5 Good Reasons A Church Should Close

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It’s no secret that thousands of churches close every year.

Every time I hear of a church that’s closing, my heart sinks. Despite the voices of all of the critics, I really do believe the local church is a beacon of light in a world that’s increasingly dark.

In light of the fact that I have a strong bias toward seeing churches grow and flourish, are there ever reasons a church should close?

Sadly, I think there are.

I began ministry in three little churches that were fairly close to death. One of them maybe had a year left.

By God’s grace, we saw a tremendous turnaround and began to reach new families and see people come to faith.

What was needed in many ways was a heart transplant. It’s not that people didn’t have good hearts, it’s that the church had lost its heart. It no longer had a burning sense of mission.

Once we rediscovered the church’s mission, things began to change dramatically.

That’s my wish for every church. But sadly, it doesn’t happen nearly enough.

So how do you know the end is near? When should a church close?

Here are 5 good reasons a church should throw in the towel and close its doors if it doesn’t want to change.

1. The Real Mission Is Lost

Once you begin to lose momentum as a church, it’s so easy to go into survival mode.

And part of that is understandable. You’re trying to keep the doors open, not lay off staff and preserve the progress you’ve made so far. But it’s also easy to lose focus on the mission in that process.

And when you do, it gets bad quickly. You start to see every new person as someone who can give and serve, rather than as someone to serve and introduce to Christ. You start to view every decision through a cost filter. You care far more about efficiency than effectiveness.

The conversation shifts from how much you can do in Christ to how little you can do and survive.

The real purpose of everything you do moves from advancing the Gospel to keeping an organization on life support.

When survival becomes a church’s real mission, you’ve lost the mission and the end is near.

2. The Church cares more about itself than the people it’s called to reach

It’s a sad day when a church cares more about itself than the people it’s called to reach.

So many churches are so consumed with the preferences of their members that they have no heart for their non-members. And yet the church is one of the few organizations on the planet that exists for the sake of its non-members.

When you visit some churches, you’d think Jesus said you should focus on the 99 found sheep and ignore the one that’s lost. That’s really how so many churches behave.

But think about it this way, if everyone in your town or city when to your church except one single person, you’re called to abandon everything until that one person is reached. I realize few people believe this, but I have a hard time understanding the story any other way.

Maybe it makes more sense from a family perspective.

If you have four kids and only three make it home for dinner, no decent parent says “Well, that’s 75%. Good enough.”

No, you forget dinner, call the police, send out a search party and no one sleeps until the missing child is found.

What if Christians behaved that way?

When a church only cares about its members, it’s a good sign it’s lost its soul, and it’s not a bad (or surprising) reason it should close.

If Christians didn’t rest until every person was reached, more people would be reached.

3. Its Members Hate the World

Many Christians struggle with the world. I get that.

Morals are shifting, culture is changing and we are quickly moving into a post-Christian world. It’s easy not to like what you see.

It’s led a lot of Christians in this generation, though, to behave as though they hate the world.

The history of the Gospel is that God’s not a fan of what he sees, not just in the world, but in our hearts.

So what does he do? He loves us.

One of the most quoted Bible verses of all time says that God so loved the world.  If God so loves the world, Christians really don’t have permission to hate it.

You can get frustrated with it. You don’t have to agree with everything. But you shouldn’t hate it.

To make things even more challenging for us personally, remember this: it’s really hard for someone to believe you love them if it’s clear you don’t like them.

When a church behaves like it hates the world, it should never be shocked that the world doesn’t flock to embrace it.

4. Preserving the Past Is More Attractive Than Embracing the Future

When things aren’t going well, it’s easy to think the past is more attractive than the future.

Visit a lot of churches and you’ll discover they’re looking backward, not forward.

When your fondness for what you used to do is greater than your passion for what you’re going to do, you’re in trouble.

Bottom line? When all of your excitement is about the past, you haven’t got much of a future.

5. The Money Isn’t Remotely Tied to the Mission

How churches handle money is often a subject of scrutiny. And for sure, churches are accountable before God and people about how we use donated dollars.

When a church is thriving, money is being poured into life-change. People who don’t know Christ are coming to know him. Kids are being nurtured in the love of Christ. The church reaches out into the community and makes a difference with tangible needs.

But in a church that’s lost its mission, money gets mistreated in at least two ways.

Where funds are low, everything becomes about keeping the lights on, staying open for X more months or years, and the drive becomes about preservation, not purpose.

But not every purposeless church is without money. Many dying churches are actually rich with cash.

Some have huge endowments, large bank accounts or sit on millions of dollars in real estate.

One of the great ironies of the early 21st century in Western Church is that churches with money and buildings often have no people, and churches with people often have no money and no buildings.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if churches with buildings but no people gave them to planters with people but no buildings?

It’s happening in a growing number of cases, but what if this became a universal trend?

