Options for Declining Churches

On this good Friday, I want to talk about how God can take death and turn it into life when it comes to churches in decline. There are a lot of churches that have been in decline for some years. Churches shut their doors every single week. There are churches that used to be 400 and now are down below 100. The congregation is aging, the young people are gone, and the sound of babies hasn’t been heard in a while. What do you do when it seems inevitable that the church is going to have to close its doors in the future? The good news is that change does not mean death or failure. Instead, it can be the birth of something new and better.If you do have to close your doors, realize God is still at work. The tabernacle wasn’t forever. Shiloh wasn’t forever. The temple wasn’t even forever…what makes us think that “such and such church” will be forever either? None of those closures bothered God because God could see what was next. When the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 AD God already had his plan in place…we are his temple. What is tragic to us in one moment can unfold into God’s larger plan. So don’t fear the future.

Here are a few things churches can consider,

Merging with another existing congregation: Combine your resources, staff, leadership to make something that is better than each congregation by itself. This takes humility and it takes people being team players who can put the good of the kingdom above personal agendas. This can be a hard transition depending on the personalities and circumstances involved but it is better than dying completely.

Get back in the game: Determine that there is a better future for the congregation and start taking steps that are in line with that future. This takes good leadership. If the leadership is weak, pray God would strengthen that and give you clarity on how to move ahead in ways that would glorify Him.

If you want to get back in the game, outreach is going to be important.I would recommend any church to have a look at Church Steps outreach as a way to get Christians involved in outreach and start getting more people in the congregation through conversion. It is also vitally important that these churches retain any youth they have by getting those youth and their families involved in ministry, personal spiritual growth and discipleship. Last, the young adult crowd is another group that needs to be brought back into existing congregations and converted for those young adults who aren’t Christians. You don’t have to have a band and the most dynamic speaker in the world to that. If you are interested in some ways your church can do that, feel free to contact me and we can talk it over – matthewdabbs@hotmail.com (the same with Church Steps). Moving in new directions is going to take a focus and reliance on God.

It can be hard to turn the ship. Often, we tend to keep moving in the same direction even if it isn’t working. That is called homeostasis (same state) and it is hard to break out of that. It takes great motivation and courage but it can be done!

Donate your resources to an existing congregation/non-profit. Churches are not for profit entities. When they liquidate the proceeds have to go to other 501c3’s. Find a worthy cause that is growing, Christian-based and is need of additional facilities due to the growth and success. Bless them with your building and resources and move your people on to another congregation(s).

It is important that we see God in the middle of these things so that we can take Him and His word, that he really is making all things new. How appropriate on Good Friday that we can talk about God taking death and turning it into new life!


About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

2 Responses to Options for Declining Churches

  1. During the time I was in Detroit, several congregations closed their doors. In three of those instances, I was able to influence people (at least to some degree) to invest the proceeds from the sale of their building/property into the church related nursing home where I was chaplain. One also put $50,000 toward the TV program I hosted from c. 1994 – 1998/99 (? dates). In each instance, churches realized they would not be viable d/t changing demographics, etc., but they put their money into the Lord’s work in other ways. One of those churches had c. $800,000 to distribute to various causes.

    Another church (prior to my time in Detroit) gave its building to a black congregation with the understanding that they would donate a certain amount to the nursing home (that had been under the oversight of the church that was closing) for a certain period of time.

    For a church to close is not necessarily a defeat for the kingdom of God. There is not one of the churches we read about in the New Testament that is in existence on earth today. They live on, however, in their influence and with the souls under the altar crying out for judgment on those who persecuted them!


  2. Jim says:

    Let 2 or 3 churches share a building. Jews in the South have started doing this. Some use the Presbyterian chapels for services. Catholic churches have started sharing priests.

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