The Tennessean, the daily newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, featured an article today on small churches and when they should close. In the article, Short on Cash, People, Small Churches Consider Closing, reporter Bob Smietana profiles three Nashville area churches that had to face their own mortality. Bob was kind enough to quote me in the article, and I appreciate the approach he took in writing the piece.
The article also quoted Dr. Israel Galindo, author of The Hidden Lives of Congregations, which I think is the best book any pastor can read, especially pastors of small, established churches. Galindo helps pastors and church leaders identify what “style” their church reflects, and where their church might be in the life cycle of churches profile. I’ve written about this book before, but it’s worth mentioning again.
The article also points out that churches have taken as much as a 40% hit financially in the economic downturn that started in 2008. When he interviewed me for the article, Bob asked me what factors indicate that a small church might need to close. The three factors I identified were people, money, and mission. The loss of any one of those is like kicking one leg of a three-legged stool out from under it — without a significant balancing act, a two-legged stool isn’t going to stand very long.
So, when is it time for a church, usually a small church, to close? When the combination of people, money, and mission no longer works. Churches don’t exist just to exist; churches exist for the purpose of mission. When the mission is no longer viable because there are not enough people or financial resources to support it, then a small church ought to seriously consider how it might re-invent itself, or even plan its own funeral.
What do you think? Are there other factors that suggest when a church might close its doors? Or are people, money, and mission the big three?