Many churches are experiencing dwindling numbers, changing communities and the need for drastic change. Sometimes the picture gets so dim that the remaining faithful are forced to make hard decisions about the future of their church. Here are three scenarios that can bear fruit for the kingdom when a church can’t go on as it is.
1. Closing the Doors, for Now
All living things have life cycles and we should not see churches as an exception. Closing the doors of the church often is seen as a failure, but it shouldn’t be. In reality, it’s having the courage to recognize that the life cycle of the current ministry has run its course and it’s time for God to use His kingdom resources in a different way. And remember, God sees death differently than we do (Psalm 116:15; John 12:24). With God, death is never final. And when a church decides to close the doors, the resources will be utilized to birth something new and the legacy of the former members who made that hard decision will be alive forever. This may be the best scenario for a church if the area has experienced considerable population decline and the location may no longer be viable for a church.
2. Replanting the Church
Planting a new church is an exciting venture that begins with a church planter and a core group or launch team seeking God’s will, dreaming of reaching new people for Christ and then designing ministry with the community in mind. So replanting would mean taking a step back to core group or launch team phase and re-dreaming and redesigning with a fresh look at how to reach the community. Most likely, one of the reasons for the decline of the church is the lack of fresh vision and ideas for reaching the lost. As church plants often begin with a sending or sponsoring church and infused resources from the denomination and association, there may be opportunity for a replant to develop these partnerships as well. This may be the best scenario for a church that still has some financial means and people who are willing and able to restore the systems of the church with the help of partners.
3. Merging with a Healthy Congregation
The scenario that is gaining the quickest turnaround in Louisiana is the merger of a declining church with a healthy, growing congregation. In this scenario, the church in decline essentially gifts her building(s), assets and autonomy to the growing congregation, who then multiplies their healthy DNA and church systems onto the property. We’ve seen churches with a dozen attenders reaching hundreds within one year as a result of a congregational merger. And, in many cases, remaining members of the declining congregation stay on, faithfully serve and enjoy seeing the fruits of their giving and sacrifices multiplied in fruitful ministry to new generations.
Without a doubt, the decision to move your church toward drastic changes like these will not be easy. Don’t think of it as the end, but as the decision to extend the influence and legacy of your church for future generations. How do we begin the process:
- Pray and ask God for wisdom and direction as you seek what’s best for the future of your church and community.
- If you think you may need further assessment of your current needs, contact Keith Manuel with our Evangelism & Church Growth Team about the Fresh Start process and assessment tool.
- Contact your local Director of Missions for help with next steps, legal issues and potential partners in merging.