A reader shared a sad story of his congregation, which had become so small that, when one woman became sick and her husband stayed home to care for her, only 3 people were left to worship together. They were still meeting in their church’s fellowship hall (to save on heat bills) and hiring a pastor to preach on Sundays. He was so part time, he could not help them grow the church nor plan for closure.
I interviewed another pastor I call Mary, who served a three point charge. One of her churches was becoming weaker and she pressed upon them the importance of considering their options while they still had some energy, a few members who could accomplish tasks, and a trained pastor. Although their process took several years to get through, the pastor stayed with them until it was completed. In this case, the congregation voted to sell the parsonage and use the proceeds to demolish their decaying building. They did this because they saw the care of the property as their responsibility, instead of dumping it on the judicatory (United Methodists) or letting it stand vacant as an eyesore in their town.
One of these churches had a pastor and members who took seriously their stewardship of the church’s assets into the future. The other never made provisions for the church beyond their own lifespans. The supply pastor and a few frail elderly were left with this burden– and no resources to address it.
Planning for the disposition of church assets is no different than preparing a will or a health care directive. It takes the burden off others when you make a plan for what will happen to the building, the endowments, the mission projects and the members who are unable to seek out new churches.
Mary stated it clearly in letters to her congregation: it is your responsibility to take care of your assets. She knew the wider church did not have the resources to manage, sell or demolish abandoned properties.
If you think your congregation will be unable to maintain life in the next few years, you might do what one congregation I interviewed did: make a last will for your church! This church sold their building and drew on the assets of the sale for several years. Then they wrote up a document that stated what should happen to the remaining financial assets after the congregation stopped meeting. Their plan included continuing a scholarship fund for students that will be entrusted to their judicatory for management after they are gone.
It’s a lot of work to close up a church and disperse assets. Do you really want that to be the legacy you leave to someone else?