When Should A Church Close?

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?

20 thoughts on “When Should A Church Close?”

  1. I agree that these are the three basic factors for determining whether or not a church SHOULD consider closing. However in my experience mission is often gone long before a church closes down. It is the other two factors that deal the fatal blow. Unfortunately, many small churches are operating with little sense of mission. They have some kind of mission–to keep the doors open, or to do things our way or no way, etc. and are able to hold on for a long time–sometimes for decades. But let one of these congregations lose certain key people or donors and they begin to consider the inevitable.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  2. Yes, those three are important but I think passion is real issue. Great things can happen with few people and little money if there is passion for a mission, a desire to minster personally. I’d say large or small a church should consider closing when they are no longer passionate about mission and the people are not interested in serving.

  3. No Church should ever close, God says ” when 2 or 3 are gathered in my Name, there Am I in the midst. Here is a copy of an email I have just sent to Christian Prayer Centre, I am totally against ANY Church closing or being forced to close.The family of God should rally round. Read 1 Corinthians;Chaps,. 12-13. Sorry can’t snd the message as it is to long for the comment box.

    1. I agree with David here. I was secretary to a Church a few years ago and some of the ‘big mouths’ wanted to close her down. Boy did God work in me and a couple of others to stop this carnage. Interestingly I was doing a course in Church Planting when this occurred. Jesus said, “I will build my church…” never never does he say, “I will tear down my church.” I know God deals with folk in the church, and so he should, because all of us do something amiss at times.
      Today that church still stands. I am no longer attending there but every time I hear from some of the faithful, I say, “Thank you Lord.” The Lord has also given me the words, “You have saved this church, twice!” In my spirit. So, never, never close a church, change everything else except the front door.

    2. I agree. People confuse ‘the church’, with the ‘church building’! Christianity has always thrived in times of persecution. So, let’s say the government ‘forces’ a church to do something against scriptural mandates..so be it…we lose the building, move into homes(which is where we started anyway, right??). So the church as a living body will not be shut down. We might just have to geographically move to more accommodating locations. And you say, the government has already stopped people from having church in their homes!..fine and dandy, so we have them in our barns, in the open woods…wherever. Read up on church history, nothing has ever stopped the organism known as ‘the church’, and it won’t. That’s a promise from God’s Word.

  4. I agree with David on this one. For those of us who took Experiencing God, the story of the church of 16 members who called Henry Blackaby as pastor is very familiar. Out of this dead little church came new ministers, missionaries, and a seminary.

    Let’s not submit to pragmatic, human thinking and leave out the supernatural.



  5. Exactly Les, passion but I do disagree there churches that should close. There are those who, because of their lack of passion for the Gospel and therefore a misunderstanding of their purpose for being do more damage than good to spread of love, faith and hope.

