Tom Rainer identifies a number of ways that Churches die, but I wonder if it is possible to arrange churches in a hierarchy similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If the model works, a church will need to grow through the needs of a particular stage before moving on to the next stage, ultimately to arrive at missional perfection: the church that completely fulfills the will of God as described by Jesus in the New Testament.

But I think that we need to add in some version of Madlow’s hierarchy of needs to understand the concept better. Life is more about growth than simple on and off, life or death. It’s hard for a church to leap to the perfection of “missional” when it is consumed with anxiety about surviving. The value of a hierarchy like Maslow’s is that it identifies the stages through which fulfillment of potential flows and in so doing helps remove contradictions within the universe of possibilities.

I’m sure that we can spot churches at all of these levels. The important thing is to keep growing and developing. When a church gets stuck, it begins to be unhealthy, and then a downward slide begins.

1. Survival (Conflict)

2. Security (Taking Care of Us)

3. Belonging (Friendly to each other)

4. Function … (correspondence to Maslos’s level of self esteem; all problems are basically solved. Everything is going well and a church can focus on what satisfies and pleases. The downfall at this level is pride or becoming lost in the pursuit of aesthetics and artistic perfection. A church can become focused on endlessly improving it’s quality of performance.)

5. Self-actualization. (A term which is somewhat difficult to understand. Self actualization means that everything is going well, so what is left for improvement is to focus upon improving what you can do. In a positive sense this is going on to perfection and becoming more and more the church that Jesus called for in the New Testament. In a negative sense, this is about ambition and competition. (While it is easy to see a megachurch here, there are churches of all sizes that are way too smug.)

Thom Rainer lists some clear characteristics of churches that choose to die here which easily fit into the framework above:

When a church has an attitude that the pastor works for them to meet their needs, it’s already dying.
Many churches who feel they are “the friendliest church in town” truly are friendly…to one another.
Pastors too often blame new churches or megachurches for their church’s failure to reach their community.
A church who is all about what it is against is on a path to dying as a church.
There are some church members who would rather let people die and go to hell than to lose their preferences in church.

The five ways churches act in such a way that they effectively choose to die are:

They refuse to face reality.
They are more concerned about greater comfort than the Great Commission.
They are unwilling to accept responsibility.
They are too busy fighting and criticizing.
They are confusing non-negotiables with negotiables.

Why Churches Choose to Die – Rainer on Leadership #178,

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