Death is a delicate topic, especially the death of churches. My purpose is to send a warning so changes can be made quickly and urgently. My greater purpose, ironic as it may seem, is to send a message of hope.
These six types of churches are described categorically, but the categories are not mutually exclusive. Many of these deceased churches fit most, if not all, of the categories. We have spoken with the leadership of these churches. The conversations were sad but enlightening.
All of the churches noted in these categories have either closed or announced their intentions to close. Thankfully, some of them generously gave their sites to healthier churches. We hope to follow their adoption progress closely.
1. The aged church. For the churches where I have data, the median age of the remaining membership was 76. In all cases, we learned that the church had been a church of older members for some time. In many cases, they essentially ran off younger members who would have brought changes to their congregations.
2. The fighting church. The deceased churches had numerous conflicts and, often, church splits. With each new conflict, the church declined. Guests stopped coming to the divided church. When the pandemic came, those who remained were too weary to keep the ministry of the church going.
3. The deferred maintenance church. These churches did not make wise decisions to keep the facilities in good condition. One church argued over choosing the contractor to install a new HVAC several years ago, so they did nothing. Most of the churches simply refused to spend the funds. Giving in the churches declined precipitously in the pandemic. The churches literally could not pay the bills to keep the building maintained.
4. The run-the-pastor-off church. These churches pushed their pastors out either through forced resignations or firings on a regular basis. Every two to four years, they fired and hired a pastor. Usually, there was a power group in the church that did not want the pastor to lead. So that group concocted a reason to push the pastor out. Many of these churches could not find or afford a pastor during the pandemic.
5. The neighborhood-looks-different church. The neighborhood changed, but the church didn't. Those in the church looked differently than those in the neighborhood. When the pandemic came, the members stopped making the drive to the church because they didn't live in the church's community. COVID exacerbated a trend that had been in process for years.
6. The infant church. These churches were relatively new and did not have many members or givers before the pandemic. Some of the churches were in leased spaces that would not let the church regather during the pandemic. In all of these cases, the church had not reached sufficient maturation to survive the implications of COVID.
Please contact someone who can help you if you sense your church is on the precipice of death or if your church is not healthy. That person could be in your denomination or network. We are also available at Church Answers. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please seek help. Please have a willingness to be adopted by another church if possible.
Your church has its address for a reason. Your church is to be a light in the community where God placed you.
Don't let that light go away. We are here if we can help in any way.
And also let us hear your stories, both the good and the bad. We can always learn more for God's glory.
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 12 years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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