  6. ——————————————————————————–

    Dear Brother John, thank you for your greetings, and if you read the few requests I have already sent in you’ll understand just the trial I’m going through right now.Please continue to keep praying for Deborah my daughter in Fredricksburg, having lost my wife to Cancer and now Debbie is so bad , I think it will just about finish me off. You know from Day 1 when Molly , my late wife and I decided to build a little Church in Newtownabbey where we lived, we envisioned the satanic attacks we would have to endure and most were perpatrated by “christians”. But over the years we led many to The Saviour and many were healed miracously, but we were always under pressure, and being in such a rundown area we always struggled finacially, but we always got by. But after Molly died nearly 6 years ago it has been catastrophe after castrophe. I collapsed and nearly died from loss of blood caused by aspirin, which a Consultant had proscribed me years previous because of a mild heart attack. I had to get 4 pints of blood, and I was only home 2 days from Hospital 2 days when my house went on fire and only a person whom I didn’t know and have never saw again got me out I was a gonner. I believe in Guardian Angels. The home was completely destroyed and I ended up in a little flat (apartment you call them) having to rent it private because the Housing Authority deemed I had made myself homeless.. But I carried on as best I could and was always there for the whosoever. The attacks on our little Church continued unabated and I was forever repairing or renewing or just trying to make it secure. It was broken into several times, the front doors kicked right in, walls daubed with grafitti and trashed and set on fire on more than one ocassion. I tried everywhere for financial help, writing to very, very large Churches but all to no avail. But we were still going and that was the most important thing. I must confess, at times I felt like Jeremiah and wanted to RUN away, but just as he said, my bones burned within me and I had to speak forth what God told me. My home was rebuilt by the insurance Company but it was sold for a third of what it was before the Credit Crunch hit. So it just paid my Mortgage out and I had to stay in this little flat. Then Debbie took Breast Cancer and had 10 months Chemo and 30 sessions of Radiation, and right after that , she flew home here to Northern Ireland to take me to Antrim Hospital for a gall-bladder removal. Visited me every day and brought me home and then headed straight home to Virginia, and had to spend that hight lying on the floor in Heathrow Airport because of 3 feet of snow back home. She went for more scans and they told her the Cancer had masticised to her bones and liver and started to receive new treatment. A few months later, her husband Ed’s Father died in Ohio and they drove up on the Friday and booked into a hotel. Next morning, day of the funeral, Debbie went for a shower, no mats on the floor and no handrails, she slid across the room and hit the bathtub and snapped her Femur and spent the next week in hospital getting a Titanium rod inserted into her thigh. So, God love her, she’s battling that and the Cancer which is back in her body. Then a few months ago when I went up to open the Church on the Sunday morning, the Housing Authority who had let me have the ground on a 10 year lease with the option to buy, had put a large steel door over the Church doors with a notice saying they had reclaimed the land and the Church was closed. After ALL that we had endured, seems like the devil has had the last laugh. At first I wasn’t too worried because I knew by Scripture that we are all part of the Body of Christ and I only had to write and tell my brothers and sisters in The Lord our predicament and the donations would fly in in and we could buy the ground and open up again. Would you believe me when I tell you that only one small Church from HERE even, in a place called Ballymena, The Green Pastures Church, they were the ONLY ones who sent a donation. The rest didn’t even answer or send an encouraging word. God himself makes it abundantly clear in Dueteronomy 15; 7-11 how the people of God should treat those less fortunate than themselves. You know, jesus said “Greater love has no man than this that he lays down his life for a friend. You are My friends if you do whatsoever I ask you.” Seems to me the only ones who practice that at the moment are our Brave boys and girls from USA and Great Britain out in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet we are called the Army of God, and it appears everyone just looks after themselves. I felt so disappointed and let down and began to question my motives. I know I haven’t always been right, but I always tried to do things God’s way. Over the years, my Molly and I used to give ALL we had to anyone who were in dire straits. It’s even been 2 days since I had ameal because all my benefits have to pay for this flat and amenites. But I’m not complaining, you only have to look at that those wee babies in the Horn of Africa and it Breaks your heart. You know I’m crying as I write this thinking of them and I think of all the multi Millionaire Preachers with their own Jets etc. and I cry out to God to please open their greedy eyes to the suffering and disease in this old world. I even wrote once to Bill Gates and his wife, for they say they will give all their Billions to Charity before they die. God Bless them for that, but they told me they give nothing to Relious causes. Well, fair play, at least they are trying to alliate the suffering in many places. I apologise for going on so long, maybe that’s why nobody responds, too much information. .
    I hope and trust that God will Bless you abundantly for the work you do. Pastor David Glass.ps. Debs is back on Chemo and she quiye ill. If you ever feel like encouraging her , her email is debs0968@yahoo.com

  7. The Disciples met in rooms, the early Church met behind hedgerows and in caves and caverns. No matter how many were captured or killed or how difficult it was, iy never stopped them meeting no matter how many there was of them. And look at the people who had wealth, they sold propertyand gave goods and money to the Church without being berated or cajoled. Paul must be the Greatest example. Look how many times he was flogged, beaten imprisoned and shipwrecked. So often he was on his own or maybe Dr. Luke with him but he didn’t care if it was one or a dozen, paul held Church. That’s the mindset we should have today. Really it is too easy for “Western type Christianity”. The persecution they received made them more determined. Didn’t Jesus say “In this world you SHALL have persecution, but be of Good Cheer, I have Overcome the world”

  8. We have started a couple of ministries. And every time the Lord has lead us to open them and He has also have guided us to close down. And I believe because we are living in the end of days and we gain people but people have a hard time becoming disciples. The purpose of the church is to bring salvation to the lost souls but they have to be converted into Christians according to Gods Word. Our commandment is to go out a make disciples. We you have a church full of disobedient children of God, there is no purpose. And in all our ministries we have spoken the holy word of God. We have personally told the people and on Sundays, and with love and fear of the Lord. People are more of lover of themselves and this world these days of great deception. The Lord is coming for those who dress themselves in righteousness,pureness,holiness.

