When Should a Church Close?

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Are there factors that suggest when a church might close its doors?

The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, featured an article today on small churches and when they should close. In the article, Short on Cash, People, Small Churches Consider Closing, reporter Bob Smietana profiles three Nashville area churches that had to face their own mortality. Bob was kind enough to quote me in the article, and I appreciate the approach he took in writing the piece.

The article also quoted Dr. Israel Galindo, author of The Hidden Lives of Congregations, which I think is the best book any pastor can read, especially pastors of small, established churches.  Galindo helps pastors and church leaders identify what “style” their church reflects, and where their church might be in the life cycle of churches profile.  I’ve written about this book before, but it’s worth mentioning again.

The article also points out that churches have taken as much as a 40% hit financially in the economic downturn that started in 2008.  When he interviewed me for the article, Bob asked me what factors indicate that a small church might need to close.  The three factors I identified were people, money, and mission.  The loss of any one of those is like kicking one leg of a three-legged stool out from under it — without a significant balancing act, a two-legged stool isn’t going to stand very long.

So, when is it time for a church, usually a small church, to close?   When the combination of people, money, and mission no longer works.  Churches don’t exist just to exist; churches exist for the purpose of mission. When the mission is no longer viable because there are not enough people or financial resources to support it, then a small church ought to seriously consider how it might re-invent itself, or even plan its own funeral.

What do you think?  Are there other factors that suggest when a church might close its doors?  Or are people, money, and mission the big three?

Chuck Warnock Chuck Warnock pastors Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, VA and writes the popular Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, a blog especially for pastors of churches with up to 300 in attendance. Chuck is a contributing editor for Outreach magazine writing their “Small Church, Big Idea” column, writes prolifically for Leadership Journal and Christianity Today, and is a frequent conference speaker on the subject of church leadership. He is currently working on his D.Min. at Fuller Seminary.

More from Chuck Warnock or visit Chuck at http://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_Z7GMTWXF3W7RKZ4I2FJC7AESWM shadow

    I find that sad. The Bible says “when one or more gather in My name”. How many people is enough? Not every church can support missions and such. It must really hurt to be part of a small congregation and be told they are closing because there aren’t enough people and they aren’t giving enough money to save the world. Sad.

  • Colossians316

    When you consider the first churches were in homes, it would be sad to see a church ministry fold because of few members.  Who’s the authority that the so called Mega Church today is so highly effective.  Myself, I would not want to be part of one, I wonder how many in the larger church are really saved and how many really are serving.  From studies, the number who attend on Sunday is large very large inappropriate to the number who are actually serving in ministry and missions and evangelism. Most are spectators and there because of the name or the personality or the music, etc. etc.  Please smaller congregations don’t give up, if Jesus is in your midst and you are touching even one person to make a life changing difference, keep on keeping on.  Jesus told Peter, “upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail”…

  • Pastor Sam

    Maybe the article it is not about saving the world but paying the rent… What is the need of having thousands of dollars in building and utilities expenses if you are small enough to fit in a living room. The church is made of people not of bricks. The mission will not change. The signs will follow those who believe.
    It is very hard though, as a pastor, to see that your congregation is not producing enough to keep the basic bills paid. So through dificult times, dificult decisions have to be made. We need to seek God’s face for wisdom in every situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Darante-Martin/1474632346 Darante’ Martin

    Just for reference sake, I would like to add that the first churches did not meet in homes. They met in public places such as Solomon’s porch and the upper room. The church didn’t retreat into private homes until persecution became so heavy that they couldn’t meet in public places. It is also important to not view the context anachronistically, many homes during this time could accomodate up to 100 people (and in some cases much more) in den space, yard space, and/or upper room space. And also, in many cases the churches began to meet in large underground caverns. I only provide this information because I feel like it’s often overlooked in defense of churches remaining purposely small. There is qauntification for church methodology or specific size in scripture, so we can’t judge the small or large. But I do think we can all agree that God desires that we reach as many people as possible. In one parable, the statement is made “go in the highways…so that my house may be filled.” Now it is obvious that every church is not going to be a Mega church, but every church should be atleast growing. We’re not under heavy persecution in the American Church so we can still freely preach the Gospel and do practical outreach (feeding the lost, clothing the naked etc). And so I think reading the article in context shows that the author is highlighting some key factors in the purpose of the church. One of those factors being are people getting saved here? Are people growing here. Do I just have four families who have been with me for 10 years out of loyalty to the church? What about our loyalty to reaching the lost for Jesus, when a church falls into this place it obviously indicates a sense of selfishness or complacency that keeps us from fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus had a treasurer, Paul has two chapters about the importance of giving, so obviously money is an important factor. Admittedly its probably more of a factor for the church who is actually trying to bless single mothers with vehicles and homes, than it is for the church that just wants to have good Sunday Service. I digress, i love you guys.

  • Big Ben

    The church doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide that it’s time to close. Probably all the signs were there years before. I guess its time to go when the inner life of the church and its members have been drained and emptied. Sin? Pride? Legalism? fear? love of comfort? love of money? Tradition? New wine in old wineskin? The gates of hell cannot prevail against the kngdom of God. But how much have churches strived to be that kingdom in which Christ is King?  

  • Big Ben

    The church doesn’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide that it’s time to close. Probably all the signs were there years before. I guess its time to go when the inner life of the church and its members have been drained and emptied. Sin? Pride? Legalism? fear? love of comfort? love of money? Tradition? New wine in old wineskin? The gates of hell cannot prevail against the kngdom of God. But how much have churches strived to be that kingdom in which Christ is King? 

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