Well, here are some things others have done after their churches closed, based on my interviews:
In the United Methodist Church, the policy is to make sure every member of a closed church transfers their membership to a new church. Those who don’t choose a new church are supposed to be automatically transferred to the nearest Methodist Church in the area. (This doesn’t always happen, but it’s a good goal).
- In one closing church, most members chose to attend one of two other churches in their city. However, one family told me “We weren’t ready. We had to take some time away from worship to heal before we could join another church.” After about a year, they finally joined one of those two churches, comforted by worshiping with members of their former church.
- A sad story: a woman whose church closed now attends several other churches, but has not been able to find one she can call home. When her husband died, she didn’t have the support system she needed to get through her grief, and after three years, she is still adrift.
- A happy ending: a lay woman bravely walked away from her church when the system became deeply dysfunctional. She explained to the congregation her reasons for leaving. After she left, the pastor and choir director also resigned. The church closed about a year later. All three people joined the same new congregation and were overjoyed to find spiritual strength in a healthy church home.
If your church is closing, you will be left without a place and people that may have been like home and family to you. Here’s what I think you should do:
- Visit some area churches with members of your current church family to see what they are like. Not everyone will join the same church, but you can help each other find the fit that is best.
- Ask your pastor or gather a team of lay leaders to do a “spiritual inventory” of each member’s interests and gifts. Whatever new church you go to, meet with the pastor and tell him/her about the gifts and interests you have for sharing ministry in a new place.
- If you are homebound, ask your denominational representative to appoint a visitation pastor to keep you connected to the wider church with prayer and communion.
- If you truly love your former church family, don’t assume you have to “break up”. Meet once a month at a restaurant for lunch. Or form a prayer chain or a weekly bible study. Find a way to maintain spiritual friendships.
- Don’t forget that you need to grieve. Let yourself be sad, and find others to be sad with. Your sadness will pass. God has a new ministry ahead for you. When your grief begins to fade, go find your new flock!