There are times when I visit churches and think to myself, “This church is dying but they haven’t realized it yet.” They have enough financial assets and people to buy them time as things are not exactly growing.
Maybe there are new members each year, but just as many members move or pass away or drop out and so the numbers are not increasing. Maybe there is still a great capacity to do the ministry they’ve always done, but things are tighter. There are fewer dollars and fewer people.
Many of our “best givers” (i.e. financial tithers) are dying with each passing year. And many, many of our congregations are balancing their annual operating budgets with the interest – or even the principle – from investments made a generation ago by those who grew up in a culture when more people supported institutions (rather than institutions supporting people.)
Common Discernment Question for Church Leaders:
“We have enough money to continue as a church for about five years.
- Do we decide to close now, sell our building and share our assets with another church or start something completely new?
- Or do we continue as we are until the money runs out and then we have no choice but to close?”
What’s the most faithful decision?
Churches with the resources to “buy some time” are fortunate but the question must be asked: Why Buy Time?
- Is there evidence that – if you can simply get through a specific season – your church community will grow and thrive in the future?
- Are plans being made to make risky choices? Try new ministries? Shift the culture of the congregation?
- Are you buying time because this is a serious time of discernment after which your congregation or your church leaders will make a Big Decision about the mission focus?
Congregations with ample financial assets and large-ish membership numbers are very fortunate . . . unless there are no plans to change the way we’ve been the church together. Otherwise those churches are same path as so many of our congregations that were once comprised of hundreds of members but now have 10-30 members left.
Because I don’t want this post to be a total downer, know that there are courageous, risk-taking, Spirit-led congregations who are:
- Not “waiting for a rainy day” to use their assets for new ministries.
- Making hard changes in the way they’ve staffed churches from your basic Senior Pastor/Associate Pastor/Educator models to something more adaptable for a postmodern context.
- More interested in figuring out what Jesus calls us to do/be and less interested in perpetuating an institution, even an institution they love.
- Aware that their buildings are tools for ministry and not themselves idols to be worshipped.
It’s easy to avoid these conversations, but we need to have them.