Yesterday someone said to me: We don’t trust you because we think you want to close our church. It wasn’t the first time I’ve heard that and it won’t be the last.
The truth is, though, that those churches are usually closing themselves.
That sounds really harsh and I don’t mean to be disrespectful. But congregations on the cusp of closure are often there because they’ve made choices that have risked the future of the church they love. Among those poor choices:
- They chose to make their pastor the professional Christian, believing that it’s the pastor’s job (and only the pastor’s job) to do ministry.
- They chose to morph into a club, more worshipful of their building than God.
- They chose to perpetuate an institution rather than make disciples or love their neighbors.
- They chose mission that either separated them from the community they were trying to serve (“We’ll send money but we don’t really want to know those people“) or elevated themselves over the community they were trying to serve (“We go down and help those people because they are too uneducated/irresponsible to help themselves.“)
- They chose to become landlords (renting their property to “tenants”) over engaging in relational ministry (using their buildings as tools for ministry with partners whose names and needs they actually know.)
- They chose the wrong pastor or they chose not to listen to the right pastor.
- They chose to do ministry on the cheap even when they could afford more.
- They chose to forego basic building maintenance to the point that maintenance became impossibly expensive.
- They chose to allow ineffective volunteers and paid staff to keep their jobs too long.
- They chose to leave the praying, the Bible study, the continuing education to the person who went to seminary.
- They chose to hold their pastor to impossible standards.
- They chose to devote their congregational efforts to something less than God.
Yep, that sounds severe, but it’s sadly true. Before denominational leaders have the conversation about a church’s plans for the future (which might mean closing so that a new congregation might be resurrected in their place) it’s almost always the case that church members have unwittingly made choices that are killing their ministry.
Sometimes reboots are not possible because the culture is beyond shifting. But sometimes reboots are indeed possible. Again: another choice.
I want your church to thrive and make an impact in the name of Jesus Christ. I don’t want your church to close if you are truly and authentically ready to choose a completely different way of being the church.
Alas, so very true… Thanks for this insightful post.
Very true… sadly…
An astute analysis of many of the factors leading to the closing of a church. When “Christianity” fails, it is because it hasn’t been tried.
Thank you for sharing. This article speaks all that we have been thinking but not what a congregation wants to heat.
It is so sad but so true that the church has forgotten what Christ taught, people first! A building is just that a building and when you neglect his word it will only be so long until all fails. I look in a mirror each day and ask who can make this world a better place, and then proceed to connect with Gods people. We are to imitate Christ! Blessings to all
Nice list. but not the reason why the Episcopal Church is imploding.
Until those who are remaining realize that an uber left theology and practice is not attracting anyone, that using an absurd amount of resources to persecute it’s own, and continually inviting anyone who disagrees to leave is all antithetical to Christ’s teaching, the church will soon fade away.
While the list above is all true, it could all be solvable if the church had not pushed so many of its people out the door.
I believe Christ would not recognize the religion created in his name. It seems people need to love unconditionally. I believe Christ was for inclusivity not exclusivity and by that I mean people of all faiths are included regardless of whether or not they worship God. Why do I say that? Because I believe God is Love and we are each one of us already a part of God.
It seems that the Great Comission has became the Great Omission.
Check on all points!
Sadly, this is nothing new in the church. In Acts 6, the apostles did not think they were should spend their time running a feeding program. Apparently Peter forgot Jesus’ mandate to feed the lambs, care the sheep and feed the sheep. Maybe if we had more pastors willing to be shepherds instead of getting on the fast track to become bishops, we will have less church closing.
Those may be valid for some congregations but not all. I have been involved with a few churches that were facing the loss of the building. They have had many issues that brought them to this juncture, not all of their own chosing. The important part was while they were sad to lose a building that they had ‘lived’ in for several generations, their focus was not on that, but on how they would seek to have their worship life go on, their ministry go on, their coommunity go on. Rather than blaming, work with the people to seek ways ffor life to continue.
Thank you so much. This may just help to push my congregation away from closing. Bless you.
Very true – and truer the higher you go in the “institution”!
Quite a few home truths here. After years of working with local congregations across a denominational spectrum I’ve witnessed the baleful effects of nearly all these choices and a few more besides. All too often congregations blame impending closure on ‘them’ – often a national denominational hq. Having worked in Methodism, the URC and the Congregational Federation I have often heard ‘Manchester’, ‘London’ or ‘Nottingham’ used as virtual swear-words. No-one is pretending that renewal is easy but there are no shorcuts to paying the price of change.
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I will add another sweary word George St (Edinburgh). Yes there have been failures at the administrative level in all denominations, but the greatest failure is at Congregational level where so often it is the Ministry of Works not of the Gospel. When I visited Churches in the past the first thing I asked them was what were they there for. It was amazing the number who didn’t say to tell people about Jesus (or something similar. I went to one Church and eventually had to preach to them. My Text Jeremiah 7:4-8
I appreciated this post and the list too. Thanks.
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