Regardless, if you’ve stopped using money to further your real mission, it’s a sign that you should close.

Help With Reaching More People

 

I have a bias toward keeping churches alive, and my dream is to see every church grow. If that dream was to come true, no church would close and every church would become effective in reaching the people God so deeply loves.

Breaking 200 Without Breaking You is a brand new online course designed to help senior pastors, their boards and leadership team break through the barrier 85% of churches never move past: the 200 attendance barrier.

So many leaders who try to break it either get stuck at 150-250 in attendance or burned out in the process of trying.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Believe it or not, the reasons most churches never break 200 aren’t spiritual reasons, they’re practical reasons. Strategic reasons.

I’ve been through this journey personally.

As I mentioned above, I began ministry with a dying church of 6 people. By God’s grace, we saw it grow, and I led through the 200 barrier to eventually lead a church of over 1000. I took good notes, and in the course, I share practical strategies that worked not just for us, but which I’ve seen work for hundreds of other leaders too.

I believe these 8 doable strategies can help you too, and that’s what this course is all about. The workbook will also become your action plan to help you determine your next steps in each critical area as a church.

Click here to get instant access.

What Do You See?

What do you see? What are some signs in your view that the end is near for a church?

18 Comments

  1. Terry on May 15, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    I used to go to church for years and give generously. But I got tired of being treated like an outcast, so I quit going. Plus the only time the other members would even talk to me was only when they wanted money. Now I spend the money I used to give on improving the lives of my kids. I still believe in God but I am not impressed with the local church-goers. I am happier now.

  2. Quentin Dyck on February 20, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    If you wanted a sixth reason you could add denominations or religious organizations. Many will not allow the churches to make good decisions for the home church because it goes against the organizational rules and regulations. I agree with what you have said and have started an organization in Calgary Alberta to assist churches that are at risk of closing. A closed church can not help anyone.

  3. R. H. Johns on January 23, 2018 at 6:46 pm

    I pastor a church that is 75 years old in a very rural area. Everyone in the county has to commute to work at least 20-35 miles, and we are the farthest away from even a small town (12-15 miles in any direction). We live in an unincorporated village with a population of less than 1,000. There are vibrant churches surrounding us and we are down to one family besides our own. I’ve been at this church for 5 years and spent over $2,000 out of my own pocket to promote the church in the county. We have had three couples visit us in 5 years. No one has stayed. We have a small mortgage on the building and are just making it to pay the electric bills and buy fuel oil. We have tried getting involved in the community, but quite frankly, there isn’t much community to get involved in. I feel guilty about even thinking about leaving. The remaining family is here out of tradition, I think. They are nice people but they don’t even live in the community, they just travel to the building on Sundays. I am 60 years old as well, tired, with heart and sugar problems, and simply don’t know what to do. I have a good job and work full time but I also commute 35 miles one way each day for work.

    • Stephen hailes on June 7, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      My heart goes out to you. Although this post is quite old I wonder how you are doing now? I am also pastoring a small church and after having a good sized group of foundational members leave over mission doctrine I am wondering at 64 if I have the energy to go on.

      • R.H. Johns on June 7, 2018 at 3:50 pm

        We are holding steady, that is about all I can say. I just spent two months recovering from a diabetic foot wound and then had a mild heart attack and stent placement. I, too, am wondering if I have the energy to continue. I don’t want to quit, but my age seems to be working against me. I’ve thought about just becoming a faithful member of a church somewhere and living out my days maybe teaching a class or something. thanks for caring enough to comment. I hope you get direction as well.

        • PJ Murray on June 9, 2018 at 9:12 pm

          Stephan and R.H,

          I have been through what both of you are going through and want you to know that I know the struggles you are going through. I cannot tell you what do do in each of your situations, but want to offer you some advisement.

          It is an extremely difficult thing to close a church, heartbreaking in fact. However I want you both to know that if it is time to close,

          The larger question is: is it time to close? I want to offer you some questions that may help you.

          1. Is the church viable? To often we think about viability as being able to pay the bills, but can the church, as a living organism survive? Do you have enough people resources embedded in the community to reach it? Is it possible to create bridges relationally from your congregation to the community?

          2. When visitors come do they see a vibrant living group of people that would attract them to return? Visitors have a different mindset than church planters (who are ready for groups of just a few people week after week). If a church does not look viable to the first time visitor then there may be little that can be done to progress beyond that point,

          3. Are you still viable? I KNOW quite well that when a church is heavily on life support it can put you in a situation where you no longer have what it takes to continue. Sometimes we just don’t have what it takes to continue.

          In the end it may be that your churches are ready for last steps. I just had a church member die, prior to his death he had a short period of extreme illness. His body’s systems shut down one by one, he was in extreme pain and nothing that the medical staff did changed his condition. Finally the family decided to move to palliative care. The medical staff made him comfortable and he went home to be with Jesus within a few days. Churches sometimes need to be put on palliative care. Sometimes you need to know it is OK to let it go.

