Death is not a popular topic. I get it. It's more encouraging to talk about birth, life and growth.
But I want us to deal with the reality of dying churches in this article. And I hope we can move to a positive approach about these churches.
There are approximately 350,000 Protestant churches in the U.S. Many pundits estimate the number of closings to be about 1 percent, or 3,500 churches a year. For reasons I will discuss in a future post, I estimate the number to be closer to 2 percent, or 7,000 churches a year.
Let's split the difference and say more than 5,000 churches die a year.
That's 14 churches that die every day. And the number is likely to increase.
So what can we offer the leaders of dying churches? How can we help them help their churches die with dignity? I have seven suggestions:
1. Be willing to move from denial to acceptance. If your church has declined from 200 in attendance to 25 in the past five or 10 years, it is likely to close soon. Don't wait until it's too late to be proactive.
2. Move from guilt to grace. Many members of dying churches feel shame and guilt for the state of their churches. It's time to forget the past and move into the grace of God's future. Wallowing in guilt precludes action. Celebrating in grace means moving forward.
3. Avoid merging with another struggling church. An unhealthy or dying church merging with a similar church does not equal a healthy church. At best, it prolongs the inevitability of death from taking place.
4. Consider a re-plant. Your church facilities are incredible assets God has given you. Many new churches are in desperate need of places to meet and worship. Consider giving your facilities to a church plant.
5. Consider a merger with a healthy church. But it cannot be a merger of equals. The church with the healthy DNA must become the steward of leadership, facilities and direction. In other words, it will be more like an acquisition than a merger. And it is likely the formerly dying church would become another campus of the healthy church.
6. Celebrate the past and move to the future. Before your church transitions to either a replant or a merger, have a service of celebration. Thank God for the past, and look forward to His future.
7. All members should reclaim another church. Before the door shuts on the past, each member of the dying church should state his or her commitment to get involved in another congregation. Some may even choose to be a part of the new church meeting in their former facilities.
Christ's church will never die. But local congregations have definitive life cycles, including birth, growth, decline and death. If your church is moving from decline toward death, be the type of church leader to help your church die with dignity.
For it is in the death of one church that another church can have a hope for a great and healthy future.
Let me hear from you.
Thom S. Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources. For the original article, visit thomrainer.com.
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