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4 Characteristics of a Church on Life Support

I’ll be honest: this is one of the hardest topics for me to address.

There are times when a church has entered what I call the Life Support season of the church life cycle. In other words, they’re near death. The doors of the church are about ready to close.

No one likes to talk about death, but for some churches it will be the natural next step. That’s not always the case, though, and part of me is always hopeful when I encounter a church that recognizes they are on life support.

The reality is, when a church reaches this point, they really only have two options. I share more about those options in this short video clip:

In my recent book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, I share some practical next steps for churches that find themselves on life support. In this article, however, I want to focus more on the characteristics of these churches, which hopefully will help you recognize signs of these things earlier rather than later.

Here are 4 characteristics of a church on life support:

1) They are unwilling to change.

Churches in this phase typically want to reach new people and remain financially viable while holding onto their old methods. The priority focus is around maintaining everything the way it’s always been rather than making necessary changes in order to reach new people.

2) There is no fruit.

New people rarely, if ever, connect to the church. It’s not uncommon for the church to go years without any adults accepting Christ and being baptized. And even if there is spiritual formation happening, it isn’t leading to any engagement of the Great Commission.

3) They are typically experiencing financial crisis.

I wish the lack of fruit in evangelism and discipleship was the primary cause for crisis. Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many churches overlook that as long as they can pay the bills.  By the time they’re on life support, though, the financial crisis begins to take hold.

4) The blame game takes root.

Rather than face reality and make ministry changes that could propel the church back to health, the remaining leaders begin to blame others. It could be people within the church, the shifting culture in the country, or even other churches. Once this spirit takes root, it’s difficult to eliminate.

Like I said earlier, this reality is difficult to talk about. I love sharing success stories from churches in this situation, though. Check out The Unstuck Church to read some stories of hope and discover some additional characteristics of these churches. It’s my prayer that you will never be in a church that is on life support. However, it’s important to understand the warning signs and be equipped with tools for the journey.

No matter what phase of the life cycle your church is in, if you as a church leader can learn to recognize the characteristics of each phase and the steps that get you unstuck, you are much better positioned to lead a church for the long haul.

Tony is founder and chief strategic officer of The Unstuck Group, a company that helps churches get unstuck through consulting and coaching experiences designed to focus vision, strategy and action. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, NewSpring Church in South Carolina, and Granger Community Church in Indiana. He’s written several books, as well as articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and He writes about leadership regularly at His next book, The Unstuck Church: Equipping Churches to Experience Sustained Health, will be available from Thomas Nelson in May 2017.
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