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  • Brandon Sutton

Dying Churches Are a Lot Like Drug Addicts

I have been sober, and helping other addicts, for more than 17 years. I have also assisted declining and dying churches for the last 14 years. The similarity between these two ministries is fascinating.


Consider the parallels.




The Addict. For the addict to get better, he must admit that not only does he have a problem, but he is also completely powerless to get better by his own strength. For years, he has denied that he even has a problem. But it’s obvious to everyone else that he does. He thinks he can beat it himself, but history says this isn’t possible. He is defeated and must seek help from a power outside himself.


The Dying Church. For a dying church to reverse the trends of decline, the people must admit there is a problem. The church has been declining for years, and despite the numerical data to prove this is true, the members either ignore or reject reality. When you try to offer help, they get defensive because they don’t believe they need it. They can fix this problem themselves. But, the truth is, they too must admit defeat and that the power to solve the problem does not lie within.




The Addict. When the addict recognizes that he is powerless to solve his problem, this must also be coupled with the desire to seek help outside himself. To do that, he must believe recovery is possible. If he admits that he is powerless to get sober by himself, but is unwilling to ask for help, either because he doesn’t want it or because he doesn’t believe it’s possible, recovery will not happen. The addict must believe that God can completely restore him to health.


The Dying Church. When a dying church recognizes the problem of decline, and that they aren’t capable of restoring the church by themselves, that’s only part of the solution. The people must also want help and believe that their church can live again. If either one of these is lacking, the church won’t be recovered. But if the people believe that the church can make a turn around, and that God is not done with them, restoration is not far away.




The Addict. Once the addict admits powerlessness, and believes that Christ can help, he must now surrender. The addict wins by giving up. He surrenders his life to God by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Praise God, He is saved and set free. Now, he can begin the process of rebuilding his life one day at a time.


The Dying Church. When a dying church admits it can’t fix what’s broken, and believes that a turnaround is possible, the leaders and members must give up. They must allow another group of leaders to come in and take the reins. The church will live when it dies.




George pastored a little church of 25 elderly members whose average age was 86 years old. George was the young guy at 69. Pastor George knew the church was not far from closure. He also knew he didn’t have the resources or abilities to lead the church back to health by himself. But he believed, with outside help, the church could thrive again. George called another local church who specialize in replanting dying churches. They found a 200-member church plant nearby who needed a building. Through many conversations and prayer, the dying church agreed to let the church plant replant them. Today the church is thriving and bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.


We need more leaders like George. Like the Good Shepherd, George laid down his life for the sheep. He worked himself out of the job so the church could live. He knew they were powerless to fix the problem, but he believed there was hope. As George led his people, and God moved in their hearts, they too understood the situation and surrendered their will to God.  



Brandon Sutton is the Associate Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He earned his M.Div. from The Southern Baptist Theological Ministry, and he has been serving in pastoral ministry for fourteen years. Follow him on X @brsutton23


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