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 went 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.

If You Don’t Want Your Church To Close…

 

A better first time guest experience is one aspect of positioning your church to reach new people. But, as you know, getting a stuck church growing, or helping a church that’s reaching new people grow even further can be daunting.

It doesn’t have to be.

Whether you’re a church that isn’t growing, has plateaued, or whether you wish your church was growing faster than it is, I’d love to help you break through. That’s why I created the Church Growth Masterclass.

The Church Growth Masterclass is everything I wish I knew about church growth when I got into ministry more than 20 years ago.

Naturally, I can’t make a church grow. You can’t make a church grow. Only God can do that.

But I believe you can position your church to grow.

You can knock down the barriers that keep you from growing. You can eliminate the things that keep your church from growing and implement some strategies that will help you reach far more people. That’s what I’d love to help you do in the Church Growth Masterclass.

In the Church Growth Masterclass I’ll show you:

  • The 10 reasons your church isn’t growing
  • Why even committed church-goers aren’t attending as often as before
  • How to tell if your church leaders are getting burned out
  • The 5 keys to your church better impacting millennials.
  • What to do when a church wants to grow … but not change
  • 5 essentials for church growth
  • 5 disruptive church trends to watch—and how to respond
  • How to increase church attendance by increasing engagement.

The Masterclass includes a complete set of videos that you can play with your team, board or staff, PDF workbooks that will help you tackle the issues you’re facing, and bonus materials that will help you navigate the most pressing issues facing churches that want to reach their cities today.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the course today.

What Do You See?

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

27 Comments

  1. Bryant Spencer on June 19, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    6. THE CHURCH HAS A HISTORY OF UNRESOLVED CONFLICT.
    Galatians 5:15 if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

    If members persist in a sustained display of Un-Christlike behavior with only intermittent periods of meaningful ministry… then what’s the point ?

  2. Scott Fairchild on June 3, 2019 at 10:01 am

    What if I told you there was a way to leverage the church’s assets to revitalize? We are doing it.

  3. Viking 48 on June 2, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    It is sad, but I have seen all of these reasons in one church or another that I have been to. Some of the churches I have attended exhibit more than one, and some, all of them. Yet, they continue to hang in there. It is sad that they do stay open as they bring in new people only to lose them a few months later – and they are all beat up when they leave.

    I find it funny that most churches – even those of 100 or less want pastors with MDiv’s or DMin’s as if they are the answer to all of the church problems. Maybe they ought to look in the mirror.

    Maybe its time to return to the home churches of the NT.

  4. frank on April 21, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    The economy is declining. People don’t have that kind of money anymore. The water is drained.

  5. Lynn on January 17, 2019 at 7:38 pm

    I happened to read last night a comment from my pastor’s wife on her daughter’s fb, ” Big Sunday coming up, we are announcing to the church we are closing the doors the end of Feb.” The daughter lives out of state, not involved in the church. Soon after, the comment was removed. I’ve been there 38 yrs. raised all my kids there. I’m numb, devastated. None of your reasons really apply. My pastor has been faithful. We give away offerings. I guess it’s just the equivalent of a good death. But it’s so very painful. I know God provided this knowledge to me ahead of time because He knows I would not do well to hear it announced on Sunday. I take time to process. MayHe go before me and my church family. Thx for your article.

    • Karen A. Lewter on January 23, 2019 at 1:13 pm

      My church is probably closing too. My prayers are with you.

  6. Ron Voorberg on January 13, 2019 at 7:29 am

    My wife volunteers at a thrift store which is only a few years old. I am amazed by the amount of donations that come in. People have decided to give something that they no longer use and give it with the hopes that someone else can and will do something useful with it and support local charities including a Christian school. At the same time we are members of a church that is shrinking and appears to have lost its heart for the Mission. I believe this can change but I also believe we should use what we are entrusted with or give it to someone who will use it. Looking forward is essential and when more than 5 percent of time is spent looking back it is time let someone else drive. It is a difficult decision to close a church but the option of giving it to someone who will use it to reach people and further the Mission of the Church is an opportunity that should be embraced. I love the idea of enabling a Christian group to do something by giving them something that they need. This is especially true when this enables them to do something that they would otherwise be unable to do. This may be the way that we will do more for the Mission than we are able to do by keeping it. Thank you for this article and the shared insights.

  7. Jerry Wamsley on July 16, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Thank you writing this thought provoking article. Our church has been “failing” for the last several years. It is definitely on life support, but nobody wants to pull the plug. There is that big “what if?” that keeps echoing in our souls. It seems we are all keeping our opinions buried deeply within. What are we to do without causing others to be hurt? Help!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

          • Sheila Beers on June 2, 2019 at 3:42 pm

            To PJ Murray, I agree with your advice about a church-planting group to begin outreach with the hope of revitalizing a church. I also agree with another poster that a closed church helps no one. I personally believe there always are prospects for a church in the form of people to witness to and to win to Christ and believers who need to be taught, strengthened, and encouraged. The basic task in keeping a church alive and growing is outreach, and it cannot be emphasized enough. I too have seen churches brought back from the brink of closing, and they are doing well now — in fact, some have a larger attendance and membership and more worthwhile activities than ever before.

            Another factor I believe important is to have a parsonage on the church grounds so that the pastor can live on the site. An alternative is to find a pastor who is willing to live in his own home very close to the church and get involved with the community. With either alternative, it will be easy for the pastor to participate in outreach and become a known member of the community. Of course, the church members and perhaps even believers from other churches can help with outreach.

            If a church can rent out the fellowship hall for social events, this makes the church “visible” to the community, and it shows that the congregation wants to be friendly, helpful, and involved. Do all weddings and funerals have to be for current members only? Perhaps the sanctuary could be used by families outside the church or even those who do not yet have a church home. This generosity can help the congregation show its interest in people outside the church and get their attention. In time, the outreach program could call on these people and witness to them with the objective of leading them to Christ. In addition, the outreach program can invite them to attend the church or become members.

            The country church I attend has been in operation for 189 years, and it was doing very well until about 20 years ago when the pastor at that time (my uncle) was called home to heaven.. Since then there have been four pastors, and the last of the four (age 73) retired just before Christmas 2018. Now I am assembling a list of prospective new pastors, with the hope that one is willing and able to do outreach and revitalize the church. In conclusion I would say, “There always are prospects for a church. Never give up hope, but continue in the effort to reach people for Christ.”



    • 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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?

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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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