  9. I agree they are the three. I’m a pastor of a small church and after 4 of 5 months it looks like we are going to close the doors. I just don’t understand how some choose not to pay or keep what they vowed to do to help keep the church open. I don’t say anything to anyone but preach the word of God plus about tithing and love offerings for the necessity of preaching the gospel in our broken community. It hurts deeply to go through this, but I must say, let your will be done Lord. Trials and test is all its been since becoming a pastor, not that I would throw in the towl if I had the funds, I would continue the good fight of faith there at our church in that community. Well thank you for sharing all the above replies. God Bless you all!

  10. My co-pastor and husband died after we had the church for ten years. While our tiny congregation tithes enough to pay the bills, no salary though, they all went on vacation at the same time rather than support me and let me have some time to heal. We have little choice, but to close.

    1. I last wrote exactly 3 years ago and I have NEVER stopped believing that The Lord will somehow open our little Church again. I have never lost the desire to point folk to Lord Jesus Christ. The Church which I and a lot of determined Born-Again believers built to the Glory of God. I dedicated my oldest Grand son Jayson in it when he was just a baby. Deborah, my daughter had come home from the U S A to visit my late wife and I. Jayson is 16 now with a brother Jared who is 10. My daughter Deborah died on the 15th May 2012 in Mary Washington Hospital, Virginia. I couldn’t even afford to Fly over for her Funeral but, no matter, we’ll meet again one day in the Presence of the Lord. What annoys me more is that many Churches have to close when it behoves the Family of God to rally round and protect what is ours through the Lord Jesus Christ. My late wife Molly had the children on her heart, and now all the work we did in this place has been ruined, especially among the kids. We went out of our way to try and save them from the never ending onslaught of the Para-militaries here who have enslaved most of the area with their “drugs” and constant threats of violence. It was a work that was Paramount in this neighbourhood, and when it came to and end, the Para-militaries just ruled the roost again. It’s O.K. for these Mega Churches, but most of them are not at the “Coalface” as it were. I think it’s beyond comprehension to see “Pastors” being Millionaires, and many of their Congregation living hand to mouth at times. But I do know and believe that we ALL have to stand before The Lord and give an account of or behaviour. No excuses that day. The word COMMANDS the Church to look after the Family of God, not to amass vast fortunes and live high on the hog. There is only ONE BODY, but there many members, and if one hurts, we are duty bound to help that which is hurting. 1 Corinthians; 12 and 13, We are a “FAMILY”, and Families are supposed to look after one another. We should not Compete with each other, but COMPLETE each other. Amen! Never talk about a Church having to close down, if it is in anyone’s power to help that part of the body, then it should be done with gladness and delight. I know many COULD help, but somehow many leaders and Pastors think it is THEIR Church and THEIR money and if any are struggling, sad, too bad. It is either the Family of God or it isn’t. There can be no go it aloners, May God open our eyes and our hearts to see the need in our own Family, i.e. His Family. I pray that the Church of God will return to what God set it up to be. God Bless.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s passing. I just came accross this and on a previous comment, you gave her email address and I was going to write to her, but as I continue reading, she was no longer with us. May God give you the desires of your heart.

  12. Pastorship in today’s world is perhaps the most difficult job a person will ever be called to do, if you are not a pastor it is impossible for you to understand the weight, burden and responsibilities that come with this position, pastors who are considering on closing the doors of the Church do so only after they have done all that could be done, the emotional pain and confusion that these pastors and their wives go through is something that only a pastor and his wife would know. Please pray for them, the doors to the church may have closed, but their calling has not, after a time of healing God will pick them up again, and just like Elijah they too will leave the cave and soon you will hear that they are back behind the pulpit preaching the Word.

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