For nearly four decades, Dr. Thom Rainer has been a passionate advocate of the Church. He is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and for twelve years served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He has authored or co-authored over 20 books, addressing subjects from church membership to Millennials. His most recent work, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive, is intended to be a call to action to save a dying church.
Autopsy begins with the death of a particular church in the Midwest which hired Dr. Rainer as its consultant. In its heyday, the church was bursting at the seams with 750 worshipers; however, by the time Rainer arrived, attendance on a typical Sunday morning had plummeted to 83. When the church closed its doors several years later, Rainer went back to do an “autopsy” on the church to determine its cause of death. After noticing a pattern that affects other dead or dying churches, Rainer decided to sound the alarm.
Unfortunately, Autopsy stops short of motivating us to act once we hear the alarm. It fails not because the big idea behind the book is wrong. The big idea is right and compelling—that the Church is in trouble due to a lack of vision and purpose on the part of church leaders and church goers. The reason this book is ultimately unsuccessful is that, after the big idea is presented, it does little else other than repeat that big idea over and over in various ways without providing the reader with any actual direction to address the problem.
In general, the book suffers from lack of depth. Autopsy is intended to facilitate group study; therefore, symptoms are discussed (albeit in a cursory manner) and are quickly followed by related discussion questions. One longs for more substance, more case studies from Rainer’s years of experience, a deeper investigation into the individual topics. Instead, the reader is left with concern but is not enlightened as to what to do with this concern. As such, the book feels unfinished, and leaves you feeling depressed and unsatisfied but not moved to action. It would be similar to a trip to the doctor, where upon receiving your diagnosis, you are summarily dismissed without a treatment plan.
In writing Autopsy, Rainer undoubtedly had good intentions – it just has not fully delivered on its premise. What this reader would ask is that – in order for the book to fulfill its potential – the writer finish the book, fleshing out stories and solutions to the prophesied death of the Church. As a leader and expert in matters affecting the Church, Dr. Rainer must have more to offer us. While it unlikely that this book will be finished in the way suggested here, perhaps Dr. Rainer will finish in his next book what he started in Autopsy.