          It may be that it is time to consider helping the church to close. Be open to the possibility that a church planting team may be able to move into the churches existing facilities. This makes closure much easier for existing members. A church planting team would move in with the people resources to begin to reach back into the community. Also church planters will move in with fresh energy and mission. This way a new presence for Christ can be birthed in the community.

          Please know that I cannot possible be ready to advise you exactly what it is you need to do in your situations, but wanted to offer you some points of view to consider. I also wanted you to know that it is perfectly OK to decide to let go when the time comes. I pray for both of you, that the Lord may give you the wisdom strength and courage to do whatever he leads you to do, and that he heals your hearts of whatever wounds you may have acquired in the process if that is a needed prayer.

    • Christopher Mulapwa on June 10, 2018 at 12:44 pm

      May God give you all the grace needed. I hear your heart.
      Christopher Mulapwa
      Elohim Global Ministries

  4. Tom on November 13, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I am a single, never married man 60 years old. I feel like, in being a life-long singleton, going to church has become more of a burden than a blessing. It seems like I’m being looked down on because I’m by myself with no woman and kids with me.

    Number 2 is a strong point for me. It’s just amazing to me how I had attended some churches for a good while; and when I left, no one ever called. Just recently I had some fall-outs at a couple of churches. At one place (I had attended there for about four years) I went for counseling with the Pastor. I told him I feel lonely. He told me, “people avoid you because they sense that you don’t feel comfortable around other people”. I suppose he was right. After all, at that church, the people were very old and cliquey. They would not take the time to even just say “hello” to me while I’d be standing there all by myself where they served the refreshments.

    Another incident was at a church I attended for a couple of months. That church was next door to my place and very small. They had me register my phone # and address. Then one time I went to the Men’s Breakfast (at an unreasonably expensive place). One old man (who was a deacon and Sunday School teacher) was grilling me as to why I never got married. It seemed like the Pastor had to stick up for me. They had a Men’s Breakfast the following month at an IHOP. I went there and no one showed up. The next day I asked the Pastor what happened. He said that he had changed the place to have breakfast and forgot to call me. I thought that it was very lame. So I never went back there.

    So now, I’m still searching for that church that I will like. It’s bee a very hopeless search.

    • Caroline on November 28, 2017 at 8:29 pm

      OMG. I see my church in ALL areas of this article. LORD help us. The saddest part is this, some just don’t see it or get it, our lives have become more important. Blessings to the writer of this article. EYE OPENING.

  5. John Finochio on October 25, 2017 at 9:59 am

    All excellent points Carey and more stagnant dying churches with assets could leverage their influence and accelerate their impact if their boards would look for opportunities to turn those assets over to new vibrant church plants or merge with successful churches in their communities!

  6. james on September 5, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Let’s not forget about the liberal leftwing media which destroys christians on purpose as they refuse to agree with homosexual marriage, transgender bathrooms, sex anytime anywhere with anyone, etc

    • Greg on October 12, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      Certainly an inspired comment. WWJD?

  7. Grace Sweatman on September 2, 2017 at 8:03 am

    Thank you for this insight. The challenge for a newcomer “from away” is to have any impact on the survival direction of the rural church we attend. We have committed to be faithful. Set an example with our financial support and pray. We are also committed to being a blessing to the pastor who while very happy we have chosen to attend is a little intimidated by us.
    .
    My personal view, “where there is life there is hope.” I will hold onto that hope and pray for wisdom.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 9, 2017 at 9:20 am

      Love your heart on that Grace. I share it!

    • Joe on June 14, 2018 at 9:48 pm

      So is the breaking 200 guaranteed? As in money back if it’s not good or doesn’t work?

  8. Rick Rabe on September 2, 2017 at 7:08 am

    God provides just what is needed. I so believe this. Tomorrow I start my first posting at a church that has been in decline for a while. Your blog (as so many of them are) is an inspiration. It is always about focus and also about fear. So many of us fear the loss of ‘the church’ which really means the fear of change that may be the inevitable change that is required to further build disciples. I am encouraged and strengthened by your words. Thank you.

  9. Bill Finch on August 31, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Carey, thank you for writing this blog. A year ago, Westbourne Baptist Church in Calgary, where I pastored, made the decision to close. But we wanted to replant. God so led in the process that Village Church Calgary will be planted where Westbourne met. Our transition team gifted the building to Village!

  10. Jay Jennings on August 31, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Carey, this may be the most powerful post to date. But then again, maybe it’s just because of my history (part of the leadership team of 3 church plants that all closed). You had a number of blockbuster statements but this one hit me in the forehead like a 2×4. “You start to see every new person as someone who can give and serve, rather than as someone to serve and introduce to Christ.” Ouch. It hurts because it’s true.

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