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