Author Archives: Thom Rainer

7 ways to involve older people in your church

I’m not that old – I’m 54 – but I increasingly realize that I’m not young, either. Sometimes I, too, long for what I thought were the “good old days.” At the same time, I realize the importance of being involved in a local church today. I may not speak for all older folks, but here’s how you could get me more involved in your church’s ministry:

1. Understand that I’m not opposed to change. I’m honestly not. I may not like change, but it’s more because everything seems to be changing than it is my opposition to church change. Help me understand the change, and I’ll be with you. What I’m opposed to is change that’s not well thought out.

2. Ask me to serve. Sometimes it easy for me to think I’m not as needed as I used to be. I realize the church needs younger leadership at some point, and I don’t want to get in the way of that transition. I’ll help in any way I can, but you may need to recruit me directly.

3. Trust me with some of your prayer concerns. Some of us have spent decades trying to figure out how to pray, and many of us have more time than others to pray. I want to pray specifically and intentionally for you as my spiritual leaders. Share a bit of your heart with me, and I’ll be on board with you.

4. Invite me to join you on a ministry visit. I know that would take more of your time, but I’d be genuinely honored to assist you. If I can, I’ll even clear my calendar to help you. I’ve been around long enough to know not to take your invitation lightly.

5. Keep reminding me that you want to reach my kids and grandkids. I want them to be faithful to God, yet I don’t always have the answers to lead them. They really are a different generation. If you can help me figure out how to help them walk with God, I’ll be willing to overlook little things that tend to bug me.

6. Help me understand that younger folks really do want older folks in their lives. I’m learning that young people understand the importance of cross-generational relationships much better than my generation has. They even like to listen to my stories about black-and-white TV’s, dot matrix printers, and computer modems that sounded like an airplane. Connect me with young people who like to hang out with me, and I’ll have new life in church.

7. If you’re a church planter, recruit me. I’d want you to talk to my pastor also, but you might find that I’m praying about and looking for a new adventure. The older I get, the more I want to make sure I’m maximizing my gifts for the kingdom. I can tell you for certain that I’ll be your friend if we’re walking together for God’s glory.

Older folks, what would you add? Younger readers, what do you think? Let us hear from you.

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8 reasons many churches are living in the ’80s

Nine out of ten churches in America are either declining, or they are growing so slowly they are not keeping up with the growth rate of the community in which they are located.

It’s a long sentence. Read it again carefully. Soak it in. Across America 90 percent of the churches are losing ground in their respective communities. Most of them are declining. Many of them will close.

As I have worked with thousands of churches over the past three decades, I have noticed something fascinating, yet disturbing, about many of these churches. They are still acting like it’s the 1980s. The world has passed them by. They are deemed irrelevant by members of their communities. They are frozen in a time warp.

Why has this tragedy fallen on so many churches? Though I don’t want to oversimplify the issue, I see at least eight reasons for this crisis.

1. They are trying to shelter themselves from culture. In the 1980s, congregations were typically part of the mainstream culture. They were accepted in most places, and embraced in some. That is not the culture of today. Many church members use their churches as a getaway from the realities they don’t want to face.

2. Programs were easy answers. The vast majority of churches in the 1980s were program-driven. If there was a perceived need, they would order a resource that best solved that need. Many churches today still think they can get quick fixes from programs.

3. Churches largely catered to the needs of church members in the 1980s. We thus created a culture of membership that is me-driven. Many church members do not want to make the sacrifices necessary to reach our communities and culture today. They are demanding their own needs and preferences to be the priority of their churches.

4. Change was more incremental. If your church is stuck in the 1980s, it does not have to worry about the rapid pace of change today. Members can pretend like their church does not need to change despite the massive upheavals of change in the world.

5. Church growth was easier. In the 1980s, a number of people would visit our churches without much effort on the members’ part. One church member told me recently, “If lost people want to come to our church, they know where we are.” Sigh.

6. Denominations provided solutions. Not all churches in the 1980s belonged to a denomination, but many did. And many members expected the denominational organizations to guide them and resource them. Denominations work best today in partnership with churches, but too many church members want to return to the paradigm of the 1980s.

7. Others did evangelism for the members in the 1980s. Evangelism was the responsibility of the pastor or the denomination or a few people in a program. Church members paid others to do the work they were supposed to do. Some church members today are more concerned about their worship style preference than lost people who need to hear the gospel.

8. Some churches would rather die than to get out of the comfort of their 1980’s paradigm. I feel certain they will do just that.


Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

Should a church have financial reserves?

Almost all personal financial experts will tell you our families need a financial reserve of several months’ income to weather unexpected challenges. I lead an organization where we seek to have some level of financial reserves for contingencies and capital expenditures.

On the surface, it would seem that a church should have financial reserves if at all possible. But there are implications that argue both ways on this issue. Let’s look at eight of them.

Meet current obligations before funding a reserve. A church in California had reserves of nearly $250,000, but it was not current on its bills, even its utility bills. The witness of a church is damaged when it does not meet current obligations in a timely fashion. That should be a priority over a reserve fund.

A reserve can serve as a contingency for unexpected expenses or downturns in giving. This purpose is consistent with other organizations and with families.

Church members can feel that ministries are neglected if the church has reserves. Ministry needs are unlimited. When a ministry leader or someone who has an affinity with an underfunded ministry sees money in a reserve fund, he or she can feel the ministry is being slighted since funding seems readily available.

The leadership of a church should clearly communicate the purpose of a reserve fund. Here is a statement straight from the annual budget of a church: “As good stewards of God’s funds, we seek to maintain the equivalent of approximately three months’ funding of the annual budget for unexpected contingencies.”

Consider a cap on the reserve funding. In the example of number four, the church implicitly capped the reserve funding at 25 percent of the budget. Such a move communicates wise stewardship rather than hoarding.

Reserves can relieve stress on church leaders. Church leaders have many different areas that can engender stress. A church financial reserve can alleviate some of the financial stress.
Excess reserves can lull members into complacency. I have seen churches with large reserve funds or endowments that are doing a terrible job in ministry. The members do not see the need to give or to serve. Many of them think the church should pay for ministry to take place.

With any reserve, the tension is between stewardship and complacency. For that reason, I often recommend the reserve amount be capped at a certain percentage of the budget, usually between three and six months of the annual budget.
Let me hear your thoughts on financial reserves in churches. What is your philosophy? What does your church do? Some of your churches cannot afford reserves. If your church had excess funds, what would you do with them?


This article was originally published at on July 15. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at