything goes.

Everything is business as usual with nothing new and exciting being presented. The church needs to be resuscitated.

At the end of a church meeting, one leader stood up and told the pastor, "Thank you, Pastor, for leading a laid back church." That's the problem with some churches. They are "laid back." They are so laid back that there is nothing sacred. Jesus didn't say He is coming back for a "laid back church." He said He is coming back for a radiant church without a spot of wrinkled (Ephesians 5:27). A laid back church is not a vibrant church. It needs vitamins and other nutrients just as a sick person does.

3. No Accountability

A sick church has leaders who are not accountable. So how can they expect their members to be? Since the leaders are not doing what they are supposed to do, everyone does what is right in their own eyes.

The church is sick with every conceivable ailment. It needs chemotherapy and radiation for cancer. It needs surgery after having a heart attack. It suffers from migraine headaches, and it can barely stand because it needs a hip replacement. The church is so sick that it will die unless something is done to make it healthy again.


4. No Joy

Nehemiah promised the workers who helped him build the wall of Jerusalem that "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). That is not the case in a lot of modern-day churches. There is no joy, no excitement and no power in the church.

The few people who still attend church do so out of obligation. Many confess they are not getting anything out of the services and other activities.


5. Ichabod on the Door

"Ichabod" means the glory has departed, according to 1 Samuel 4:21. God seems to be missing from some churches, and the people don't seem to notice because their focus is no longer on God but on other things.

Those things include the color of the carpet in the fellowship hall, the pattern for choir robes and the menu for the next dinner to be sold after the worship service to raise money to take the youth to the circus.


6. Lukewarm Worship

At one time, the church was on fire because the people were on fire. Someone has blown the fire out and the church is not like it used to be.

The sermons don't make people's hearts burn. That's because there is no power in an internet sermon that was preached years ago to another congregation instead of a fresh one that speaks to the needs of the waiting congregation.

Some preachers used to still lie before God to seek Him about what they should preach. Unfortunately, others grab a sermon from the internet on Saturday night and present it to the congregation without having discernment about what the needs of the people are.

Someone who is hurting doesn't want to hear about quantum physics during a Sunday morning service. A teenager waiting for an acceptance letter from his favorite college would rather hear an encouraging word about hope instead of hearing a sermon void of anything that can comfort him.

7. No Drawing Power

A healthy church has drawing power to attract visitors. If a church is sick, no one is attracted to it. That's why a guest will visit the church once but may never return.

A healthy church has healthy values and habits which could mean the difference between life and death.

There is a difference between a thriving church and a stagnant or dying one. Leaders should make an assessment of the condition of their church and do things to take it out of quarantine.


8. Meetings Instead of Ministry

A sick church has more meetings than effective ministry. It is a waste of time for people to be brought together to talk about what needs to be done, but there is no follow-up on what is being done.

Too often leaders are more focused on their meetings than on their ministry.


What to Do When the Church is Terminally Ill

Unless something is done for a sick church, it could die. Churches need a doctor who will check them out and give them medicine to make them well again.

Healthy churches have pastors with discernment to recognize the fallacies in the church and be instrumental in seeing to it that the church gets the care that it needs to be healthy.

Symptoms should be addressed and given immediate attention as soon as the symptoms become known. Unless significant changes are made, the church moves into a phase of terminal illness and could die. The church could recover from this sickness if the proper measures are taken before it is too late.

Intervention is necessary, but some leaders and members are not willing to change what they are doing even though their church is on its deathbed.


Medicine for a Sick Church

Just as people need a doctor when they are sick, churches need checkups and medicine to maintain good health. If a church is going to be healthy, it must have leaders who recognize when their church has failing health.

Healthy churches have members who serve, and the opposite exists when members are no longer interested in serving others. Churches that are sick may eventually die. In the meantime, it will affect the people who are still attending.

Unhealthy churches are made up of people who are not growing spiritually. If vital signs are checked, leaders will discover that there is the danger of diseases and illnesses that could be cured. On the other hand, if no examination is done on the church, it could have the risk of falling apart and taking the people along with it.


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