The title of this post is based on a search phrase that increasingly lands people at my blog. Since this is part of the subject of my book, but the book isn’t published yet, I am posting a few quick ideas for newcomers:
First: if you think your church may have to close, and you’re part of a denomination (United Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.), you should contact a wider church representative. They will hopefully have a procedure to help you decide if you should close and assist you in doing so. It will include helping your congregation weigh its options, making a formal decision that you need to downsize, close or merge with another church, getting concurrence from the wider church, and possibly dissolving your status as a non-profit organization. In some cases, a wider church representative may suggest it is time to consider closing. In other cases, you may discern that closure is not God’s choice for you.
Second: you probably have assets, such as property and endowments. Depending on your denomination, your building may belong legally to the wider church, or the congregation may own it. Find out. Even if you cannot sell your own property, it’s a good idea to find out what it is worth. (One suggestion is to talk to a realtor). This will help you know what kind of material assets you have to either entrust to the wider church or convert into some new form of ministry. Buildings can be sold, auctioned off, or given away, but ultimately, church assets must be passed on to another non-profit. Don’t abandon your building and assume the denomination can take it over. And remember, you also have spiritual assets. What will you do with those?
Third: don’t assume that just because your church as an institution is closing, your congregation has to disband. You can all go to another church together, meet in homes or rent affordable space. If you are part of a loving congregation that has a shared mission, try to stay together to keep working on your mission. If you don’t really like each other or have a common mission, everyone should find a new church.
Fourth: Take time to grieve for what you are losing. Deep friendships and fond memories are formed in local churches. Losing a church is a lot like losing a loved one. Stay connected to each other in your grief. But remember that ministry is about more than just a building and a specific group of people. Christ’s ministry goes wherever you go–if you choose to take it with you.
And finally: Don’t be ashamed or think you’re a failure because your church is closing. You are not alone. Churches are born and die just like people. Celebrate the great ministry you did together and move on to do it in a new way. God is doing a new thing!
Check out the “spiritual discernment” and “church closure” sections of this blog for more ideas.